Someera Khokhar is the Founder and CEO of Nammu21.
What are three points that describe you?
- Determined with a can-do attitude
How is telework/quarantine going for you?
The impact of 2020 was significant for all start-ups, especially so for early-stage companies like Nammu21. The usual business objectives of any start-up—of securing client relationships, achieving commercial targets whilst managing finances, and fundraising—were all exponentially compounded this year. Other critical considerations such as the health of our team, making sure that the new routines for many of us—which required a new juggling of family responsibilities, remote schooling, and ensuring that the simple administration of daily life—was being undertaken took on a whole new focus and perspective.
Notwithstanding all the disruption, I am proud to say that our team all quickly adapted to working and collaborating remotely. Ultimately 2020 was a very successful year for us; we released a number of significant features, scaled aspects of our platform, and closed out two smaller funding rounds. In addition, with the recognition that remote working was going to become a more general part of the finance ecosystem, the trajectory and pace of our client discussions accelerated. The year ended with a higher-than-projected number of new client relationships in advanced stages of discussions with us.
Personally, I enjoyed seeing more of my family. That was a key bright light for me—they may disagree with that!
How did you become involved in legal tech?
My decision to become involved in legal tech was a huge risk; I did not have a technology background at all! Over the years as a senior partner, however, in private practice at White & Case, I had the opportunity to participate in numerous discussions with other senior leaders across the finance and legal ecosystems where I realized there were significant and growing market needs of my sector (private credit) which were not being addressed. These were 1) The time being taken for a financing transaction to come to market, 2) The costs involved in that transaction process, and 3) the need for granular, real-time, contextual data and data patterns to enable portfolios of transactions to be monitored, measured, and assessed for compliance, risk, and reporting purposes.
My key realization was that this market needed a synthesis between the analysis of legal documentation and the administration, process, and mechanics of financial transactions to solve these challenges and I felt I was 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 last 3.5 years, I can honestly say it has been the most challenging, most fulfilling, most enjoyable, most petrifying, most nail-biting, and most inspiring period of my professional life!
What projects have you been focused on recently?
There are tremendous opportunities to “industrialize” processes and procedures across the credit markets which have largely continued to be “analog markets.” The digitization of critical components of this market converging with the emerging data revolution is ultimately our product and platform NorthStar.
This target however requires that we remain adaptive, nimble, and aligned to the shifting regulatory and business environment of private credit with our focus and innovation adjusting to our market and clients. For example, our recent projects have included the release and commercialization of a specific feature focused on IBOR replacement (an incredibly significant market adjustment being driven by the global financial regulators) and we are now also close to releasing a feature that can analyze and monitor ESG provisions across credit instruments—another emerging critical market need.
This coordination and calibration with our clients, their business needs, and this market means that our features and tools can more easily and seamlessly be converted into essential products required by the finance ecosystem.
Is there a legal tech resource of any kind that really helped you when you were starting out in the field?
The most helpful resources throughout my journey from law firm partner to entrepreneur were people. Having spent my entire career in legal practice at a law firm with a focus on private credit, I had decades’ worth of knowledge of the market, the workflows, and the actual pain points but ultimately I had to learn to be an entrepreneur!
Although there are several overlapping skills between being a senior partner in a law global law firm and a startup CEO—tenacity, resilience, and the capacity for hard work—nothing had prepared me for the range of hats I needed to wear very quickly as a founder, ranging from learning a whole new “tech language” and communicating with engineers all the way to learning how to open a business account!
I am extremely grateful for all the time and guidance that I received from so many people. The hundreds of conversations in the first few months were invaluable and that broad group of people— other entrepreneurs, technologists, engineers, transaction and portfolio managers, most of whom I had never met before—was my greatest resource. Thank you to all of you!
What do you see as the most important emerging tech, legal or not, right now?
There have been exponential seismic shifts in our lives driven by technology, and although we are collectively still near the start point of that change, the pace is accelerating. In addition, there are generational shifts taking place with leadership roles across all industries, including in law and finance; a transition from a generation of leaders whose habits are paper, pens, and printing to those who are able to seamlessly interact with technology and are looking for speed, efficiency, and dynamic real-time contextual information at their fingertips.
The most important emerging change is not technology-centric; it is about people. At this juncture, legaltech and fintech solutions are largely focused on automation, but we are ultimately heading to a digital ecosystem that is not constrained by the parameters of human-centric, pre-programmed algorithms. The critical discussions which need to be taking place are both how automation in the immediate term and the next generation of intelligence will impact entire professions with a focus less on tech adoption to tech adaptation.
Critical thinking and business-driven solutions need to be led by professionals, even in this initial phase of automation. 1) How do we educate and train our professionals who historically have relied on the apprentice model? 2) What should be taught at business schools and law schools? 3) If processes, documentation, and analysis are now better, more accurately undertaken by technology solutions, what skills need to fostered and developed in our next generation of leaders across professional services?
What advice would you give to other women who want to get involved in legal tech?
My general advice on most matters is to always survey the prevailing winds; what are the signs and where are things heading? Taking that perspective into the prevailing winds of professional services, very simply no one should expect to be immune from the continued encroachment of technology into law or finance.
Being involved in legal tech/fintech does not necessarily mean leaving law firms or banks because the institutions are not going away, but they are and will continue to evolve. Being an active participant in that change is key, whether it is making sure that you are aware of emergent technologies, volunteering to test/pilot solutions, or finding ways to utilize the technologies that your firms may already have invested in. Ultimately the most highly-skilled professionals will be those that can seamlessly integrate the value and benefits of technology with what a machine cannot currently do: complex decision making and nuanced, reasoned advice.
Legaltech and fintech are new market segments, by definition less crowded, with the opportunity to help reshape industries and create new markets. My hope is that companies like N21 will continue to grow to provide meaningful career pathways challenging and reshaping how people think of careers in the law or finance.
Give a shout-out to another woman in legal tech who you admire or have learned something from!
Although there are not many women in legal tech (but hopefully our ranks will continue to grow!), there are women in professional services and in VCs that inspire me. Elizabeth Crain, COO at Moelis, a woman leading a talent-driven organization and from whom I have learned a lot about taking risks, managing businesses, and building operations. Ita Ekpoudom at GingerBread Capital and Elizabeth Davis at Anthemis are both women on the front line of investing and supporting women entrepreneurs from whom I have taken invaluable guidance and support! In addition, Darcy Binder is a senior lawyer I worked closely with at White & Case and she joined the N21 team in 2018. I am extraordinarily proud of the work Darcy is doing to further develop the platform, grow her team, and become a leader in the legaltech/fintech space.
I look forward to welcoming other women into the legal tech/fintech space and the opportunity to pay forward the support, encouragement, and guidance I have received.
On March 3, 2021—March 4, 2021, join the ABA Women Rainmakers Committee for a two-day symposium on closing the legal tech gender gap. Both days include recognizing the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center’s 2021 Women of Legal Tech Honorees. Get inspired by Ignite-style sessions from leading women in legal tech, breakout sessions with leaders in the field, and interactive workshops.