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Subex Limited, established in 1992, is a telecom analytics software provider headquartered in Bangalore, India. The company specialises in digital trust products that empower businesses worldwide, serving 75% of the top 50 telcos globally.

As a technology company, Subex Limited places a high priority on complying with IP and data privacy laws. However, when dealing with multiple jurisdictions, the legal complexities can be overwhelming. When Bhavna Singh onboarded Subex Limited as their GC and Data Privacy Officer (DPO), her first task was to streamline the legal process, ensure smooth business operations, and enable deal closures. This was achieved by bringing down hierarchical structures. 

“When I joined Subex Limited, I received support from the management to structure the legal department. In my three-year stint here, I have been able to organise the legal department and optimise the legal function by standardising workflows and bringing transparency.”

Bhavna is an experienced GC with over 20 years of experience in corporate law. She has worked with major IT corporations like Accenture, Wipro, and Sun Microsystems, as well as consulting firms like PwC, in various senior positions in contracting, compliance, software products, and technology law. In 2022, Bhavna was named one of the Top 10 General Counsels for Legal Leadership and Women in Law by CEO Insights.

In a conversation with us, Bhavna shed light on how her previous experiences made her develop the required skills to lead the legal function at Subex Limited. She also talked briefly about the challenges that GCs encounter in large enterprises and what they should do to build inter-departmental rapport & stay ahead of the curve.  

Prepping to be the GC at a large tech enterprise

At the onset of her career, Bhavna worked with various law firms as an attorney. After a few years, she moved on to join PWC - her first stint as an in-house legal counsel, where she learned the various intricacies of working in-house as an attorney.

Fast forward to 2001 - Bhavna joined the legal team of Wipro. Although Wipro had a market cap of over $1 Bn, they had a small team of technology lawyers. As the team was small, roles were not well-defined. Therefore, Bhavna was given opportunities to work in all areas and additional training on global negotiations. This helped her gain confidence when she took complete legal ownership of specific verticals that helped her transform her personae as a lawyer.  

“Before joining Wipro, I used to listen a lot and make suggestions hesitantly. But Wipro was doing well as a company. So, I gained confidence and became aggressive and assertive.”  

In subsequent roles, she worked at Sun Microsystems and Accenture, where she headed the legal function for India and handled global tech contracts. Working with cutting-edge technology for over a decade, Bhavna honed the necessary skills to become the GC and DPO at Subex Limited.

From chaos to order - transforming the legal function at Subex Limited

When Bhavna joined Subex Limited, the first thing she realised was that although the legal department had some great resources, many processes were broken.

“There was no structured approach to solving problems. On top of that, the larger team was unaware of what the legal team was doing. This lack of transparency was leading to a delay in closing deals.”  

After spending a couple of months in the company and minutely observing things, Bhavna listed down the most critical issues that she would solve:

  • Lack of contract templates and guidelines
  • Lack of escalation metrics and hierarchy in the legal team
  • Siloed legal function
  • Opacity in IP rights of products
  • Unawareness of data privacy laws

Bhavna then took a step-by-step approach to address these issues.

#1 - Streamlining internal legal workflows

“First, I worked on setting up contract templates and contracting guidelines that every lawyer in the team dealing with contracts must use and follow. Doing so, we were able to bring in a lot of order to the system.”

Once the contract pipeline was optimised, Bhavna established a hierarchy in the legal team and defined roles and responsibilities for every team member. Consequently, escalation metrics also fell into place.

“Earlier, everyone was doing everything, but now we have structured the team better. With defined roles, people know exactly what they are supposed to do. We have resolved legal tickets more efficiently, and our turnaround times have improved.”

#2 - Fostering rapport with business teams

Bhavna has been a legal leader long enough to understand that companies can grow fast with an approachable legal function. After structuring the team and setting up the required processes and workflows, Bhavna’s next objective was to make the legal function transparent and team approachable.

“Building rapport and relationships are essential for cross-functional collaboration. We wanted business teams to trust us with their problems. We had to be seen as an approachable team that would find legally binding solutions and enable the business.”

Bhavna realised that cross-functional collaboration for legal teams was a nightmare at Subex Limited as the legal team used to work in siloes. Stakeholders saw the legal team as a blocker and avoided approaching them with business problems.

