The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault’s Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
We invited the top ten firms in each practice area, as ranked by more than 17,000 associates from across the country in Vault’s annual Associate Survey, to be featured in this guide. Davis Polk ranks 1st in Banking and Financial Services.
Jai Massari, Associate—Financial Services
Jai Massari is an associate in Davis Polk’s Financial Institutions Group and the Trading and Markets practice in Washington DC. She advises major global banks, asset managers, and corporations on a variety of financial regulatory topics. Her primary focus is on assisting market participants in understanding, implementing, and complying with derivatives regulations, particularly Title VII swap regulations. She also advises financial institutions on the proprietary trading and covered funds provisions of the Volcker Rule. She frequently works with industry organizations in connection with advocacy efforts on legislative and regulatory proposals.
Jai graduated from Cornell University with a B.A. in Chemistry and earned her J.D., cum laude, from Duke University School of Law.
Please provide an overview of what, substantively, your practice area entails.
As a regulatory lawyer, my main focus is advising clients on how various financial regulations affect their business activities. During the last few years, we have seen historic changes to the financial regulatory landscape, particularly under the Dodd-Frank Act. This has resulted in many activities of financial services firms being subject to significant regulation for the first time or already regulated businesses being subject to additional regulatory requirements. A large part of my current practice involves advising clients on these new regulations—including, for example, the new regulatory regime for swaps under Title VII of Dodd Frank and the Volcker Rule. Being in the Financial Institutions Group at Davis Polk during this period has given me the chance to develop my regulatory practice on the cutting edge of these new regulations and to advise the most sophisticated financial institutions on their implementation.
What types of clients do you represent?
The core clients of the Financial Institutions Group (FIG) include many of the largest U.S. and non-U.S. banks, broker-dealers, and investment managers. We also represent market infrastructure providers, such as clearinghouses and exchanges. I, like many others in the group, have been involved in advising various industry organizations, such as SIFMA, on advocacy efforts in connection with financial regulatory reform initiatives.
What types of deals and/or cases do you work on?
Although the vast majority of the work I do can be classified as advisory, the types of matters, the underlying law, and the type of work varies widely on a day-to-day basis. For example, one matter could involve advising a bank client about the impact the Volcker Rule might have on a very specific business within its investment bank; another may involve drafting an industry comment letter in response to a proposed regulation; and yet another may be advising a commercial client about how its swaps transactions will be treated under U.S. swap regulations. We also work very closely with Davis Polk’s M&A and Capital Markets practices on regulatory implications for transactions involving financial institutions and work on regulatory enforcement matters with the litigators.
How did you decide to practice in your area?
Before joining Davis Polk in 2011, I was an associate at another large law firm in its investment management practice. Following the 2008 financial crisis, the Dodd-Frank Act presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity for lawyers in financial services to learn the law as it was being developed. Joining FIG gave me the opportunity to expand my practice into new areas and to learn these areas as the regulations were being written. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Looking back, it is now even more clear to me that being a successful financial regulatory lawyer requires a commitment to continually learning, whether it be about new regulations or how new technologies or businesses implicate existing regulations.
My experience illustrates many of the things that made me choose this group: intellectually challenging work that always treads new ground, a ton of responsibility for junior associates, and wonderful colleagues and partners.
What is a typical day or week like in your practice area?
Every day is different. One constant, though, is that I tend to work on at least ten different projects, usually for different clients, always on different substantive questions, every day. My day is often divided between meeting with or attending phone calls with clients, drafting legal memos, and discussing the trickier substantive issues with others in FIG. We also tend to do a good amount of business development, including speaking on panels and preparing and attending client pitches. Also, happily for me, the group is very supportive of associates taking on writing projects, so I’ve also found time to write and publish a few academic articles over the past year.
What is the best thing about your practice area?
This practice area requires every lawyer—from the most junior to the most senior—to have a deep understanding of the law underlying any particular client question, and in FIG all lawyers are expected to contribute substantively to each project. At the beginning, this aspect of a regulatory practice can be daunting. But it results in each lawyer gaining substantive expertise relatively quickly and ensures an opportunity for intellectually engaging work. In turn, having this substantive expertise can give younger lawyers the chance to take on more responsibility for client projects and client interactions. I’ve seen this play out in my practice, and I’ve found it to be quite rewarding.
FIG also embraces entrepreneurialism, and the partners encourage associates to develop and pursue innovative ideas, such as new technology tools we have developed to provide advice to clients in a more user-friendly way.
What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?
While complexity and changes in the law, working on many different matters each day, and having responsibility for client matters has, for me, resulted in very interesting and fulfilling work, it also means a lot of extra effort, in terms of keeping up with developments, balancing many projects and many clients at any given time. I think, though, that this a common challenge faced by many different types of lawyers.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone hoping to enter your practice area?
For a student interested in financial services law, I would recommend first taking a few of the fundamental business law electives offered in every law school—securities regulation, tax, and corporations, for example. Some laws schools also offer seminars or other more specific courses in financial regulation, which also can provide helpful background. In terms of skills, the most important is being an effective communicator of legal information—being able to summarize complex facts and apply the law to those facts in a succinct yet accurate fashion. That takes a lot of practice, and can be developed through advanced writing seminars and workshops or through independent writing projects.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area? What do you wish you had known before joining your practice area?
Many students I’ve interviewed think that they will need to know, before they start, how stock markets work or how the U.S. financial regulatory system operates. While it can be helpful to have some background about the U.S. financial system, it’s really not necessary. We all learn on the job.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Davis Polk is an incredibly collaborative place, which is essential to any regulatory practice. Our clients depend on our being able to provide holistic advice based on their business activities, not only in response to a narrow question about a particular regulatory regime. In FIG, we interact with many different areas of the firm—M&A, Capital Markets, Bankruptcy, Litigation—to help ensure that we are providing this kind of holistic advice. This approach to client service has, in my view, become more important since the financial crisis, given the wide impact of many of the new financial regulations under the Dodd-Frank Act.
What activities do you enjoy when you are not in the office, and how do you make time for them?
I’m a new mother, so much of my out of office time is spent (happily!) with my family. While I’ve had to adjust my schedule since returning from maternity leave, I’ve found that—with the support of my colleagues, my clients, and my husband—the transition has been quite manageable.