At Crafty Counsel, we regularly focus on getting to know more about members of our in-house legal community. This week, we spoke with Neena Janda, Senior Legal Counsel at Zappi and member of Lean Legal – our group for sole counsel or those working in smaller legal teams.

[Did you know we have different groups within our Community for in-house legal professionals which have regularly scheduled virtual meet-ups and in-person events? Learn more about the Crafty Counsel Community.]

Early aspirations and formative years

Neena’s journey into the legal world was guided by her father’s advice, prioritising passion over profession. As a first-generation university attendee, Neena’s pursuit of law carried the dreams of generations, propelling her towards a career that mirrored her aspirations for both personal and professional success.

“Finishing my law degree and accomplishing a First Class was a huge achievement, not just for me, but for my family too. It was a milestone that echoed generations of aspirations.”

Navigating the legal landscape

After graduating with a law degree, Neena encountered the challenges common to many fresh law graduates. Starting as a paralegal at a national law firm, Shoosmiths, she realised the importance of building a network and navigating the competitive legal landscape. Undeterred, she pursued the LPC without a secured training contract.

After her time as a paralegal, Neena embarked on an uncommon journey by starting her career as a trainee solicitor in-house at Gattaca Plc, a move she regards as pivotal.

“Working and training in-house provided me with a holistic view of legal practice whilst learning how to navigate through a commercial environment. It wasn’t just about legalities; it was about integrating legal advice and strategies seamlessly into the broader business framework and ensuring that you’re adding value to the business and its stakeholders.”

Immersing herself in the in-house environment, Neena discovered that being an in-house counsel demanded a multifaceted approach – juggling legal skills, knowing how the business works, thinking commercially and acting as a key business partner was fundamental.

From in-house to private practice… and back

Transitioning from in-house to an international law firm, Trowers & Hamlins LLP in Birmingham marked a shift, yet Neena found a way to bridge her experiences. For her, private practice offered a different set of challenges upon qualification as a solicitor and allowed her to build her legal expertise while maintaining the collaborative approach she valued from her time in-house.

During her time in private practice, particularly in the commercial department, she improved her negotiation skills, technical and legal expertise. Working in private practice enhanced her capability to analyse complex legal issues within a commercial framework whilst working with a variety of clients. Being in private practice also placed an importance on business development and Neena was encouraged early on to attend as many networking events as possible. This allowed her to develop her ability to build her personal profile whilst also raising the profile of the firm. It also reminded her of the importance of teamwork and collaboration, values she had brought from her previous in-house role.

In addition to working in private practice and attending networking events, Neena joined the Birmingham Solicitors Group Committee and the Birmingham Law Society where she now sits as an official council member. She has also taken part in mentoring schemes focusing on supporting students who aspire to be lawyers and raising awareness on social mobility. 

The pivotal moment in Neena’s career was her decision to transition back to an in-house role, but this time, embracing an exciting remote position in a London-based tech company, Zappistore Limited. This unprecedented move blurred the lines between in-house and remote work culture, offering her the flexibility to stay in the West Midlands and autonomy she craved while working with the US sales team and staying connected with the London office. Being a Senior Legal Counsel at Zappi, has allowed Neena to add value to the business and its stakeholders by applying her breadth of skills / experience gained from training in-house and working in private practice. 

Whilst working in-house, Neena has continued to retain her position as a council member of the Birmingham Law Society and also joined their In-House Lawyers sub-committee where she supports / organises in-house focussed events. Her passion and experience led her to be shortlisted as a Finalist at the Birmingham Law Society 2023 Legal Awards for the In-House category. Neena was a keynote speaker at the South Asian Heritage Month event hosted by the Birmingham Law Society raising awareness and highlighting the importance of diversity in law. She has also become a Crafty Council Local Ambassador where she co-organised / co-hosted CC’s first ever local meet up in Birmingham which was a resounding success and plans to host more local meet ups going forward. 

One cool thing you have seen in legal recently?

Neena, just like many others, sees AI as one of the most exciting prospects in the legal realm. In her current role at Zappi, she shares how they’re strategically employing AI within its business operations to streamline processes and improve efficiency. 

“We’re exploring the potential use of ChatGPT in various internal projects and looking at better ways of working whilst managing any legal risks it poses to the business.”  

While maintaining her excitement about the usefulness of AI, Neena understands its benefits come with the need to assess legal implications. Ensuring that the technology’s utilisation aligns with existing agreements which is crucial to maintaining ethical and contractual integrity.

Neena’s advice to her younger self: embrace authenticity 

If Neena could offer advice to her younger self, it would be to steer clear of  organisations that do not align with your professional values and personality. Her general encouragement for individuals is to seek roles in organisations where they can naturally thrive by simply being their true-selves and not trying to fit a mould pre-determined for them. Don’t settle, find an organisation that values you and appreciates you bringing your authentic self to work!