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Thirumalesh Gangappa, General Counsel Google India
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Thirumalesh Gangappa, General Counsel Google India

Bar & Bench

He did not want to do law, but when he did, took to it like fish to water. From the Batch of 1996 of the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, Thirumalesh Gangappa popularly known as ‘Thiru’, has a variety of experience. Currently the General Counsel of Google India, Bar & Bench has a quick word with him.

“My appeal was to do something from the best institute”

I was a science student till my twelfth standard but ended up writing National Law School of India University’s entrance test. At that time there was only one at Bangalore. My appeal was to do something from the best institute and NLS was the only institute at that point of time so I picked law, although I had an admission into an engineering course through the common entrance test. My family wanted me to study law, though it was my last choice till I actually joined law school in ’91. The 5 year term was quite challenging because it was something experimental. When I joined, the first batch had not passed out yet and was a risky proposition for us then.

After law school, I joined Singhania & Co’s Delhi offices.  They were one of the leading law firms and the stint introduced me to arbitration, litigation and corporate law. In my four years there, I did everything right from photocopying as well as representing clients before the High Court and the Supreme Court. After Singhania, I joined Mphasis.

“HP exposed me to trans-national transactions”

I worked as an in-house counsel under a company secretary which helped me learn corporate secretarial practice. Mphasis was a small company at that point of time. After that, I moved to HP and worked with them for four years as an in-house counsel. HP exposed me to international commercial transactions which gave me experience in transnational transactions. I moved from HP into Oracle, another US-based IT major, as the Legal Head of their product division.

“I was the first counsel to be hired in Google”

Oracle was a good company and the work was extremely good when the Google offer came. Their culture appealed to me, and  therefore, I joined Google about four years ago as their General Counsel. In Google, I was the first counsel to be hired. A lot of it, and at times even now, gives you the atmosphere of a start up, which means there are no stringent processes. HP and Oracle, on the other hand, already had a set legal processes.

HP has hardware and software services, while Oracle had more software. When you look at Google, we don’t have software, but we have internet based product services. At Google, the content of our product is not owned by us, presenting a unique risk to the company and the users. So, our legal protection and risk assessment is quite different.

The Google Culture

Google was quite new and I was handling everything myself. I was supporting the litigation lawyers, IP issues and the mundane venture capital funding concerns into Indian subsidiaries, real estate transaction etc. It was a generalized role and now the team has grown to three members. Although it may not sound big, for a large company as Google, it is enough.

Google’s culture has being quite unique and is really good its quite fun to work here. The place I work here is not like an office but more like a college environment, so very stress free. A typical weekday starts at 5.30 in the morning with a calls to the Mountain View office which extends for an hour or two. The rest of the day goes in contracts, negotiations, partner documentation, product launches etc. I usually try to make it home by 8.oo.

“The way we work at Google…”

The way we work at Google involves various functional verticals . When you want to start a new vertical or a business function, the function heads or the function managers are responsible to take a joint decision in the best interest of the company. We customize and localize worldwide policies on the terms that we want to do it India and from that point of view. I am also responsible corporate secretarial function and am on the board of few of the subsidiaries of Google in India.

Of litigations and counsel

We follow the global parameters set by Google Inc based on which, we select local counsels. We also have a panel of counsels depending on their specialization and geographical location. We have an in-house litigation team, and we also work with external counsels and law firms. There have been litigations against Google and I can’t speak much about specific cases because they are sub-judice and are awaiting judgment.

“External counsel’s opinions not responsible for business decisions”

The in-house counsel’s role is not just merely a support function. I advise students who come to me to practice in litigation or with a corporate firm before making the plunge into in-house practice. I suggest that they look at practice to begin with and then chose which field they really want to be tied down with before starting with a corporate.

In-house counsel has to work as a part of the business team. They are accountable for the advice and decisions. Whereas external counsel do provide services but are not actually responsible for the business decisions.

“Indian firms are still trying to match foreign firms”

The delivery in the services is up to the mark and we can easily compare Indian law firms, especially some of the big ones with a US or UK law firm. But in terms of the structure and in terms of various services that a US / UK law firm can provide, Indian law firms are still trying to match up with those developed country law firms.

Personally, I think there would be a healthy competition if foreign law firms were to enter the Indian market. That would really make the Indian firms to open up in what they have not done so far in terms of services, structure of the law firm and a host of other issues. I strongly feel that entry of foreign law firms will not affect the smaller law firms or those individual practitioners.