Sunayna Bhatia, new GC at Religare Asset Management on the evolving role of General Counsel

Aditya AK

Sunayna Bhatia has recently been appointed General Counsel of Religare Global Asset Management. She was previously Associate Vice President (Legal) at the company.

Sunayna Bhatia did her B.Sc. from Hansraj College, Delhi University, before pursuing law at Campus Law Centre. She also holds an LL.M. from the University of Virginia School of Law.

In this interview with Bar & Bench’s Aditya AK spoke to her on the move, the evolving role of a General Counsel and more.

Aditya AK: How much work is outsourced to law firms, and how do you choose them?

Sunayna Bhatia:  Law firms are selected based on deal size and complexity. For smaller transactions, most of the work is undertaken in-house. As the intricacies of a transaction increase, or if it requires assistance in an overseas jurisdiction, law firms that have the expertise in the requisite practice area and an enthusiastic team are approached for work.

Aditya AK: How has the role of GC changed over the years?

Sunayna Bhatia: With growth in cross-border business and strengthening of regulatory regimes, corporates are becoming more and more “legal and compliance minded”. Since most decisions, big or small, influence the reputation of a company, businesses rely heavily on the advice of the GC as they conduct ordinary course business or step into unchartered waters.

Apart from playing the traditional role of a legal adviser to the company, the GC is increasingly becoming responsible for implementing corporate governance and an ethics based approach to business. Therefore, the role has now evolved into one of leadership and guidance as opposed to being merely advisory a few decades ago.

Therefore, the role has now evolved into one of leadership and guidance as opposed to being merely advisory a few decades ago.

Also, over the years, the General Counsel has come to be seen as an important resource in minimising legal expenditure, the GC’s role in the current day therefore includes creating a talented in-house legal team and limiting outsourcing of work.

Aditya AK: Do you see GC’s getting more involved at Board-level decisions?

Sunayna Bhatia: Yes, apart from serving as the top legal advisor to the Business, GCs are now becoming trusted resources in helping the Board take important decisions. Corporates see value in assimilating the GCs as a part of their management teams which work together with the board and advise the members on legal, compliance and strategic aspects of corporate affairs.

Since directors are liable personally in certain cases, the board members usually want a “buy-in” from the GC on any decisions being made and, to that extent, prefer interacting with the GC.

Aditya AK: Would you say that doing an LL.M. has helped you become a better in-house lawyer? If so, how?

Sunayna Bhatia: Yes, I concur. My LL.M. program at the University Of Virginia focussed on Business Law and helped me appreciate the involvement of law with business. I believe that it’s important for in-house counsels to understand the requirements and expectations of the business team.

While lawyers are usually thought to be the “naysayers” when it comes to commercial or transactional planning, business law education can help a lawyer recognise the importance of novel business ideas and implement such ideas without falling foul of the law.

(For an in-depth look at in-house counsels, read our interview with Vahura’s Avinash Sah)

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