Ahead of Clifford Chance’s 3 January training contract and vacation scheme application deadline, Nikhita Suria looks back on her journey with the firm to date, which has been enriched by the firm’s support in developing her interest in fintech
Nikhita Suria’s interest in fintech took off in summer 2016, when she was in the middle of her training contract at Clifford Chance. Working for a transactional team at a time of pre-referendum calm on the deal-making front, Nikhita had a bit more time on her hands than usual to expand her wider interests. In the wake of the DAO blockchain hack, Nikhita became fascinated by the vulnerabilities of new, groundbreaking tech and what lawyers can and should do about it. She thinks aspiring lawyers should be equally excited, too.
A University of Manchester law graduate, Nikhita’s journey to Clifford Chance began with an early brush with corporate law. Now an associate at the global outfit, Nikhita completed an internship at a firm in Singapore before she moved to the UK for university. The work was interesting but lacked the international focus Nikhita craved. That — plus a desire to work at the headquarters of a firm “to get a better perspective on how the organisation functions” — led her to conclude the London office of Clifford Chance was the perfect fit.
Nikhita first walked through the magic circle outfit’s Canary Wharf doors in her second year of university during a two-week vacation scheme spent mainly in the firm’s anti-trust department. She recalls:
“Those who work outside of corporate law sometimes assume the environment is cut-throat, but the lawyers and fellow aspiring lawyers on my vacation scheme were very supportive and friendly. The format of the vacation scheme ensures students focus on their performance and experience rather than their competition’s.”
An impressive end-of-vac-scheme interview scored Nikhita a training contract at the firm, one of 80 on offer each year. She began in March 2015 with seats in M&A, real estate, and banking and finance, plus an “actually incredible” second-seat secondment to the firm’s banking and finance team in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
It was in her seat in real estate that Nikhita found her fintech feet. Fascinated by the tech’s potential in allowing people to carry out transactions independent of third-party infrastructure and the impact this may have on financial services, Nikhita began reading around. Her interest peaked higher after she came across a presentation event online about smart contracts organised by a startup accelerator programme. It was during working hours, but:
“Clifford Chance is very keen to give its lawyers the opportunity to develop their interests; if you have any sort of initiative in mind and there’s a business case for pursuing it, you’ll get the support you need.”
After attending the event, Nikhita shared her insight with the firm by penning a piece on her takeaways from it. She subsequently developed this and co-authored a briefing note which was then published on Clifford Chance’s Talking Tech page. The website is just one of many initiatives the firm adopts to help its lawyers explore the tech revolution and its impact on law and finance. Nikhita also name checks the firm’s fintech interest group, its core innovation group and its new cross-department and cross-office tech group.
Clifford Chance’s embrace of fintech shows it’s an area of interest its clients really value. Indeed, the firm has already been advising start-ups on their tech ventures and working with existing clients on how the movement may affect them. “As a junior it’s quite rare to attend client meetings,” Nikhita reflects, “but recently myself and a partner visited a real estate client to explain blockchain and smart contract technology to them. Clients really do want to know more about the tech revolution.”
Readers may think that Nikhita, as an associate in the firm’s banking and finance team, is closer to the fintech movement than others in the firm may be. However, she emphasises that the emergence of regtech (regulation), proptech (property) and more means an understanding of advancements in the tech space generally is essential for any Clifford Chance lawyer of the future. Nikhita says:
“It is a traditional perception that there is a culture clash between law and tech and some law students might therefore think that they don’t need to know about fintech. But it’s absolutely essential that you do. Fintech is a very unique area as it is both of growing importance to financial services firms and still very niche — there’s really never been so much hype and yet so little understanding around a concept. Because of this, both Clifford Chance and its clients truly do value lawyers who understand fintech and its impact.”
Law students with upcoming vacation scheme and training contract interviews: don’t be daunted by the prospect of swotting up on fintech.
Alongside the firm’s Talking Tech website, Nikhita credits CoinDesk, a news website dedicated to blockchain and related technologies, as a good starting point. Attending fintech-focused events — such as Legal Cheek‘s recent session with Clifford Chance — will give you the opportunity to ask questions and interact with others who are interested in the topic. Free fintech courses are also available online. Nikhita completed a basic coding course which she describes as “a good start to getting to grips with some of the tech jargon”.
Whichever way you go about it, putting in the hours is crucial. Nikhita pursues projects to further her interest in her own time — in her personal capacity she contributes to an initiative called the Accord Project, which aims to establish legal and technical standards for smart contracts. She is also determined to apply her knowledge where applicable in her current specialism. “I think I’m well-placed as a lawyer in the banking and finance team to advise financial institutions on their response to the tech revolution if required, especially as trending technologies such as blockchain, AI, cloud computing, 3D printing and IoT become more sophisticated and their use more widespread,” Nikhita concludes.
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