The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Christine Steenman, Senior Counsel — General Lending and Asset Finance
Christine Steenman is a member of the Banking department in Allen & Overy’s New York office. Christine has a diverse practice, including large asset finance, export credit supported finance, trade finance, and general corporate finance. Her practice is almost entirely cross border, and she has advised on financings involving a multitude of jurisdictions.
Christine’s clients include large financial institutions, private equity firms, and corporations. The diversity of her practice and clients means that she works in a number of different industries, including manufacturing, transportation, and telecommunications.
Christine received her B.A. from Lafayette College and her J.D. from the University of Michigan. She was a summer associate at A&O in 2007.
My practice is very diverse, which keeps it interesting! There are three main focuses of my practice: export credit agency (ECA) finance, asset finance, and agency representation. ECA finance involves a debt transaction, which is receiving credit support from a government or quasi government entity (the ECA). Asset finance is often linked to ECA finance but involves the financing of large assets, such as satellites or other telecommunications equipment. Finally, on agency representation, we will represent the parties (typically large financial institutions) who take on the roles of administering a transaction after it closes.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent all types of clients. However, the majority of my clients are large financial institutions, such as HSBC, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan, and BNPP.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
One thing I enjoy about my job is that the deals and work are varied. Examples of a few things I’m currently working on are an ECA-guaranteed loan to a Brazilian corporate in connection with the construction of a pulp mill, the sale of an aircraft by a private equity fund, a solar power financing in Chile, and an ECA-guaranteed loan to an Indian corporate.
How did you choose this practice area?
When I was in law school and during my summer at A&O, I had every intention of being a litigator. I even clerked after law school. When I came back to A&O after clerking, I started a six-month rotation in the Banking group with the understanding being at the end of those six months, I would permanently move to litigation. Fortunately, during that six-month rotation, I realized that I was much better suited to the transactional side of law. I enjoyed the collaborative nature of transactional work (we have opposing counsel, but everyone’s aim is to get a deal done), and I enjoyed the diversity of the work I was getting.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
What keeps this job interesting is that there is no typical day. The days vary depending on what type of transaction you are working on and where in the world the other parties are located. If I’m doing a transaction involving European clients, the mornings will be very busy. Whereas if I’m working on transactions in Latin America, the middle of the day will be busy. The tasks that we undertake are going to be similar to those in other transactional practices, such as drafting documentation and joining conference calls to discuss issues.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
I wish I had taken a course on secured transactions in law school. It was something I picked up on the job, but I was jealous of my colleagues who had a basic understanding of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) when we started. I would also add that one skill you do not need is a background in finance. Having a basic understanding of the lingo is helpful, but the expectation is not that you should be able to do financial modeling as a banking attorney.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
One of the most challenging aspects of my practice comes from the diversity of jurisdictions that we work in. When working on cross-border matters, it is not sufficient to know that your documentation works under New York law; you need to coordinate with local counsel in the relevant jurisdictions to ensure that the documentation either works in their jurisdiction or that you are putting appropriate documentation in place in that jurisdiction. For example, we recently closed a secured loan to a Brazilian company that is guaranteed by a Finnish government entity. In that scenario, we had a New-York-
law-governed loan agreement, Brazilian-law-governed security documents, and Finnish-law-governed guarantee documents. As the lawyer running the transaction, it was my job to make sure that all of the various pieces of the transaction worked together and that the Brazilian documents worked with the New York documents and that they all worked with the Finnish documents. The cross-border nature of the work adds complexity but also keeps it interesting.
What do you like best about your practice area?
That I’m never bored. In my practice, no two transactions are ever identical. Each transaction offers a new question or issue that needs to be resolved. I enjoy working with the clients to find solutions and seeing a transaction reach a successful closing.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Putting aside the cross-border nature of the work (which I believe makes A&O unique), what separates our practice from similar practices at other firms are the opportunities that are given early on. As a junior associate, I was included in marketing events and encouraged to pursue opportunities that I saw. As a result of that, doing client development became a regular part of just being a lawyer early on in my career. It has also resulted in me having long-standing relationships with clients who have proved invaluable and incredibly supportive in my career.
How important is it for project finance lawyers to keep abreast of and develop strategies regarding economic trends and market cycles, and how can junior attorneys develop these skills?
Our role is to advise clients. As such, it is incredibly important that we stay informed on market trends. I often have clients call just to ask what we see happening in certain areas of the market or where we think certain things are headed. A&O excels at getting targeted information out to the attorneys. I’m subscribed to a few interest groups within A&O (these groups can be region specific, industry specific, or client specific), so to the extent there is any important development in an area, it is usually in my inbox by the time I get to the office. As a junior associate, it is important to not only read articles and other publications in your practice area, but also to talk to your colleagues. There is a wealth of knowledge within A&O, and one of the great things about A&O is that if you ask a question, there is very likely someone within the A&O network who has dealt with the issue at hand.