Start somewhere. It does not matter where. Out of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. In fact, I could not stay in college so I dropped out to work and kept trying things until I found something I liked or thought I’d like. When something didn’t work, I pivoted and took the lessons from the previous endeavor and applied them moving forward.
As a part of my series about “5 things I wish someone told me when I first became an attorney” I had the pleasure of interviewing Katrina Skinner, General Counsel and Chief Banking Officer of Simplifya, the leading regulatory and operational compliance software platform serving the cannabis industry. Katrina is an experienced attorney and subject matter expert in the banking and financial services industries for legal cannabis-related businesses. She has represented licensed cannabis businesses and financial institutions in various matters and knows the challenges they face in such a complex regulatory environment.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law?
As with many careers in the cannabis industry, mine started inadvertently. A colleague asked me to assist with litigation for a criminal indictment of what would be my first cannabis-related client. It was 2013, and cannabis legalization in Colorado was relatively new, so it was still unethical for licensed attorneys to advise on cannabis-related matters. I wanted to know if representing my client would be defensible, so I asked my attorney if he could defend my law license if I took the cannabis case. This is where it all started.
It was a two-year engagement that included various civil litigation, injunctive relief, and even an administrative hearing regarding license revocation, so I learned an incredible amount in a short period of time. After that, we were introduced to Sundie Seefried at Partner Colorado Credit Union, as she was starting a cannabis banking program and needed assistance. The attorneys she usually hired did not want to touch cannabis, so I agreed to take it on and had the opportunity to watch the Safe Harbor Program grow. When Partner Colorado Credit Union wanted to license their program and expand nationally, I went in-house and learned even more about cannabis banking and the rules and regulations that govern financial institutions. It was an amazing experience, but I missed advising clients.
I decided to return to private practice and started working as outside counsel to Simplifya, a regulatory and operational compliance software platform serving the cannabis industry. Because of the exciting things Simplifya was doing in the world of automated compliance solutions and payments, when they offered me a chance to be part of it, I couldn’t wait to join. I knew I could use my expertise to help launch new products and services while getting to work with a team of incredibly knowledgeable individuals.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your law career?
I had this amazing case litigating a breach of contract claim related to an oil company in Belize that took me all over the world. At one point, I found myself packing a portable scanner in a hard-sided suitcase to travel through the jungle in order to scan government geological documents that needed to be reviewed by our team. The government did not have electronic copies, so they provided us access in exchange for making them electronic records. It was one of the most uncomfortable tasks I have had to complete because of the heat and the tedious nature of scanning government documents, but it was also amazing to see Belize and know that there were ways to get information without having to issue a subpoena.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am helping the Simplifya team develop products and services that can be used by financial institutions that provide or are considering providing financial services to the cannabis industry and businesses that support the sector. The compliance burdens that financial institutions face are often what prevents more banks and credit unions from entering the space, so our goal is to help alleviate that burden. Simplifya is a tool that is primarily used by licensed operators, but the reports our products generate contain a tremendous amount of information that can be utilized by financial institutions. This is why we are creating a companion financial institution report that summarizes the local and state regulations that implicate the 2014 FinCEN Guidance and Cole Memo priorities. That way, financial institutions can more easily demonstrate that their customers are complying with cannabis rules and are operating according to regulation without exclusively relying on third-party compliance visits.
In addition, I am helping with the compliance aspects of our new payment solution, TENDR, that leverages the payments industry experience of Simplifya’s newest board member, Jeff Katz. It is exciting to see the working parts and areas of law that are implicated with the technology, including all of the rules related to data security and privacy.
What are some of the most interesting cases you have been involved in? Without sharing anything confidential, can you share any stories?
I started practicing law in Steamboat Springs, where you took whatever type of case came through the door. As a result, I learned how to take skills that are applicable in one area of law and apply them to another area. I have had a very diverse practice. However, I think the two cases I mentioned — the Belizan oil company case and my first cannabis case — have been my most interesting because they had so many complex aspects to them that I had the opportunity to learn, and I got to work with great clients.
Simplifya allowed me to keep a small private practice where I now have a family law case trying to help resolve disputes between two parents who have a child with gender identity issues. The law is often slow to address new issues that arise in society so it’s a new area with legal issues that must be handled carefully. I am hoping that with the assistance of opposing counsel we can craft resolutions in the child’s best interest.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
Those people who have been able to drive meaningful change in the face of adversity and when the cost to them personally has been the highest.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in law?
Stay open and be willing to learn. This is a career that at times can be stressful and demanding, but it is also a career that can help you bring about change in the lives of others and provides unlimited opportunities for personal growth.
If you had the ability to make three reforms in our judicial/legal system, which three would you start with? Why?
- Make it more accessible for those that do not have access to financial resources.
- Do away with lifetime judicial appointments.
- Create additional ways to resolve disputes.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I know I have made a difference in my client’s lives, but I am trying to do more volunteer work to provide representation and generate practical solutions for people who cannot afford attorneys. I am working with the Colorado Poverty Law Project right now and learning from those amazing attorneys and staff that help so many people. I know I have a lot more work to do.
I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?
My clients and my daughters.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
- Start somewhere. It does not matter where. Out of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. In fact, I could not stay in college so I dropped out to work and kept trying things until I found something I liked or thought I’d like. When something didn’t work, I pivoted and took the lessons from the previous endeavor and applied them moving forward.
- Education is important. I don’t think a certain kind of education is imperative, but becoming educated so you can advocate for yourself and others makes a difference. Learning how to think is a necessary life skill.
- Consider any opportunity. You never know what future opportunities might arise or be created by an opportunity that at first glance may not appear to be something you want to consider. The key is getting your foot in the door, then opening it wide.
- People matter. In the end, it’s the people you work with and for that make the days a little bit easier and far more interesting. So if you’re able to find a group of people you can support and learn from, you will be ahead of those who don’t care so much about people.
- Fake it until you make it. Never underestimate your ability to rise to the challenge even if you don’t believe in yourself. No one knows everything, and in the end, it’s about learning and creating your own path. If something excites you but you don’t think you have enough experience to conquer it, try it anyway. Seizing opportunities keeps life interesting.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Snoop Dogg — he seems like a kind person who has overcome much adversity. Snoop has created a diverse business empire but also gives back to communities. He doesn’t let the world peg him and he brings his own spice to others. I wouldn’t want to have lunch but rather just hang out with him and let him share his wisdom about cannabis and any other topic that might come to his mind.