Women in legal engineering: Someera Khokhar
The Legal Technology Resource Center’s Women of Legal Tech initiative aims to promote diversity and celebrate women in legal technology. This initiative started in 2015 with a list of innovators and leaders in legal technology. With this year’s additions, this list now includes 132 talented and influential women leaders. Every Monday and Wednesday we will introduce a woman from our class from 2021. Today we have Someera Khokhar!
Someera Khokhar is the founder and CEO of Nammu21.
What are three points that describe you?
- Creative / visionary
- Determined with a can-do attitude
How is teleworking / quarantine going for you?
The impact of 2020 has been significant for all startups, especially startups like Nammu21. The usual business goals of a start-up – securing customer relationships, achieving commercial goals while managing finances, and collecting donations – have been tightened exponentially this year. Other critical considerations such as the health of our team that made sure the new routines for many of us – which required a new juggling of family duties, distance learning, and the simple management of daily life – were adopted have been adopted with a whole new focus and perspective.
Despite all the disruptions, I’m proud to say that our team quickly adapted to working and collaborating remotely. Ultimately, 2020 was a very successful year for us; We released a number of key features, scaled aspects of our platform, and completed two smaller funding rounds. Also, with the realization that remote working would become a more general part of the financial ecosystem, the flow and pace of our customer conversations accelerated. The year ended with a number of new customer relationships in advanced discussion phases with us that was higher than forecast.
I personally enjoyed seeing more of my family. That was an important bright light for me – you may not agree with that!
How did you get into legal engineering?
My decision to get into legal technology was a huge risk. I had no technological background at all! However, over the years as a Senior Partner in the private practice at White & Case, I have had the opportunity to participate in numerous conversations with fellow finance and legal executives that have identified significant and growing market needs in my sector (Personal Loans ) that were not addressed. These were 1) the time it took to get a financing transaction to market, 2) the costs associated with that transaction process, and 3) the need for detailed real-time data, contextual data and data patterns to enable portfolios of transactions monitored, measured and assessed for compliance, risk and reporting purposes.
My main insight was that this market needed a synthesis between legal documentation analysis and management, process and mechanics of financial transactions to solve these challenges and I felt uniquely positioned to develop the solutions. I think it would be fair to say that most people questioned my sanity at the time, but looking back over the past 3.5 years, I can honestly say that it is the most challenging, fulfilling, pleasurable, petrifying and the most nail-biting and the most inspiring time of my professional life!
What projects have you been focusing on lately?
There are enormous opportunities to “industrialize” processes and procedures in credit markets, most of which are still “analog markets”. The digitization of critical components of this market, which is converging with the emerging data revolution, is ultimately our product and our NorthStar platform.
However, that goal requires that we remain adaptable, nimble and aligned with the changing regulatory and business environment of personal credit, with our focus and innovation adapting to our market and our customers. For example, our recent projects have included the release and commercialization of a specific feature that focuses on IBOR replacement (an incredibly significant market adjustment being driven by global financial regulators), and we are now close to releasing a feature as well The ESG can analyze and monitor provisions for credit instruments – another emerging critical market need.
Through this coordination and calibration with our customers, their business needs and this market, our features and tools can be more easily and seamlessly transformed into essential products that are required by the financial ecosystem.
Is there a legal technical resource that really helped you when you started in the field?
The most helpful resource on my journey from law firm partner to entrepreneur have been people. After spending my entire career in a law firm focused on personal loans, I had decades of knowledge of the market, workflows, and actual vulnerabilities, but ultimately had to learn how to be an entrepreneur!
While there are several overlapping skills between a senior partner in a global law firm and a startup CEO – tenacity, resilience, and the ability to work hard – nothing had prepared me for the range of hats I had to wear very quickly Founder, starting with learning a completely new “technical language” to communicating with engineers to learning how to open a business account!
I am very grateful for the time and guidance I have received from so many people. The hundreds of conversations in the first few months were invaluable, and this broad group of people – other entrepreneurs, technologists, engineers, transaction and portfolio managers, most of whom I had never met before – were my greatest resource. Thank you all!
What do you see as the most important emerging technology right now, legal or not?
There have been exponential seismic changes in our lives driven by technology, and while together we are still nearing the starting point of that change, the pace is accelerating. In addition, there are generational changes with leadership roles in all industries, including in the areas of law and finance. A transition from a generation of executives whose habits are paper, pen, and print to those who are able to seamlessly interact with technology looking for speed, efficiency, and dynamic real-time contextual information.
The main change emerging is not technology-centric. it’s about people. Currently, legaltech and fintech solutions are mainly focused on automation. Ultimately, however, we are moving towards a digital ecosystem that is not constrained by the parameters of human-centered, preprogrammed algorithms. The critical discussions that need to take place are both how automation will affect entire professions in the short term, as well as the next generation of information, with less of an emphasis on adopting technology to adapt to technology.
Critical thinking and business-oriented solutions must be led by professionals from this first phase of automation. 1) How do we train our skilled workers who have relied on the apprentice model in the past? 2) What should be taught in business schools and law schools? 3) If processes, documentation and analysis are now carried out better and more precisely by technology solutions, which skills must then be promoted and further developed in our next generation of managers for professional services?
What advice would you give other women interested in getting into legal technology?
My general advice in most matters is to always watch the prevailing winds; What are the signs and where are you going? With this perspective in the prevailing winds of professional service, one simply shouldn’t expect to be immune from the continued interference of technology with law or finance.
Getting involved in Legal Tech / Fintech doesn’t necessarily mean leaving law firms or banks because the institutions aren’t going, but they are and will continue to evolve. Being an active participant in this change is crucial whether you are researching new technologies, volunteering for test / pilot solutions, or finding ways to leverage the technologies your organizations may have already invested in. Ultimately, the highest skilled workers are those who can seamlessly integrate the value and benefits of technology into what a machine cannot currently do: complex decision-making and differentiated, reasoned advice.
Legaltech and Fintech are new market segments that are by definition less crowded and offer the opportunity to transform the industry and create new markets. I hope companies like N21 will continue to grow to create meaningful career paths that challenge and reshape people’s attitudes towards careers in law or finance.
Greet another legal engineering woman who you admire or have learned from!
While there aren’t many women in legal engineering (but hopefully our ranks will keep growing!), There are women in professional service and VCs that inspire me. Elizabeth Crain, COO at Moelis, a woman who runs a talent-driven organization and from whom I learned a lot about risk taking, managing businesses and building businesses. Ita Ekpoudom of GingerBread Capital and Elizabeth Davis of Anthemis are both women at the forefront when it comes to investing and supporting women entrepreneurs who have given me valuable support and assistance! Additionally, Darcy Binder is a senior attorney with whom I worked closely at White & Case. She joined the N21 team in 2018. I am extremely proud of the work Darcy is doing to develop the platform, expand her team and become an executive in the legaltech / fintech area.
I look forward to welcoming other women into the Legal Tech / Fintech space and being given the opportunity to share the support, encouragement, and guidance I’ve received.
Register for the Women of Legal Tech Summit 2021!
Attend the ABA Women Rainmakers Committee’s two-day symposium from March 3, 2021 to March 4, 2021 to help bridge the gender gap in legal technology. On both days, the 2021 Women of Legal Tech Honorees from the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center will be recognized. Find inspiration in Ignite-style sessions with legal technology leaders, breakout sessions with executives in the field, and interactive workshops.