Sandip Beri, former Citi General Counsel, recently joined Amarchand Mangaldas as a Partner bringing with him, over 27 years of experience working in a law firm and as an in-house counsel..Bar & Bench spoke with Sandip Beri on his decision to move away from inhouse role, challenges in working with external counsel, the evolution of the in-house role, and the recent rush for new banking licenses..Bar & Bench: After such a long time as in-house counsel, you took the plunge to join a law firm? What prompted this move?.Sandip Beri: My overall experience of 27 years is almost equally divided between in-house and private practice. Prior to my last 13 years of in-house experience, I worked with a large U.S. law firm for several years. So, this is not a plunge into uncharted territories. I felt that this is the best time for me to use my combined Indian and U.S. experience in private practice. I also feel we need to encourage more movement between law firms and in-house departments. I think it will be a win-win for both..B&B: Why Amarchand? What will be your area of focus at the firm?.SB: Amarchand offers me the platform to engage in the type of practice I want to do and work with a large number of extremely competent and professional colleagues across the firm. I have had the opportunity of working closely with many of them over the last several years and that has helped build mutual appreciation and trust that is so valuable in a partnership. I expect to leverage my experience to help other partners in the regulatory space, and engage in the GC practice using the insights I have gained working at senior levels with global corporations. I will also assist the firm in complex cross border M&A and outsourcing transactions. There is a huge amount of interest in understanding how general counsels are shaping their departments in today’s environment and that’s an area where I am going to help my partners. This understanding will help make our services even more client-centric..B&B: As an inhouse counsel, what were the main challenges you faced in managing relationships and working with external counsel/law firm?.SB: No particular challenges. Occasionally, responsiveness can be an issue…. sometimes it is understandable, for example, when you need time with a leading litigation lawyer whose advice you value and who may be enormously busy with various court matters. You then need to balance the need for speed with the importance of getting accurate advice….I don’t think you can compromise on the latter..B&B: What qualities did you look for while appointing external counsel?.SB: [The] ability to deliver sound advice is the number one quality. You have to have the confidence that you are getting accurate advice. Closely related to, and implicit in, the first quality is the ability to deliver commercially responsive advice. Then the speed of response, and lastly the cost. Needless to say that integrity and professionalism are a must..B&B: How will your experience as in-house counsel help in a law firm?.SB: At the end of the day, both as in-house counsel and external counsel, you are valued for sensible advice and judgment based on a foundation of the understanding of law. Experience as in-house counsel does give you a better opportunity to get an understanding of the client, its objectives, value system and risk appetite and, very importantly, institutional implications of various courses of action. We really need to encourage moves between law firms and in-house as well as between law firms/in-house and the government. I see no reason why this will not benefit the profession as a whole as you learn to appreciate the challenges and needs of different sectors..B&B: How has the in-house role evolved over the years?.SB: I think there has been a tremendous amount of evolution in the last 30 years. There is much more recognition of the value of getting quality in-house counsel inputs at various stages on a day-to-day basis. Very importantly, the in-house counsel has a significant say in matters involving significant franchise/reputational risks. I think the fundamental role of an in-house counsel is to help reduce the risks for the company while helping it take advantage of growth opportunities. For that to happen, you need to build a strong team, build some infrastructure (e.g., a systematic way to stay ahead of significant trends/developments in the legal, compliance, regulatory and legislative space), and build the right culture, including independence of the function. One easy way to do that is to remember that you have only one client…that is the institution…it is not particular individuals…they are your partners, not clients. Needless to say the legal function has to be completely independent, and that is increasingly the norm today..B&B: Tata, Birla, Ambani – a number of business houses are applying for bank licenses. Thoughts?.SB: I think this is an exciting development. As you know, our country is severely under-banked, particularly in the rural areas. I think it is heartening that so many respected institutions have applied for a licence. The institutions will, of course, need to figure out the right business model to do the banking business profitably while meeting the policy objectives of the RBI, and to build the necessary regulatory, compliance, risk management, and controls infrastructure to run the bank on a safe and sound basis.