Bhagyashree Pancholy founded All Remotely, where she helps co-located and office-based teams to transition to remote teams and helps remote teams understand their teams better with the help of her proprietary assessments. She is also General Counsel at Lano, where she helps clients expand internationally by hiring and retaining talent in a compliant manner.
In this interview with Asia Law Portal, Pancholy explains how remote work is impacting legal services in general and in India in particular, her legal background and how it led her to a career as a remote legal entrepreneur – and how others might also become remote lawyers.
You’re both GC for Lano and Owner of All Remotely. What led you to this hybrid career?
I have been remote for a decade now and when the pandemic struck last year, many companies and teams rolled out remote work policies. My business partner at All Remotely (who has been remote for 30 years) and I knew from our experience that many were confused as to what is remote work and what is hybrid work. Teams and experts were advising to let employees choose for themselves when and where they would want to work and when would they want to be in the office, if they actually wanted to be in it, in the first place.
As an employment lawyer and someone who has been helping teams expand internationally in a compliant manner, I knew that employment laws and tax laws would be a major challenge.
That’s why we built All Remotely – it is one-of-a-kind series of assessments (ranging from testing the cognitive ability of an employee to work in a remote setting to their ergonomic setting, HR tech audit, and legal workplace policies) to know if the team and an individual is remote ready, and if not, how can they be coached to be ready.
At Lano, which is an Independent Contractor management software and EOR service provider, I actually help teams understand the nuances of employment laws across the globe and help them hire and retain talent overseas in a compliant manner.
I would say, I am in a perfect spot where I get to do two things that I love – empower teams to be remote and help teams expand across the globe with the right setup.
What is your background in law?
I have a Masters’s degree in Law and have done some diploma courses in International Tax Law, Employment Law, and Data Privacy. I am currently licensed to practice law in India and the UK.
My first job as a lawyer was in 2012 as a consultant to an all-remote SaaS company situated in the US. I learned about Data Privacy, setting up regional entities, and employment law. As a novice, I was fascinated with the idea of people working from different countries and cities for the same company and how employers could hire the best talent in the world. I worked hard to understand the operational process and applied for a Masters In Law and followed it up with a Masters in Business Administration.
How do you see remote work impacting legal services in general and in India in particular?
With the widespread acceptance of remote work and many companies rolling out Work from Anywhere plans, the floodgates have opened for litigation.
Even before the pandemic, many workers were misclassified in terms of employment status, hopping jurisdictions without the right permit/visas and the employer’s approval, employers were possibly evading and avoiding tax and non-compliance with local laws, they got through with these and more because the officials had little to no understanding of remote work and weren’t paying attention to it. But now, remote work is highlighted and is increasingly being adopted by both, public and private sectors, many countries either enacted Remote Work Laws (like Spain, Poland, Ireland, etc.) or made amendments in the Labour Acts to include remote and flexible work. I have already seen an increase in employment law and tax law-related litigation across sectors and geographies in my practice. I understand that employment and tax lawyers will be in great demand as companies will look for experts to help them navigate the complex laws in jurisdictions and litigation around workplace injuries, employment contract discrepancies, social benefits etc will be at an all-time high.
In India, the laws in terms of employee health and safety, best practices, rights, and such are pretty Draconian. However, some interesting amendments were introduced last year to empower gig and remote workers.
More companies are looking to hire top-notch talent from India, and this will create a platform for Indian lawyers to push for the right practices of employment and tax filing, paving a way for stronger legislation around remote work in the country.
You work remotely yourself. Why do you like it?
I started working remotely to be with my military husband. At my first job, I was more or less based out of Bengaluru and would travel for business for about 4 months in a year. I honestly had gone tired of it and when my husband was due to move out of Bengaluru, I wanted to accompany him and started looking for a remote job. Back then, many weren’t willing to hire a lawyer who was remote and hence I also dabbled with Business Development, Marketing and Operations.
I may not have always wanted to be remote, but I always wanted flexibility – as a military spouse I had to dedicate a few of my hours to the military families and look after their welfare too which would’ve been difficult with a normal desk or a remote job.
Working remotely has taught me so many new things: about diversity, inclusion, different cultures, beliefs and more. Now I get to work with some of the most incredible talent and companies across the globe who are really shaping the future. My knowledge and learning medium are borderless, truly and over the years I have learnt so many new skills that have refined me and molded me to be competitive in the workforce.
As a young mother, I get to spend time with my daughter and yet accomplish my professional goals – it is perfect for me.
What advice do you have for anyone interested in a remote legal career?
I would strongly advise them to first work onsite or at a desk job before starting a remote legal career. While remote work has its advantages, a major drawback is that mentorship and networking (super critical for learning and growth in the initial years) is done the best when in an office or physical proximity. Learn the tricks of the trade, be a generalist first, master the art and then pick what you love doing and excel in it. There is a lot of demand for specialists even in the legal industry, but that only comes with a strong foundation as a generalist and as a litigator. Some skills that are needed to work in a remote setting are communication skills (both written and oral), organizational skills, personal discipline, a broad understanding of other domains, and knowledge of legal tech and other tools and apps.
And for legal services organizations seeking to transition or expand their remote work options?
For such legal service providers, specialization is the key. The remote work industry is opening up a pandora’s box of different classes of lawsuits, problems, and grey areas where either the laws are silent or missing. Moving forward, for a few years now, the world will keep on swaying back and forth on remote work as more organizations roll out such policies and some of them would commit mistakes. In my opinion, legal service providers and the judiciary will be the driving force to bring in regulations around remote work and have the golden opportunity to make remote the new normal by writing landmark judgments and strengthening the rights of the employee and the employer.