Legal Era leads the way & captures the Next Big Business & Law Industry Trends at the 4-Week Long 10th Annual GENNEXT Business & Law Congress 2021
LEGAL ERA LEADS THE WAY CAPTURES THE NEXT BIG LEGAL AND INDUSTRY TRENDS AT THE 4-WEEK LONG 10TH ANNUAL GENNEXT BUSINESS & LAW CONGRESS 2021
What happens when the most elite business lawyers, global thought leaders, and best minds of the Indian legal industry, from across the world, come together to capture the NEXT LEGAL TRENDS?
Well, Legal Era has done it again – marking Legal Media Group's 10th annual flagship event, GENNEXT Business and Law Congress 2021, which is renowned for transforming the narratives in the business & legal industry. Only this time, the Congress was virtual and live for 4 weeks (2 days each week, 8 days overall) from 19th August 11th September 2021.
Backed by sponsors and partners such as Nim Wash, Aashirvaad, P&A Law Offices, Anand & Anand, DSK Legal, Khaitan & Co, TMT Law Practice, Lex Orbis, SNG & Partners, RNS Associates, S&R Associates, Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF), and Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the 4-week Congress was yet another milestone in suggesting a credible way forward for the Legal Industry in India and outside.
With 300+ global speakers, 12+ Key Eminent Keynote Speakers, sharing their views, learnings, and experiences every day, the invite-only closed-door Congress kept the attendees engaged across domains and geographies.
In today's increasingly tech-savvy, culturally-evolving, and inter-dependent marketplace, #GENNEXT2021 was more relevant than ever. And this time, it came with more impact. Nothing could have been more interesting than to leverage the changing tides of time as the power of the high-level discussions between global thought leaders were especially focused on the next big legal trends in a new and challenging post-Covid world.
The theme of the Congress was 'Progressive Legal Inventions For Business Continuity, Jurisprudence, Futuristic Laws For New Tech World: Challenges Pre, During & Post Pandemic'. The excellent and pertinent range of subjects of discussion included how to keep a business moving in a post-pandemic world, the rise of virtual courts, understanding the cost-effective method of resolving disputes, and navigating through regulatory challenges virtually.
Each day started with a keynote address from an industry figure followed by live breakout discussions for an hour in diverse formats, be it masterclasses, open discussion forums, solution rooms, closed-door boardrooms, exhibition hall, and solution-rooms.
19 August 2021 was the Inaugural day of the Congress and sure enough, it had proven to be successful just like all other events organized by the Legal Era. Even as the crisply conducted sessions progressed, the attendees made full use of the gold standard opportunity to know, explore, and got introduced as they interact with judges, partners, GCs, external and in-house lawyers, and many more of the who's who in the legal industry.
The Congress began with an invigorating welcome address by Dr. Lalit Bhasin, President of the Society of Indian Law Firms. He made a pertinent plea that the deployment of technology and innovation must not be confined to just the Supreme Court or the High Courts. The government, the judiciary, and the legal profession had to step in. Dr. Bhasin also requested lawyers with expertise in the tech practice area to focus on how we could reduce the malaise of large delays. "Whatever innovations are made, and whatever tech improvements are desired, we must focus on finding solutions to deal with the fundamental issue of large delays in justice delivery. Such large delays are even affecting the country's reputation that has been a believer in the rule of law."
Dr. Bhasin concluded his welcome address by paying a rich tribute to Aakriti Raizada, Founder and Managing Editor of the Legal Era - Legal Media Group and the Legal Era team for organizing an event that ran for 4 weeks, 2 days each week, stirring discussions on brilliant new age topics being led by excellent moderators and panelists. Dr. Lalit Bhasin particularly noted that the subjects chosen will have a far-reaching impact on business and law. The event was sure to be a great success.
This was followed by a crisp keynote speech delivered by Honourable Justice Dipak Mishra, Former Chief Justice of India. He opined, "Law, especially in a modern democratic Republic, fundamentally responds to the citizenry interest, the need of the time and also has an eye on the future. Our legislative system inherently permits progressive legislation having regard to the economic growth and progress and advancement in scientific technology. All these aspects are reflective in the present adjudicatory process but the same, when formalized into law, not only get assurance but also authenticity."
Justice Mishra made another pertinent observation, "From the days of Adam Smith to Amartya Sen and recently, Abhijit Banerjee, it has been the consistent view that the progress of economy of any nation is dependent on an existing encouraging atmosphere facilitating the transactional process and respecting consumer necessity."
