I’m Naaika Himidi, and recently joined Pleo as its General Counsel. I have more than a decade of experience from private practice with a legacy law firm.
My career has followed the financial cycle, starting with the aftermath of the financial crisis working with insolvency and the last seven or eight years focusing on leveraged finance, corporate lending and other types of debt-driven transactional work.
Yes - my previous in-house experience is a secondment with a legacy bank when I was newly qualified so joining a fintech scaleup, with this being my first GC role, is in many ways different from where I came from!
When you're in an established law firm you achieve a certain level of specialty and you have an idea of how your career will develop for the foreseeable future. I had moved beyond the initial steep learning curve and was comfortable in my role, so it was time to move on to something that offered a wider range of development opportunities and where the immediate output is more clear.
Being in private practice helps you integrate with your colleagues in an organization. Most people at a small company aren’t used to working with lawyers. Naturally, sometimes colleagues won’t understand a legal concept or process, and the request they have for you may be different to what they actually need.
For me, the interactions involve figuring out the need behind the ask. And that’s a skill that gets ingrained in you when you’re at a law firm, trying to understand various clients.
There are many processes in place that work fine when the company is at 50 people. And then you reach the 200 mark and that dynamic completely changes
Fintechs face certain risks from inception due to the regulated environment, and this sets us apart from other industries. There’s the obvious risk in terms of security breaches - leaked data, compromised passwords, and so on.
But there’s also operational risk in terms of our payment infrastructure; adherence to our licenses and navigating in a space where the regulators are not necessarily up to speed with the technical developments.
And then there’s risk in the broader sense, in light of our rapid growth; we are subjecting ourselves to increased risk with growing headcount, additional jurisdictions and new product features, for example.
It’s all about setting a scalable foundation, and having a growth mindset. You have to look ahead: will this structure still work in three to six months? What’s the short-term plan for the business where they need legal support, and what are the risks that we may need to address in that timeframe?
That’s really front-of-mind for me - there are many processes in place that work perfectly fine when the company is at 50 people and everyone knows each other. You’re able to collaborate in a wholly different way. And then you reach the 200 mark and that dynamic completely changes.
When setting up Pleo’s legal function the priorities for me around making sure we adequately mitigate risk included:
It’s important to remember that all risks aren’t created equal and one of the challenges is to make sure that the prioritization is intentional.
We're now active in six markets, but I’m really just trying to contend with the legal operations aspect of it; how can we make sure we have the right local legal advice readily available while we’re not at the stage of hiring in that region?
Right now we’re based in Europe, and can somewhat comfortably navigate the legal framework for the UK and EU with a combination of in-house counsels and ad hoc advice from external advisors. If we do decide to enter a new continent I would have to rethink the way our legal function is structured, and how we would offer that jurisdictional support.
It’s important having advisors that make the attempt to understand your business and where you're coming from. That commercial mindset is imperative, and I definitely look out for it
With my own background, having been an advisor for over a decade, I'm probably not the easiest client! Hard skills are a given, but in terms of soft skills, it’s extremely important having advisors that make the attempt to understand your business and where you're coming from.
It’s a two-way street, though - I understand that, as an external advisor, it’s difficult to fully grasp all the elements of a client you’re supporting. So when purchasing legal services I try to be as clear as possible about what it is I am asking of them, because you can’t expect your external advisors to know everything. That commercial mindset is imperative, though, and I definitely look out for it.
We’re on an exciting journey to create a spending solution that encourages a work culture built on trust and transparency, instead of overwhelming control and needless bureaucracy.
I’ve joined a company moving at high speed, and I'm still in the process of figuring out the scope of the General Counsel’s role in a Pleo context. It’s an exciting stage of my career, and I can’t wait to see where it leads me.
Naaika Himidi is the General Counsel at Pleo. Want to hear more from the visionaries scaling in-house legal? Join our community of 400+ lawyers and legal ops teams.