Having played a key role in Clifford Chance’s New York regulatory practice, Ashwini Habbu swapped coasts to join the technology revolution.
“I think that there was a lot of encouragement to be curious and ask questions,” Ashwini says when talking about joining the firm's New York office as an associate in 2010. With an international background and a fear of the “rote deals that transactional attorneys can and end up doing over and over,” Ashwini says she was also attracted by the global makeup of the firm and the pioneering nature of its work.
That curiosity and desire to break new ground paid off in 2012 when Ashwini “got in on the ground floor of a whole new area of law focused on the new regulatory environment under Dodd Frank”. Joining the firm’s New York regulatory practice, she saw it grow into one that, as she describes it, “stands up next to the firm’s regulatory practices in London and Hong Kong”.
One thing she liked about this process was that “it wasn't a situation where anybody knew the answer, but I think anybody who was looking for the answer was okay with that”. This interest in seeking new solutions then extended to the use of technology. Finding that a combination of regulation, transaction and financing had resulted in “an industry in danger of getting crushed under the weight of its own paperwork and documentation”, Ashwini started looking for solutions.
“It wasn't a situation where anybody knew the answer”.
After being promoted to counsel in 2018 and seeing the potential of the technology initiatives that had already been introduced at Clifford Chance, she began spending her own time exploring what was available. Seeing a lot of friends and family move out of New York, she also wondered if it might be time for a change of scenery as well.
The perfect opportunity came in the shape of a role as Senior Regulatory Compliance Counsel at San Francisco-based Juniper Square, the first investment management software company designed specifically to serve the commercial real estate industry. With more than $1 trillion in assets, Juniper Square is “transforming the industry by streamlining fundraising, improving the timeliness and accuracy of investor reporting and enabling real-time access to data to help investment managers scale their business”.
So, having joined in January 2020, how has her transition in-house been? She acknowledges the value of having six weeks to meet her colleagues in person before lockdown began, while recognising that the nature of the company and its technology edge have made the shift to working remotely relatively straightforward. Some aspects of the move in-house did require adjustment, however. “I feel like my head is on a swivel more than ever because the range of questions is more expansive,” she says. With Juniper Square more than doubling its client roster every year since 2017, it’s a fast-growing business and Ashwini is clearly relishing the challenges and opportunities that it brings. Yet she values still being part of the Clifford Chance ‘family’ and being able to reach out to former colleagues whenever needed.
“The range of questions is more expansive”.
Her advice to her younger self involves ‘shameless curiosity’ combined with a willingness to “run the ball downfield as far as you possibly can before you pass it off”, adding that “No one expects you to know everything (and no one does), but it’s important to be resourceful”.
She has clear views on how the legal world will need to change. She says: “Unless they become accustomed to making all that goes into a transaction more streamlined, some legal firms will be in danger of getting left out in the cold.” A risk that Ashwini, despite having been caught up in the recent Texas deep freeze herself, has managed with ease.