Linklaters‘ in-house tech startup Nakhoda has started to host trainees as part of secondments aimed at equipping them with product development and commercial skills.

Under the leadership of former head of innovation Shilpa Bhandarkar, who has recently been appointed as chief executive officer of Nakhoda, the 2017-launched in-house start-up sees developers, designers and product managers collaborate with partners and clients on the development of legal tech products.

“Secondments are always based on the relationship between demand and supply,” restructuring partner Richard Hodgson, who leads on graduate recruitment for the firm, told The Lawyer. “The graduates that are joining us are increasingly curious about tech and innovation and how the firm can harness their interests.”

At the same time, in the run-up to the launch of the first product under her leadership, Bhandarkar needed more resources to aid her burgeoning team.

The seat was initially set to start in September 2020 but went instead forward earlier than planned in March 2020. It gives trainees the opportunity of learning the basics of coding and software development to create new functionalities for Nakhoda – comprising about 40 per cent of their time in the seat-, as well as gain commercial skills on the sales side of the product and more bespoke abilities based on individual inclinations.

The idea is for them to go back to their practices with a better understanding of the technology underpinning the delivery of transactions, and a more active role in embedding products into their work.

The first trainees to have taken part include associate Hamza Zaveri, who qualified into the capital markets practice and had created a podcast series as part of a branding effort.

“I really enjoyed working with developers and understanding the way they think and approach problems, including learning the coding jargon,” he said of the experience. “I liaised with clients and did some product demos which was also a useful skill to develop and I also managed to get involved in marketing and branding as that’s something I personally have a passion for.”

The second trainee, Agata Siuchninska, qualified into the derivatives and structured products practice and came to the seat armed with coding knowledge. “I went in with a very open mind and was prepared to get my hands on all kinds of work – from product development through to legal, all the way to marketing. I knew that CreateiQ was due to launch during my secondment prior to joining, so I also expected it to be a very busy and exciting time for the team,” she said of her expectations.

Siuchninska was heavily involved in the product development process and assisted engineers as they investigated bugs in the code, helping to digitise a number of documents as a result of Libor reforms. “You also get a lot of client contact during the seat, from presenting at demos to working on new feature requests. I had countless opportunities for client interactions which might not have come up in a typical legal seat,” she added.

Linklaters has recently looked to create more ways to expose trainees to new technologies. Last year, the firm worked with a group of academics to create a new legal technology curriculum for its youngest lawyers.

The curriculum, which was developed in partnership with Swansea University, first prioritised the firm’s trainee population, starting with those who joined the firm in August 2019: around 200 people globally. But the firm had plans to turn the programme into a staple of its training contract.

When it comes to the firm’s wider trainee programme, last year the firm paused international secondments as a result of the lockdowns. It is looking to restart them as soon as restrictions lift.