Navrita Kaur is the chief legal officer of Microlink Solutions, a Malaysian solutions provider and system integrator focusing on the financial services and telecommunications sectors. Having started her career as a litigation associate at Shook Lin & Bok, she was approached by Omesti in 2011 to set up its legal department, and spent more than a decade there. Kaur has been in her current role since August last year.
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ALB: What have been some of your highlights from your time in charge? And what are some leadership lessons you have learnt?
Kaur: Being part of a relatively fast-moving industry like technology was not without its challenges. It was a steep learning curve, for sure. Nonetheless, I am grateful for the platform it has given me. Heading the legal team in a tech company has presented me many opportunities to be part of conversations and panel discussions over the years about the use of technology, what the future holds and where technology can assist, be it for services in general or legal services to the business side where we need to find the right balance. Another highlight would be the relationships with some great co-workers across various departments and functions, and being able to learn from one another. Some of the examples are:
- Learning never stops – so always be humble no matter how much you think you know
- Be emphatic – everyone has good and bad days. Don’t be too quick to judge
- Always be respectful – there is nothing to be gained by disrespecting anyone, be it your peers, subordinates or counterparties. There is always a way to convey your message graciously without offending or disparaging the other party.
- Importance of being an effective communicator. A leader has to be a good listener and be able to communicate well to ensure you can successfully attain whatever goal you are working towards.
ALB: How would you describe your strategy for the legal team?
Kaur: I encourage my team to approach their work with a “how we add value to the business” mindset. An in-house lawyer’s role has evolved, and it is no longer specific to legal skills; you have to bring more to the table to set you apart. Having an in-depth understanding of the business is so important, as is understanding the more technical aspects of the business. There is nothing more empowering than knowing exactly what a contract is about, being able to steer through all the complexities during negotiations and ultimately coming up with the best result for the company. I also put a lot of emphasis on the importance of being able to adapt and be flexible – things will not always go as planned, and some matters you are involved in may be very fluid.
Above all, to be approachable and not hesitate to ask questions and listen attentively. Be patient and advise your clients (i.e., the various stakeholders and departments in the company) in a language they would best understand without too much legal jargon. Give examples or draw analogies they would understand. Show them that you and they are a part of the same team and have a mutual objective – to secure the project/opportunity for the company while ensuring that you are there to address their mind to any red flags which would be best dealt with upfront.
ALB: On that note, how would you describe your hiring and talent retention strategy? What kinds of lawyers would make the best fit for your team?
Kaur: To be honest, most of my hiring decisions over the years have been based on a combination of listening to my gut, seeing how a candidate responds to questions or handles themselves in a conversation, and only then looking at their qualification. I wouldn’t say I nailed it every single time, but for the most part, I have been fortunate to have some very good people on my team. Qualities like being detail-oriented, a team player, able to extract relevant information from the other party and showing a lot of initiative would be attributes I look for.
I am also of the view that it gives a potential hire assurance when a team leader is willing to allow a candidate to speak with other existing team members without the team leader being present. I have done this in my hiring process and find that it really helps give the potential hire a glimpse into the team dynamics and expectations in a less formal or intimidating manner.
ALB: When it comes to cooperating with external lawyers, what qualities or capabilities do you believe are the most critical to the work and a sustainable long-term cooperating relationship?
Kaur: In-house counsel today truly have a wide pool of external lawyers to choose from compared to when I started working as an in-house lawyer some 12 years ago. It’s really not just about big law firm names any longer – there have been many mid- or smaller-sized firms that have emerged who are doing great work and truly making a name for themselves. Qualities or capabilities that would make an external lawyer stand out include:
- Having a good and sound understanding of my organisation’s business, which can sometimes be quite technical, especially when it involves a dispute over a complex project.
- Being willing to assist in answering ad-hoc queries about certain areas of law or an issue we might be dealing with, which might not necessarily lead to the engagement of the external lawyer’s services. It’s always appreciated when external counsel is willing to have a casual conversation or answer a query over a phone call rather than insisting that only written advice or opinion can be given.
- Being creative with billing options. Keeping me informed on how much it’s all going to cost and, where possible, an in-house lawyer would truly appreciate an arrangement where fees would be capped so that we have some certainty on our end on the cost impact to our organisation. An experienced lawyer should be able to predict this.
ALB: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Kaur: One of the best pieces of advice I have received was from one of my former bosses very early on in my working life – which was to never have two thoughts in one sentence. That is something that I put to use every single day, whether I am drafting or providing feedback on a legal document or even just having a work-related discussion. It is so important to be able to get your point across in a succinct manner to ensure you do not lose the recipient of the information along the way. Again, this is also a step in becoming an effective communicator, which is imperative in any leadership position.