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In Conversation With Ashima Obhan, Senior Partner, Obhan & Associates

1 July 2021 8:56 AM GMT
In Conversation With Ashima Obhan, Senior Partner, Obhan & Associates

Obhan & Associates and Ashima Obhan have been recognized and highly ranked by various international platforms like Chambers and Partners, asialaw, Asian Legal Business and more, for the fantastic work in the technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) space. How did you go about setting up the practice?

Thank you to Chambers and Partners, asialaw and ALB for the recognition. I think this honour is due in no small part to the team that has worked incredibly hard over the past few years to get here. I envisioned TMT as a core piece of the corporate law portfolio of the firm, which I set up almost 10 years ago.

There are different ways in which our practice has evolved: we've tapped into our existing strengths, we've done things we love doing, and we've been - to put it simply - curious. Each of these paths is easily replicable, and when done with sincerity and passion, can be incredibly exciting and rewarding. I can give you examples of all three paths.

O&A was already an established name in intellectual property (IP) when I joined, and it was a natural pivot to explore TMT, because of the close and obvious linkages it has with IP.

As a bibliophile, I had always thought that there could be nothing more satisfying than seeing books come to life and knowing that you've been a part of that process. This led to the addition of another key set of clients in the publishing industry, where, among other things, we were involved in author contracts negotiations and the acquisition of publishing houses. As our clients, which include Penguin Random House and HarperCollins, got more comfortable, we got to tackle more complex questions, around sensitive and significant issues like defamation, sedition, hate speech, and personality rights.

The TMT space is constantly and rapidly evolving, and obviously, our work has had to be equally fast-paced in response. It also helps to be curious. What started off as merely wanting to know more about the emerging area of data protection and privacy, led to my co-authoring a book ('Data Protection Laws Demystified', Oakbridge, October 2019) on the EU GDPR and its impact on Indian businesses, as well as data protection and privacy laws in India. While the journey of writing the book was fulfilling in itself, it also opened up a whole new client base for the firm, as a result. We have helped dynamic companies like Harappa Education, navigate the regulatory maze of data protection, and emerge as strong contenders in their industries.

That's a wide range of work you do. What would you identify as your professional highlights in your career so far?

Every day brings with it a new challenge, and each time, there is an opportunity to learn something new. As a firm, we are fortunate to be in a time and space filled with constant energy and innovation. I am always excited about what tomorrow will bring. While there have been many highlights, I will pick two for now.

In the midst of the international merger of an FMCG multinational, our client, a leading Indian engineering firm, sought our advice on a cross-border arbitration surrounding the transfer of its IP. Key global food brands, and domestic and international courts and tribunals were involved. The matter required a nuanced understanding of IP, know-how, confidential information, and contract law. Representing our client across different fora, we successfully reached a settlement where all IP issues were successfully resolved. This was a matter that brought multiple strands of our firm together - IP, corporate, arbitration - and was a great learning experience in collaborative teamwork requiring skills of a highly technical order.

In an ongoing matter, the firm is advising and defending HarperCollins in an injunction suit against the book "Gunning for the Godman: The True Story Behind Asaram Bapu's Conviction" on grounds of defamation. The ex-parte interim injunction granted by the trial court was successfully vacated, recognising our defence of the free speech rights of publishers, and emphasis upon the fact that was claimed as defamatory was a matter of public record. This case has helped push a lot of boundaries in defamation law and will likely significantly impact future decisions.

All of the work we have done has been possible because of the endlessly creative nature of the human spirit. Each day is a humbling experience, but also a recognition of our place in the scheme of things, as an enabler in allowing such creativity to bloom and survive.

How does your team manage this diverse portfolio, and how have you kept up in these strange times brought upon us by the pandemic?

We are a firm of 50 lawyers and paralegals. Naturally, these have been very challenging times for all of us. Our mantra is to ensure that our work culture remains positive and fulfilling. We are constantly looking for innovative ways in which projects can be structured, managed and delivered.

We have been working from home for most of the last 15 months and will continue to do so until it is absolutely safe to return to full time work. However, we already had flexible work schedules, which meant that, even before the pandemic struck, team members could work from home if necessary.

Remote working is becoming the "new normal" for many now, but we've been following this for years. In one instance, the person concerned had to move to a different city, and what started out as a remote working and mentorship experience, ended up with the firm expanding its presence and setting up an office in that city.

An adaptable workplace has meant that we have relatively above-average retention rates, leading to other positive externalities, such as our firm being regarded as a stable and reliable organisation by employees and clients alike.

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