As for the second keynote speaker for the day, it was delivered eloquently by Mr. Dev Bajpai, Executive Director, Legal & Corporate Affairs & Company Secretary, Hindustan Unilever Limited. He highlighted that technology was going to be an important enabler in not just shaping businesses, but, more importantly, in shaping societies. "With education, judiciary, and healthcare already moving into the virtual space, technology, will play an all-important role in serving the consumers more efficiently with quality products & services. Lawyers have a role of a facilitator in this new virtual ecosystem. The Digital Transformation Program at HUL is fully supported by the Legal function and the function is a part of the Digital Council led by the Chairman & CEO.
Elaborating further on what that meant for the Legal function, he opined, "Digital transformation being at the forefront of all businesses, understanding the technology interface with business would be a given for in house lawyers. The expected proliferation of regulations trying to catch up with technological growth will add further complexity. Regulations in the area of artificial intelligence, data ethics, blockchain, privacy would require us to embrace learning as the biggest priority, as organizations, and all the more, as individuals. We will need to continuously upskill to keep pace with the change in our business and external environment, due to technology. I believe as lawyers, moving forward, we will need to have a more holistic understanding of business and the external environment than ever before. I would ask our young lawyers to keep this in mind "Digital transformation may not cost our job, but not upskilling, will definitely.
At HUL, the legal function had carried out a Legal Tech Maturity Assessment before the Pandemic to understand where we stand and what are our lawyers telling us to transition to. Based on this, we carried out a full Legal Function Process Assessment and identified 12 areas including Litigation Management, Compliance Management, Claims Management, Business Integrity, Secretarial & Governance, Brand Protection and so on for a full review in terms of systems and processes and how could we digitize them. We identified either in-house tools or tools available off the shelf, customized and deployed them. This has resulted in considerable efficiencies for the function. This is a journey and we have already embarked on it, course-correcting as required. To sharpen the skills of our lawyers, we have started regular training sessions with our IT & Digital team."
Next came the most-awaited, first-panel session of the day and event. The focus was on 'Ethics next legal trends.'
Moderated by Atul Juvle, GC, Compliance Officer & CS - India & South Asia Schindler India Pvt. Ltd., the panelists were Manjaree Chowdhary Executive Director & General Counsel, Maruti Suzuki India, Deepika Chaudhry Executive Director Legal-APAC, Xerox India Ltd., Amar Kumar Sundram Former India Head of Legal Royal Bank of Scotland, and Sonal Basu General Counsel, Mindtree. They shared thoughts and learnings on hot topics of today such as 'Ethics Post Pandemic', 'Status of Ethics During Lockdown' and 'The Face of Ethics In $ 5 Trillion Economy.'
Right after this extremely mature and rich discussion that left attendees with umpteen food for thought, the first day of the event was wrapped up with another meaty panel discussion on 'Divergent consumer policy'.
Adeptly moderated by V. Chakradhar, Head, Corporate Legal, Godrej Industries Limited, the panelists included Amit Bhasin, Executive Vice President & Head Legal, Marico Limited, Panduranga Acharya, General Counsel, GirnarSoft, T.S. Venkateswaran, Deputy General Counsel, Nestle India Limited, Yogesh Wadhwa, General Counsel Hyundai Motor India Ltd.
The panelists captured their views on interesting angles such as 'Divergent Consumer Policy & Where We Stand Interface Between Consumer & Business – How to Sell & What to Sell' and 'Resurgence Of Business In A Post-Pandemic World 'How to Sell & What to Sell'.
DAY 2 20th August 2021
Shukla Wassan, Independent Director, India Glycols Ltd opened day 2 of the Congress with her powerful thoughts.
Shukla Wassan, laid the roadmap for the rest of the day and handed the baton to Mr. Anand Desai, Managing Partner, DSK Legal delivered his keynote address highlighting the importance of constructive interplay between the government, business, regulators, and courts. He opined, "It is important for members of the legal profession, with other stakeholders, to address the need to reduce litigation. This can be aided by clear and simple policies, statutes, and regulations. The role and responsibility of regulators, and the concept of a lead regulator (as against multiple agencies stepping in against an "accused") for each set of "offenses" must be seriously considered and implemented. The constructive interplay between the government, business, regulators, and courts is essential for improving our economy. This includes the government abiding by arbitral awards and court orders, instead of challenging every award or order passed against them.
Mr. Deepak Acharya, General Counsel, Wipro articulated the second keynote address of the day. Amid the vast reach of the theme of the Congress, he brought out an innovative thought – Corporate Digital Responsibility.
