The Transformation of the Indian General Counsel


The role of the GC in India has undergone a significant transformation over the past few years. Traditionally viewed as legal advisors confined to the periphery of corporate decision-making, GCs in India now find themselves at the very forefront of strategic decision-making, risk management, and corporate governance. This evolution reflects the growing complexity of legal challenges faced by Indian businesses and the increasing importance of legal expertise in driving organisational success. In today's dynamic business environment, GCs are no longer confined to providing legal opinions and drafting contracts. They are strategic advisors who actively participate in shaping the business strategy, identifying opportunities and mitigating risks. By collaborating closely with senior management and other business functions, GCs contribute to the formulation and execution of corporate strategies, ensuring legal compliance and minimising legal exposure. In particular:

  • With the proliferation of regulations and the heightened scrutiny of corporate conduct, risk management and compliance have become paramount for Indian companies. GCs play a central role in assessing legal and regulatory risks, developing compliance frameworks, and implementing internal controls to mitigate risks effectively. By staying abreast of regulatory developments and industry trends, GCs help organisations navigate legal complexities and uphold ethical standards in their operations.
  • Upholding principles of corporate governance and ethical conduct is essential for maintaining trust and credibility in the business community. GCs in India are instrumental in fostering a culture of transparency, integrity and accountability within organisations. By promoting a culture of ethics and compliance, GCs contribute to building sustainable and responsible businesses in India.
  • In a litigious environment like India, GCs play a critical role in managing disputes and litigation effectively. From pre-litigation risk assessment to dispute resolution strategies, GCs provide strategic guidance to minimise legal exposure and protect the interests of the organisation.
  • GCs in India need to embrace innovation and digital transformation to enhance legal efficiency and effectiveness. Leveraging technology solutions such as contract management systems, legal analytics and artificial intelligence tools will help streamline legal processes, improve decision-making and reduce costs.
  • Effective stakeholder engagement is essential for building trust and credibility both internally and externally. GCs in India engage with a diverse range of stakeholders, including regulators, government authorities, investors and civil society organisations advocating for regulatory reforms, participating in industry associations and contributing to policy discussions to shape legal and regulatory environments conducive to business growth.

Over the past two years or so, I have noticed a distinct increase in demand for senior and general counsel from established Indian multinationals, the plethora of start-ups that have sprung up across the country and US and European multinationals looking to expand or enter the Indian market.  This has led to considerable wage inflation with candidates generally unwilling to move for anything less than a 30% uplift in their total compensation.

Whilst the increase in compensation for GCs is welcome, I still encounter a number of MNCs looking for their first-time GC hires in India and entering the market with an outdated assumption of what they can pay (a notion that I tend to dispel rather quickly when I inform them that our minimum fee to handle the search can be more than the annual salary on offer!). Additionally, there are still a significant number of GCs who still report to the CFO and/or do not have a seat on the leadership team which, given both the challenges and opportunities the current climate presents, is clearly not in line with what should be best practice.

In summary, there are very positive developments for the GC community in India, and I look forward to witnessing further growth over the coming years!


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