Young business lawyer spotlight: Temitope Sowunmi
Full name – Temitope Sowunmi
Organisation – Cowrywise Financial Technology Limited
Area of Practice – Financial Services, Tech Law, Private Equity and General Business Advisory.
Years of Experience – 8 years
Temitope Sowunmi is a corporate finance lawyer with significant experience advising indigenous companies and multinationals in financing, corporate, technology, private equity, regulatory compliance/government interface, project and infrastructure finance deals. She has been ranked as a “Notable Practitioner” and has been described as “very responsive… very reasoned and very experienced…, a pleasure to work with” by the leading international directory for financial law firms. She also receives the “40 under 40” awards for young lawyers in Nigeria. Temitope currently heads the legal team at Cowrywise (a digital wealth management fintech democratising access to savings and investment products), where she provides expertise and support with respect to products, operations and strategy, and contractual relationships. She also carries out extensive engagement with key regulators. Prior to joining Cowrywise, Temitope was a Senior Associate and the co-team lead of the Fintech/Start-Up Practice at a leading commercial law firm in Nigeria. Temitope has advised Stripe Inc. on the USD200 million acquisition of Paystack Pte; the parent company of Paystack Limited. She also advised the African Finance Corporation with respect to the USD 78 million debt/equity financing of Segilola Resources Operating Limited and its parent company. This deal was recognised by the IFLR 1000 as the “Project Finance Deal of 2020”.
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Four Questions with Temitope
What is one valuable experience in your practice of law that continues to spur you on?
It is tough to narrow this to one experience, but knowing and seeing that your advice/input is instrumental to a deal and that, in your own way, you have contributed to a transaction makes all the difference and has definitely been a “pick me up” on my bad days. This definitely spans everything I have done and continue to do. In my current role, this feels more tangible as legal support is integral to everything we do as a company.
How does it feel transitioning from law firm practice to in-house counsel in a tech startup? Any tips for lawyers looking to be part of a startup tech?
Great! I had known for a while that I wanted to be more “hands-on” as a lawyer; I was trained as a commercial lawyer, but I think that one of the things lawyers in practice struggle with is sometimes being too “legalistic” with advice. For me, this step was required and I have no regrets about taking the plunge.
As a starting point, “tech” extends beyond your fintech and start-ups and so even for traditional industries, the wave is here to stay. Specifically for the start-up ecosystem, please read and be as knowledgeable as you can. While we all learn in the process, there is work that has to be done behind the scenes.
What is your opinion about inclusion in Nigerian law firms and what initiatives can still be taken to encourage such?
Based on my experience and knowledge, a number of law firms continue to drive initiatives to ensure inclusion on all fronts. However, beyond ensuring equality/equity across board (which is laudable), significant progress could be made by pushing initiatives that focus on creating a strong value and support system for lawyers, especially younger lawyers. In a general sense, a key part of inclusion is making adjustments/changes based on the unique needs of individuals and the reality of practising law in the context of the new economy with the proliferation of technology, etc. Law firms could do more in this regard.
What is the best advice you have ever received? (How can other young lawyers apply this advice)
Someone once told me this and I say this very often to my mentees: “there is clarity in the process”. For younger lawyers, it is normal to feel overwhelmed and confused or even intimidated. It might not get better in a day but it always gets better and clearer. Don’t feel the need to have everything figured out in a day as the practice of law is a marathon and not a sprint.