"Corporate Digital Responsibility is gaining considerable relevance today due to huge amounts of data we generate every second. Today, more and more consumers are going online and trusting their Data with the Organizations and if these Organizations are not able to manage their data, they are at risk of violating not only the privacy of their users and consumers but also losing their trust. The onset of the 4th Industrial Revolution calls for a stronger Corporate Digital Responsibility. This is an agenda that will and should dominate organizations, civil societies, policymakers, and the governments in the times to come."
Mr. Deepak Acharya led the way for the attendees to absorb the subject: ESG – Where does India Stand. Rajesh Narain Gupta Managing Partner, SNG & Partners moderated the discussion with panellists Sunil Mehta, Non-Ex-Chairman YES Bank Ltd, & Chairman & MD SPM Capital Advisers Pvt Ltd, Manjaree Chowdhary Executive Director & General Counsel, Maruti Suzuki India, Amber Gupta Head Corporate Legal, CS & Compliance Officer, Aditya Birla Capital Ltd, Sanjit Kaur Batra Regional Legal Director Greater Asia, International Flavours & Fragrances, Sankar Chakraborti Group CEO & Whole-time Director, Acuité Ratings & Research.
The panellists captured their views on what was the ESG framework within a company, good governance in times of uncertainty: how can the legal industry achieve growth with accountability, innovation, and fulfilling societal obligations, and what steps companies were taking towards ESG-driven governance-driven growth.
Manjaree Chowdhary set the context and benefits. "ESG is a new set of parameters that corporates have to begin to measure themselves against. If you are strong on your ESG parameters, it improves your brand value and reputation. Companies are being rated on that. You improve your relationship with your investors and stakeholders. Companies are hence creating a policy framework and sustainability governing structure so that ESG parameters are identified, measured, and integrated into their risk management systems. These then need to be monitored and reported so that stakeholders know what emphasis the companies are putting on the ESG parameters."
She also brought out that ESG governance in times of uncertainty, specially brought out by the pandemic, has become even more critical than ever today. "Boards need to play a very important role on ESG parameters, robust processes, succession planning, labour relationships, and supply chain management. Crisis management, Disaster management, and Business Continuity plans are equally important parts of being in a state of readiness. And India has always been very good at bringing together a competent regulatory framework."
Sunil Mehta spoke about the role that bankers aka lenders can play and how they have become much more conscious of the ESG aspect of businesses aka borrowers. "The lenders are in the business of evaluating what risk is there in lending to a corporate. And all aspects of ESG play a critical role in making that decision. They are looking at corporates that are ESG driven and are contributing to conserving the environment and are giving back to their stakeholders. That is becoming a key differentiator.
Even institutional investors are becoming more discerning. Capital flows are moving to long-term green projects. The velocity of green financing is set to grow. The S&P 500 ESG Index shows that companies that have been ESG compliant have enjoyed much greater economic returns. So it is not just about being ethically good. Even from the business point of view, the questioning has begun. Borrowers need to show good governance. And this need will only go up in the future. We need to move with alacrity.
Mr. Mehta also brought about a simple fact, "In many ways, some of the lessons we are learning today including during Covid, its not so much about – as long as 'I' am benefiting, its fine. But that's not true. I cannot hide or go somewhere safe. The entire ecosystem has to be fine and healthy. Hence ESG has to be seen from that lens. This is the time for this generation to decide honestly what legacy are we leaving behind for the next generation."
Sanjit Kaur Batra brought out the impact of ESG on the chemical industry and few recent global megatrends. "You would see a lot of chemical companies are aligning with and making a conscious choice on which STGs that particular corporate will work on. Even MDG targets are becoming more and more clear measurables. Certifications have been an even more important part. There is also a lot of focus on circular economy and reducing the environmental footprint. The Channel partners are being reviewed to ensure we are in the era of sustainable innovation, responsible manufacturing, and responsible consumption. In India, some work needs to be done by legislators on newer technologies especially on coming up with clear regulations for unambiguous enforcement."
Amber Gupta talked of the recent guidance notes etc by SEBI on ESG. "ESG is not new. It was there since 2011. But disclosure requirements are much higher today. Specific details have to be given on compliance with ESG principles. Quantitative information and not just qualitative. In May 2021, SEBI has revised the format on Business Responsibility and ESG. It's a mandatory submission and disclosure from 2023. The top 100 listed companies are anyway required to submit ESG reports. And now on fundraising, those KPIs that form part of voluntary disclosure will be looked at and such companies will be in a better position."
