Mr. Abhijeet Tople started his career as a salesperson, he then took up engineering and today, he is the Vice President, Legal at Unity Small Finance Bank. Mr. Tople shared his journey throughout with Apoorva Mehta, Executive Manager at Legal Desire.
- Please tell us what inspired you to pursue law, Mr Tople. How did the early years of your professional career shape up?
I always wanted to work with corporates in a leadership role. It was necessary to gain knowledge of business for getting entry in corporates. Thus I started my career in marketing and sales. I had been negotiating agreements and contracts with dealers and distributors to open dealership/distributorship etc. I found that if the salesperson has to sell the product/services, the support of the legal department is very important in closing the agreements and business deals. I was sure that for becoming a successful lawyer/In House legal counsel understanding of the business is very important. I immediately decided to pursue law and make a career in the legal field. Later I completed LLB, practiced for few years as a lawyer and joined corporate as In House legal counsel.
- From a foundation in marketing and sales to a corporate lawyer with more than 17 years of experience who has won awards. What achievements in your legal career stand out?
While working with Jio Financial Services I drafted, vetted, negotiated all the agreements in-house and saved huge costs for the organisation. Also we could manage to keep litigation to NIL.
- Success is supposedly simple to obtain but challenging to maintain. What has enabled you to succeed for a long time and keep it up?
Every legal professional should be a student throughout his/her life. Continuous learning helped me succeed till now and will continue to help me in future. Never stop learning.
Always keep in mind that the business you are working for would grow if you support the said business to grow. Hence think like a businessman and try to provide your legal services in such a way that it contributes to the overall growth of the organisation. Always be a business enabler while ensuring the compliance with applicable laws.
- Can you please brief us about you and your successful roadmap till today?
I am from a small city in Maharashtra. You don’t have exposure to corporations or big clients when you are in a small city. The opportunities to grow are rare. In such an environment it is difficult to get success. However, my father was a commerce lecturer. We were always discussing the companies in big cities, how those companies work, what is a balance sheet, marketing etc. My first job was with the company manufacturing a hammock and mosquito net. I was in class 7 at that time. There was no financial need to join this job but I joined it to gain experience in marketing. I was always fascinated by the way these salespeople come to your door, negotiate and sell even after getting a lot of hate from the purchasers most of the time. I joined this company and used to go door to door to sell the said products. I got a very good experience in door to door marking. After that, I never looked back. After my 10th class, I completed my 3 years Government Diploma in Plastic and Polymer Engineering with good grades and immediately joined one multinational company in Gujarat in 1997 as a production engineer. While working, I got a very good experience in manufacturing, how workers think, how management works etc. At the same time, I passed class 12 commerce exam as an external candidate. Due to my previous experience, I was sure that there is no alternative to commerce and hence while working I completed my graduation in commerce. Later I joined a few companies as Area Sales Manager, Distribution Head, Medical Representative etc and got a very good experience in sales of FMCG, Medical, Motor parts, plastic and polymer etc. I also took distributorship of a few companies which were into the plastic crate and granule manufacturing and got rich experience in distribution. My aim in the early days was not to earn money but to get very good experience and exposure. During all these years while working, I had the chance to work on a lot of agreements with dealers, distributors of the companies in coordination with legal departments and also part of negotiations for the resolution of a few disputes. I was fascinated by the kind of work advocates and in-house lawyers were doing for the companies. So I decided to become a lawyer and I took admission in LLB in my city Akola. I must say that it doesn’t matter in which college you take your education but your dedication, hard work does matter. However, with my LLB, I started coaching classes for commerce and law students from the second year of my LLB and also teaching the Russian language which was my first language in my class 12. I was also delivering Hindi and Marathi news on a TV channel as an anchor for 3 years for an hour every day. This experience helped in gaining knowledge in public speaking, journalism, political issues and other social and commercial issues.
I joined a law firm part-time from my first year of LLB itself. I used to visit the office every evening. I used to study briefs and help advocates in preparing and drafting briefs, plaints, complaints, agreements etc. This experience was very unique since I was directly getting experience in drafting and also dealing with different clients. My senior advised me that I must practice in court for at least 3 years in the initial days of my career for getting practical knowledge of law and then I should join corporate. I started practising as an advocate in my city Akola in district and session court. My earlier exposure with various industries helped me a lot in getting clients in a very short period of time. In the first 3 months of my joining court, I argued anticipatory bail wherein 7 dacoits were involved and also I was providing title search reports for top 3 banks in India. In the first 6 months, I was working for local dealers, distributors etc. While practising as an advocate I was meeting in house lawyers, legal teams etc and had a good understanding of their requirements.
Later I joined a corporation in the legal department of a well-known corporate house in Mumbai. Since then I have been working for corporations in various capacities in a legal department.
I have been felicitated with various awards including General Counsel of the Year awards, In- house Counsel of the Year Award etc. I must say that every student of law must not lose any opportunity to learn business while studying law. That will help them in understanding the business and also while applying the law to a particular business situation. I am of the view that one must practice before the court for at least 2 years so that they can understand how the judiciary functions, the documentation etc and no one can fool them in relation to the legal proceedings.
- How would a typical day in the legal department of Unity Small Finance Bank Ltd look? What are your roles and responsibilities currently being a vice president of legal of Unity Small Finance Bank Ltd?
Legal department is responsible for drafting, vetting and negotiation of the agreements, legal advisory and litigation management, advisory on product/process, policies, human resources related advisory/support etc.
- What are some of the current operational challenges faced by in-house legal departments?
We do not face any operational issues as such. The legal team is always available to help and provide the legal support with full motivation. During Covid we faced challenges in getting stamp duty just like other companies.
- What objective do you try to give your book readers while drafting the books?
I have written a few books including How to Draft, vet, negotiate agreements in shortest period of time, Importance of legal, recovery, risk and compliance for business growth, difference between Job and Business and How to recover amounts due in seven steps. The books give ideas about what is expected by the business from In House counsels and the steps we may follow for giving delivery of the legal work within the shortest period of time while ensuring the compliance with applicable laws.
- Can you walk us through your journey of various summits of which you were a part, especially the ones organised by Thomas Reuters, Inventicon etc? Any distinct memories that you would like to share from these summits?
I regularly speak at various summits. The summits organised by ALB/Thomas Reuters, Inventicon, Legavent, BW Legalworld, Legal Era etc are really great. I always enjoyed speaking at the events organised by them. The topics of the summits are curated and current and always give you the contemporary requisite knowledge you are looking for. Always got a chance to meet with top talent of the industry in the summits and discuss with them the current issues and their solutions. Such summits are required for sharing of knowledge on various topics of law. I was lucky to get chance to meet Sr. Advocate Mr. Ram Jethmalani at the event organised by Legal Desire Media and I also Mr. Suresh Prabhu Minster of Commerce and Industries and Civil Aviation at the summit organised by Legal Era. I was facilitated with an award through their hands.
- How do you feel about the idea of work-life balance?
Work life balance is highly important. We must give our full when there is a need to deliver and enjoy to the fullest when you have time. I get sufficient time to spend with my family, speak at various forums, sing songs, make poems and go on long drives.
- What else keeps you active besides work? Would you suggest any films or books that had a big influence on you?
I like to read, make poems, and go on long drives. I loved the book one minute manager. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, 3 Idiots are my favourite. I am an engineer also and practically experienced life as shown in 3 Idiots.
- What guidance do you offer to those who desire to succeed in the legal field?
Be consistent in your efforts, learn new things and gain new knowledge, remain positive and motivated, maintain your health.
- What is the most rewarding aspect of being a lawyer?
You can help everyone on this earth in getting the Justice.