SENIOR GLOBAL LEGAL COUNSEL
ASM FRONT END MANUFACTURING PTE. LTD., SINGAPORE
YEARS IN LEGAL FIELD: 12 YRS.
- Recognised in the Legal 500 GC Powerlist: Southeast Asia 2019 among the top 150 GCs in South East Asia.
- Nominated as the Leading Woman in Law Award, 2019 by Legal Era
- Shortlisted for the Woman Lawyer of the Year Award, 2019 at the Asia Legal Business, South East Asia Law Awards, 2019
- Invited by Asian Legal Business, Thomson Reuters, to join the judging panel for the Inaugural ALB India Law Awards, 2019.
- Recognized among the Top 100 Powerful Women in Law by the World IP Forum, 2018
- Team Excellence Award at Xerox India Limited for 2015-2016
- Recognition for Excellence award at Xerox India Limited for 2015
LawSutram (LS): Why did you choose law as a career?
Surabhi Madan (SM): I had not met any lawyer in my life until I decided to be one. Studied mercantile law as part of my Bachelors in commerce degree and did not like it too much. For me it was mostly selection by elimination as I did not want to be an Engineer, Architect, Doctor, MBA etc. and entrance into law college seemed relatively easy. It was later, during my internships that the subject grew on me.
LS: A brief about your work and what you do?
SM: I work for a Dutch semi conductor equipment manfacturing, research and development company headquartered in Holland. I am part of a team of 3 Global Senior Legal Counsels who are together responsible for the company’s functions across 14 countries. I support Global functions like Sales, Procurement, Environment Health & Safety, human resource, tax, IT, Spares & Service organisation in Europe, U.S, Japan, Korea, China to name a few. This includes negotiating global contracts, preparing policies & strategies and also assisting in big projects like digitisation, construction of new facilities etc.
LS: Any special challenges you faced during initial years?
SM: I started out working in Delhi & the members of the Supreme Court and High Court bar have been very instrumental in hand holding their juniors and taking effort to train them well. The initial challenges were monetary with most of my internships fetching no money and even after 6 internships during in LL.B days when I started working, I realised I was paid much less than the court clerk which can be demotivating.
LS: How do you balance Professional & Private life?
SM: I was a mother of 3 children by the time I turned 31. I took a break for about 2 years after my first born and did try to look for opportunities with flexibility while the children were young. I worked In-house reporting into my senior in the U.S. and that helped because of the time difference. I could be with the kids all day and when they slept at night, I would work. I also pursued my LL.M. to upskill while I was pregnant. That allowed me some rest and also flexibility on how I managed my time.
LS: Out of the busy schedule, how much time do you take out for yourself?
SM: All my time other than my working hours (9-5) is my time. The first thing I do everyday is to list out all the deliverables and then prioritise based on urgency and criticality. I keep all stakeholders informed of timelines and set expectations on my turn around time. This helpes everyone plan better so I am not inundated with last minute SOS emails and everyone is informed before hand on how much time review can take. I also do not work weekends so that I come back to work fully charged on Mondays. Taking 3-4 weeks of annual leave is also a must for me.
LS: How do you manage Work-Stress?
SM: The idea is to not stress rather than manage it and that comes with being prepared, planning well, being organised and having a dialogue and setting standard operating procedures for all business people on how to work with the legal team. We spend some time on initial expectation setting so we understand each other well and minimise future conflicts. I also like to seek regular feedback from clients to address any bottle necks.
LS: How do you prepare yourself before any tough / complicated / high – profile case / matter?
SM: Start well in advance , research well, be very well prepared and seek consensus within the organisation. For an in house counsel, the selection of outside counsel is critical in any high profile case. That requires having a good network in place that ensures reliable counsel are available globally at short notice. I am also religious and that makes me calm and composed as my trust in God gives me confidence.
LS: Your normal day will be like?
SM: Access inbox and delete the emails that do not need my attention. Then list and flag out the emails that do and then prioritise my response. I also make sure that my meetings are scheduled such that I have 1-2 busy meeting days a week and prefer to have a few days where I can concentrate, read and complete tasks without being interrupted by meetings. I also work from home 1-2 days a week when I have a busy day and tight timelines.
LS: Any misconceptions about the Indian legal industry?
SM: The Indian legal industry provides for equal opportunity. It’s open to people from all over the country with different skill sets and is gender neutral to a large extent. The biggest conception people have about Indian lawyers is on lack of professionalism and not sticking to timelines. I would not call this a misconception as in my experience too Indian lawyers need to be chased for deliverable.
LS: What would be your goal to accomplish in the next THREE – FIVE years?
SM: Given the global scope of my role, I would very much like to be a global G.C someday. Whether I can accomplish that in 3-5 years is uncertain but I do intend to pursue a global role for the next phase of my career.
LS: How do you differentiate yourself with your competition?
SM: Reliable, Conscientious with a sense of humor.
I have come to be known as someone who will give on time delivery without excuses. I do not believe in exploiting the situations in my company to my advantage. I let my work speak for furthering my career. My pace of work and my attention to detail is something that sets me apart.
LS: Best piece of advice you have ever received in your legal career?
SM: That it is okay to be unclear about what you want to do and it is okay to be a rolling stone. People who don’t have a direction aren’t necessarily aimless.
This great advice gave me the courage to try a lot of different streams of legal practice from litigation to academic research to corporate advisory and contract drafting, rather early on in my career.
LS: Anything regarding India in particular (Cases / Personal history etc.)?
SM: The best part of working in India is the pain and effort that seniors take in training and advancing career of their juniors. This is very rare elsewhere.
The worst part is that lackadaisical attitudes, lack of punctuality, absence of preparation that can be frustrating.
LS: Any advice for young lawyers or students?
SM: It is a fallacy that if you sacrifice your happiness and work hard, success will come.
It is never about the hours you put in but the results you give. Your pace, efficiency, attitude will always be better if you concentrate on making yourself all round happy and healthy.
SPECIAL MESSAGE FOR LAWSUTRAM?
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Thanks for your effort! The future shall reap the rewards of your hard work today.