Money makes the world go round...
Nowhere is this popular adage more applicable than practising law in the banking and finance domain. This area of practice covers it all; from providing a loan to an individual, to complex financial deals for big companies.
Banking and finance is a global leviathan; its tentacles are spread over multiple jurisdictions and, with new products frequently being offered, this is an area which can only get bigger. As a banking and finance lawyer, you can look forward to long working hours, dealing with tons of paperwork, heaps of travel and getting to grips with the law in multiple jurisdictions.
What is involved in banking and finance law?
This is an area where some amount of specialisation is a must; there are too many components for a solicitor to be a general practitioner. As a lawyer in this field you will represent either the borrower or the lender and it is your job to ensure the correct documentation is completed and your clients’ interests are fully covered and protected.
A major portion of work in banking and finance is of a transactional nature. You will complete your part in the transaction and move on to the next. A return to a completed transaction becomes necessary when disputes arise. This constitutes the contentious element of a banking and finance lawyer’s work. As a lawyer in this field, you can choose to specialise in a particular class of financing. These might include: project, acquisition, asset, property, securitisation, derivatives, capital markets and Islamic finance.
Project finance normally involves making loans for various projects, whilst acquisition finance focuses on the lending of money to companies to purchase other entities. Asset finance, likewise, focuses on loans; however, it specifically relates to the purchase or leasing of big-ticket items. Securitisation involves transactions, where a lender offloads its loan portfolio to another company, whilst derivatives focus on the fixing of currency rates during a transaction. Capital markets is where a borrowing entity issues bonds to investors and another huge area is Islamic finance, which involves transactions or loans that comply with Shariah principles.
What makes a good banking and finance lawyer?
Across all modes and segments of finance, a lawyer will be required to assist with negotiations, provide assistance in structuring deals and complete due diligence checks on other parties (usually the borrowing entity).
You will also act as a mediator between parties; helping everyone to reach common terms that are satisfactory to all involved. Throughout all of this, you will have to ensure that the deal is in line with all laws and regulations of the particular jurisdictions they involve, as well as completing formalities such as registration.
You will have to analyse and predict future trends, which may have an impact on the transaction or deal, and communicate this in a clear and concise way to your clients. As such, excellent attention to detail and having an exact knowledge of the fine-print is essential.
A Day in the Life of Philip Abbott, Partner in Banking and Finance Law at Fieldfisher.
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
I have usually checked my overnight emails at home or on the train, so with a fresh coffee in hand I usually fire up the laptop and get straight to work dealing with the emails that have come in overnight. On other days, I will be dealing with follow up from client meetings that will have taken place the day before. I do try and get in early as I am most effective before anyone else arrives! However, I don't have a set working pattern, as the partner role requires a lot of flexibility and I am often in client meetings or interviews from 8.30.
How do you handle and organise / prioritise your workload?
This is a constant battle, particularly as technology developments have resulted in much higher expectations from clients on response times. The most important aspect of the day is to check the diary for meetings (and try and keep some time clear) and then condense the legal work into the time available. All of my work requires a team of lawyers (from within the Banking & Asset Finance team and other teams in the firm) and it is important to keep in communication with the wider team of lawyers and support staff to ensure deadlines are met.
What sort of daily responsibilities does a partner have in banking and finance law? How does it differ from an associate role?
The partner role involves winning the work from clients, doing the work, and managing a team of lawyers. Banking and finance work is documentation-heavy – we regularly work with contracts of over 150 pages, and lots of ancillary documents to the principal financing agreement. More often than not, we also work with lawyers in other jurisdictions as banking and finance deals regularly involve structures using offshore companies. As a result of this, on the legal side, the partner role is more of a strategic, supervisory and client care role, with associates doing much of the actual drafting and negotiation. We also need to deal with the day to day issues that affect a team of lawyers and deliver a great client service, in order to ensure we get repeat business from our clients.
Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day? Which aspect of banking and finance law is dealt with most frequently by Fieldfisher?
From a personal perspective, most of my work at the moment is commercial real estate finance - for example financing the development or purchase of hotels, offices, shopping malls, student accommodation, care homes etc. The deals can range in size from £5m to over £100m. I am also one of the partners that works on loan deals to "innovation industries" – financing growth companies in the tech and life sciences sectors. The team also handles a lot of financing work in the natural resources sector, we are a leading firm acting for private wealth lenders (big ticket asset financings of yachts/art etc.) and we have a thriving practice acting for non UK lending institutions. Whilst the team generates a lot of work itself, we also provide valuable support services to other departments of the firm when financing issues arise. As a result, we are lucky to engage with lawyers in many other departments and offices, which makes the job fun.
What sort of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?
My practice is largely lender based. In terms of the wider banking and finance practice, about 75% of our work is for lenders, 25% for borrowers.
Interview with Jack Shepherd, Trainee at Freshfields.
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
When I’m working on an international deal, I often receive emails overnight. It’s really important to be on top of these, so my first task is usually to go through each email and work out whether I need to do anything. I’ll add tasks to my ‘to do’ list and work out a plan for the day, based on priority.
When I know what I need to do, the next most important thing for me is to kick-start my productivity with a coffee!
Could you give us a quick breakdown of how you spend the average day in this seat?
In transactional seats like finance you tend to get calls throughout the day, and the team’s very good at making sure trainees are involved in these. You can plan all you want in the morning, but you’ll inevitably have more things added to your list throughout the day as the deal develops.
I still often manage to squeeze in half an hour or so for lunch – and enjoy chatting with the other trainees in the staff restaurant.
I’ll have more calls and meetings in the afternoon, and will hopefully make progress on some of the tasks on my list.
If I’m still in the office in the evening, I might go outside and grab some sushi and have a quick catch-up with the other trainees who are still around. After work, I make the most of the 24-hour on-site gym.
How much do you correspond with senior colleagues and clients on a daily basis?
There’s not much of a hierarchy in the restructuring and insolvency team. I’ll often work for the most senior members of the team, including partners. Clients will often call me directly to ask me to do a specific task – that’s a really great feeling as a trainee, because you get more responsibility than you would in non-transactional departments.
The best thing about the Freshfields restructuring and insolvency team is that even the partners you’re not working with are keen to know how you’re getting on, both in and outside work, and will often pop in for a chat during the day.
What sort of responsibilities do you have as a trainee in banking and finance law? Are you tackling hands-on project work or undertaking more general research and protocol training?
My time in finance has given me a great deal of responsibility – more so than any other department. As a trainee, you’re exposed to both the high-level and low-level aspects of a transaction, which makes you the ideal port of call for a number of queries. That’s why partners will often ask you about things, and why clients will often contact you directly.
The most satisfying part of my training contract has been getting on top of a transaction’s intricate details, and briefing partners and clients on the aspects of a transaction or industry they might not be so familiar with.