The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault’s Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Bill Schwitter, Partner—General Securities
Bill Schwitter has a diversified practice concentrating on domestic and cross-border private equity, corporate finance, and securities law and is a recognized long-standing leader in the U.S. debt capital markets. He has extensive experience in complex transactions, including mergers and acquisitions and leveraged buyouts.
Bill represents private equity firms, corporations, commercial lending institutions, investment banks, underwriters, and other financial institutions in both debt and equity transactions. His work covers a variety of industries, including media, telecommunications, retail, gaming, and heavy manufacturing.
Bill graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, cum laude, and Albany Law School of Union University, cum laude.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent private equity sponsors, their portfolio companies, and strategic acquirers in various jurisdictions, as well as traditional and alternative lenders providing financing for leveraged acquisitions. I also represent those entities and investment banks in private and public offerings and sale of securities.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I work with clients on transactions ranging in size from $10 million to $1+ billion. Those clients are based in the U.S., Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region and touch various industry sectors. Our work necessarily involves collaborating and coordinating with numerous specialists in Allen & Overy’s global network of offices, including individuals in our tax, antitrust, employee benefits, and environmental practice groups.
How did you choose this practice area?
I began my career working with investment banks in connection with providing financing on large complex leveraged acquisitions. That practice included transactions “across the table” from strategic acquirers and private equity sponsors. As our team and profile grew, those deal participants asked us to work with them on their own sophisticated matters, and, thus, we developed the expertise to represent clients in nearly all aspects of their transactional needs, as well as on a counseling basis as they integrated and operated assets acquired in leveraged deals.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Given the breadth of our practice, each day involves providing a range of advice on matters “up and down our clients’ balance sheets,” meaning that we advise them on their senior debt, mezzanine debt, and equity needs, as well as their growth strategies—whether that is organic growth or growth by acquisition. Initial advice always involves the intricacies of deal structuring and issue spotting, which then moves to negotiations, which in turn (hopefully!) moves to deal execution.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
With few exceptions, we recommend that our younger associates experience a mix of transactional work early in their careers, not only to allow them to get a feel for the type of work they might like, but also to expose them to the myriad of issues involved with putting together complex transactions. That enables them to work with a mix of partners, senior associates, and clients and—ultimately—provides an opportunity to shape their own practice style. We try and promote both in-house and web-based training, and given Allen & Overy’s international footprint, our training consistently includes teaching around cross-border transactions and the issues associated with working on deals that touch several jurisdictions. Finally, I tell the junior associates what I heard from a senior partner when I first started out: “Read The Wall Street Journal each morning!”
What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?
The most challenging aspect of my practice is the juggling involved. Our team is intently focused on responsiveness; we have an internal rule that no phone message or email inquiry can sit unanswered overnight. Given the complexity and variety of the questions our clients ask, and the need for us frequently to liaise with our specialist teams and/or our colleagues in other offices, providing high-end, correct, and helpful substantive advice back to our clients stretches our day.
What do you like best about your practice area?
Client contact. I believe that the practice of law involves, at its core, helping individuals find solutions to their problems. At a large international firm, that usually translates into finding solutions to their most difficult, most urgent, and most important problems. While our client is almost always the “enterprise,” the reality is that we are counseling the individuals in the C-Suite and their team members, who in turn must have the confidence of their own teams as they create paths forward. That is where we come in, and the interaction with the executives in different businesses with different needs is what we enjoy most.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
The biggest misconception is that our practice is predictable and formulaic, meaning that it merely involves tracking down the single, correct answer to a narrow inquiry. That couldn’t be further from the truth—instead, our day to day involves making judgment calls spread across different risk scenarios. We analyze, assess, and sculpt answers to questions that are frequently novel, complex, and not susceptible to a single textbook answer. That means that the more experienced—and sometimes more creative—legal team will provide the client with the winning solution that enables him or her to drive successful results within their business. Our practice is anything but “cookie-cutter.”
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
The most unique aspect of our practice is how frequently our work involves some international aspect of the law. We subscribe to the notion that the “world is shrinking,” and one only needs to read each day’s headlines to conclude that the legal and regulatory regimes (and associated risks) within which a company must operate are overlapping more than ever. That creates unprecedented issues and problems for multinational businesses—problems that our clients may not even see on the horizon. Given that dynamic, A&O is uniquely positioned to provide the best advice, synthesized geographically in a way that few, if any, other law firms can match.