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 Jessica Jenner, Partner in Finance Law at Ashurst.
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
Before getting into the office I will usually spend around an hour in my preferred coffee shop planning the day ahead as well as more strategic long-term objectives for the practice. Once in the office, I will go and see the fee earners in my immediate team to check the status of the transactions that we are working on together and deal with any high-priority issues that require my input. This might impact on my day's planning and it is critical to remain unfazed by unforeseen challenges or new work-streams and be flexible to re-prioritising tasks according to their importance.
How do you handle and organise / prioritise your workload?
Finance law transactions are fast-paced and involve sophisticated, demanding clients who will expect that their lawyers are on top of all of the details of the deal. It is critical to be up-to-date on emails so that any changes or developments in the deal are communicated to all those involved (whether that be colleagues in other parts of the firm or lawyers in other jurisdictions) and any tasks that require re-prioritisation are known to all those involved. Communication skills are key as well as having a responsive and organised team. Impromptu team meetings as well as more organised all-party calls are critical to keep the focus on the important points and to ensure the deal can be delivered within the client's deadline.
What sort of daily responsibilities does a partner have in finance law? How does it differ from an associate role?
My daily responsibilities as a partner are broadly split into three areas: those that are transaction-focused, those that are business-development-focused and those that are management-focused.
As the partner on a deal I am the primary interface with the client and responsible for communicating the status of the deal to the client, drafting and/or negotiating the documentation to reflect the agreed commercial terms, responding to issues that arise from the diligence process and coordinating the work-streams of the professional advisers involved. As well as the coordination role, it is important for a partner to understand their client's bargaining position and to have a good comprehension of which points the client can and cannot concede.
Business development is a crucial part of a partner's role. Understanding the market, the players involved in the market, your clients (including their concerns and ambitions), as well as keeping on top of new law and documentation changes is very important. Feeding this knowhow to the team is a priority to ensure that the team are on top of latest developments and are able to talk with authority to clients. Management of the career progression of my immediate team as well as the management and strategy of the practice and the wider firm (through committees such as, for me, the Women's Network and the Graduate Recruitment Committee) are also a key differentiator between the role of a partner and that of an associate.
Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day? Which aspect of finance law is dealt with most frequently by Ashurst?
Our finance team works across many banking specialisms including leveraged finance, funds finance, corporate lending, loan portfolios, restructuring and (my specialism) real estate finance. The breadth of banking practice allows associates to work on a wide spectrum of deals and develop a broad range of skills. In real estate finance, we work across all sectors of real estate, papering investment financings, development financings, debt-on-debt financings and distressed lending. Given the diversity, continual evolution and cyclical nature of the commercial real estate market, there is always something new to learn, which is a real draw. I expect that my finance colleagues in other banking product areas will also thrive on understanding their marketplaces and of course the buzz of executing a transaction well.
What sort of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?
We have a broad base of lender and borrower clients and tend to work with large international financial institutions and sponsors operating at the top end of the finance industry.
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.