Sankar Chakraborti wore the regulatory hat and shared the difference between financial rating and ESG rating. "In 207-19, we saw major credit failures that shook the economy. The climax of these failures was when IL&FS and DHL cracked. So, we had to study what was the issue with the credit ratings. We discovered that each credit failure without exception could be attributed to not catering to governance risk and a wrong understanding of governance standards. Also, environment and society is the next big thing that will impact Indian corporates. See the climate change failures happening. When you want to do a forecast of a project's or a company's performance, you can forecast for 2-3 years. And based on that you say that the credit will behave a certain way. But if you go beyond 3 years, the future looks nebulous. And this is where ESG based models come into the picture. And this is where the risk management framework of the company comes in."
After an emphatic discussion, it was time for another panel session on The Unheard Voice: The Independence of Independent Directors raising tough questions such as are independent directors really independent, have they met the expectations of India Inc, and are we doing it right.
Shukla Wassan, Independent Director India Glycols Ltd moderated the discussion with panellists Robin Banerjee Managing Director Caprihans India Limited, Rupa Vora, Independent Director on Corporate Boards, and Rajat Jain, Independent Director, Founder PadUp Ventures Pvt Ltd.
Shukla Wassan set the context by highlighting a couple of takeaways, she said "A boon of the pandemic is that board meetings have seen an almost 100% attendances as member do not have to travel physically to be present at any meeting. Board Members are more engaged in discussions on topics which may not have as prominently been discussed in the past e.g. employee safety, health & well-being, digitalization & supply chain re-alignment, cybersecurity, data privacy and confidentiality.
The regular items such as planning, business plans, financial performances are now being reviewed with a different rigour. Promoter lead organisations are increasingly focussed on inducting independent directors with specific professional experience and background bringing in diversity of skill set & perspective on Board"
Rupa Vora spoke on the role of Independent Directors. "We are today responsible for all stakeholders and also the environment. It gives us the space and mind to create a culture of integrity and values and think about sustainability. So, it's not just about achieving bottom-line revenues. I feel really proud that I'm in a position to make a difference in the long-term interests of the company, the people, and the planet."
She also spoke about her role as a Woman Independent Director. "Yes, my voice is heard. It's nothing to do with being a man or a woman. It's about trust and we are all together to achieve a common objective as board members."
"Also, the pandemic has taught us that we need to work with a great IT infra, IT security systems, and liquidity. Boards and committees had to meet more often to keep the staff together. We have learned to see risks from a different perspective. Making it a practice to think what can go wrong and create what-if scenarios is the new normal."
Rajat Jain spoke about the diverse advantages and opportunities of being an Independent Director. "Overall, my experience has not been limited to contributing to compliance side but also learning a lot as well on new sectors, connecting the dots, network, and sharing past experiences. ID role needs you to be responsible to protect everyone's interest.
Also during the pandemic, I've realized that it's important to build the hybrid model so that off-hand discussions and camaraderie that could be built in physical meetings of the Board does not go missing entirely. The body language communication and meet-and-feel are very important."
On the critical point of how IDs and their role is viewed, Rajat shared his thoughts on the state of independence. "Organisations first want to ensure that compliance and regulatory norms are met. Then they expect the IDs to support these and have oversight on financials. There are few promoter-driven organisations that like to see strategic advice. They like to see everything as Christmas trees only. Regulators view IDs of course as harbingers of corporate governance. But the design of this institution of IDs including the procedure of their appointment is not built to really let this happen."
Robin Banerjee shared that the role of the ID and their independence depends on the ecosystem that the chairperson creates. "If the chairperson is not pro-independence, it does not mean that there is poor governance. I have observed that the IDs are mostly not knowledgeable about their rights and responsibilities. They are not prepared for their meetings. If they want to make a good job in their role, they can. The system is robust enough to allow them to contribute. And also allows them to get away. So, it is up to each ID himself or herself. The choice is yours.
The pandemic gave an opportunity to capitalize on innovation. Also, it is very important that IDs must try to make it a good Board that can work together. It is good to protest on the inside and make it work, rather than resign in case of differences. You will have a mixed bag of promoter-driven organisations. But organisations that need to see long term sustainability, they will see value in good corporate governance brought by IDs."
The discussion ended with moderator Shukla Wassan posing the question – "What is the message you'd like to give to aspiring independent directors?" The responses were most useful and practical.
Robin: Network is very important. IDs are not appointed by application. You get a call. So it is all a matter of network. And you need to remove negativity. Board wants a knowledgeable and positive attitude person.
Rajat: Once you are called to be an ID, you should choose your company carefully. Do your due diligence. There are good boards and not-so-good boards. So choose ones where you get to contribute and also learn as you need to grow. And have the courage. Without that, the independence of the ID is non-existent.
Rupa: Don't shy away from being an ID. Ask the right questions. Have the humility to agree and be ready to change in the interest of all the stakeholders. Don't just stick to your opinion because you are so fervent about it.
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