Bhavna took the first step toward changing this perception by participating in many non-legal meetings.

“By attending these meetings, I was able to get a 360-degree view of what the business goals are. These meetings also helped me envisage potential legal clashes.”

Once Bhavna had a clear picture of the problem, she approached associated business teams with viable solutions and helped them take a legally-sustainable approach to close transactions.

#3 - Making the team aware of IPs and data privacy laws

As a technology company that operates in multiple jurisdictions, Subex Limited deals with a lot of IP rights and data privacy laws. Now, owing to complexities, it is a good practice for all members of the legal team to be familiar with every nook and corner of IP rights and data privacy laws. And this is precisely what Bhavna did with her team.

“Earlier, people were not aware of what IPs and data privacy laws were applicable to a specific contract. Therefore, there was a lot of hassle, and we were creating more problems than we were solving. But now, as the DPO of the company, I ensured my team is familiar with the necessary laws and regulations.”

Bhavna recalls an incident involving an escalation for the legal team in data privacy. All eyes were on how the legal team solved the problem, as the incident was reported on newspapers and online platforms. But, the legal team was well versed with the required data privacy laws and was aware of what action should be taken. Consequently, the team was able to find a solution very efficiently.  

Advice to GCs at large enterprises

As someone who has been there and done that, Bhavna shares some interesting points that could help GCs at large enterprises achieve incredible results.

The most important thing, in Bhavna’s words, is “approaching solutions with an overall corporate-wide mindset.” She suggests GCs should work toward finding solutions that are sustainable and will work well for the company in the future.  

#1 - Build a strong internal legal research wing

The legal department at any enterprise mainly deals with clients who have operations in multiple jurisdictions. Hence, it is essential to have subject matter experts who are adept with data privacy, compliance, and related laws.

“A good research wing will help you approach problems in the right direction. You will have the correct precedents, and so, you will have an edge when it comes to litigation and developing products for a new geography.”

#2 - Work closely with the product development team

After the subject matter experts conduct thorough research of local laws and regulations of any jurisdiction, GCs should take key pointers from them and convey those to the product development team. They should then work closely with developers to ensure that the product is compliant and protects the interests of end users.

“Ensuring compliance while building a product can help avoid legal blockers in the future. If the product is compliant with technology laws, GTM becomes easy. Hence, GCs should have regular calls with developers and closely monitor product development from a legal standpoint.”

#3 - Do not micromanage. Let people do their job!

Bhavna believes that ‘aware’ legal teams can achieve magnificent results. As a legal leader, Bhavna entrusts her team with ownership of certain tasks.

“You are only as good as your team! Guide and mentor the team as and when necessary. Once they know what to do, trust them to do their job well.”

#4 - Stay up-to-date with changing regulations

Technology laws and regulations are subject to rapid change. GCs must keep pace with the amendments. For that, Bhavna suggests GCs attend relevant legal events and subscribe to the technology law newsletters.

“Also, take inputs from legal heads of various jurisdictions. The more you talk to them, the better you understand changing laws and regulations.”

#5 - Find practical solutions that are viable in the long run

GCs need to be adept with theory, but at the same time, they should be able to develop workarounds. Finding practical solutions that work is an essential trait in any successful GC.

“Moreover, ensure that the solutions you find work in the long run. Sustainable legal solutions will not only put processes and procedures in place but also structure workflows that will ease the load on the legal team.”

#6 - Legal resourcing - build a core centre of operations

An enterprise has operations in multiple jurisdictions, and each jurisdiction might have a legal team of hundreds of individuals. Most jurisdictions might have common laws. Therefore, it might make sense to run legal back offices in the country where the enterprise is headquartered. Basic legal stuff, such as reviewing NDAs and contracts, can be insourced to the legal back office.  

“By running legal back offices, resources can be optimised, and operational costs can be kept low.”

Wrapping up

Bhavna wants GCs to understand that they should not wait for advice from anyone in the organisation. Instead, they should be able to be the problem-solver that everyone in the enterprise looks up to.

“Listen to what key stakeholders are saying. But at the end of the day, you should be able to identify legally-feasible solutions and make informed decisions. This is key to becoming a successful GC at an enterprise.”

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