The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Jillian Ashley, Senior Counsel, Banking—Projects Group
Jillian Ashley is a member of the Banking department and head of the U.S. China Group in the New York office. Jillian has extensive experience in banking regulations. Her experience includes representing several foreign banks—including First Commercial Bank of Taiwan, Land Bank of Taiwan, and Taiwan Business Bank—in their applications before the Federal Reserve Board and the New York State Banking Department to establish branches in New York and to expand existing banking powers, as well as advising on applications to the Fed Discount Window. Jillian has advised ICBC on their acquisition of a broker-dealer (the first PRC bank to do so), including securing required approvals from the Federal Reserve and FINRA. She has also advised foreign banks on various aspects of New York and federal banking laws.
In addition, Jillian regularly represents lenders, sponsors, and investors on the acquisition, financing, and development of major projects around the world. She has significant experience advising Chinese clients including China Railway International, Sinopec, and China Harbour Engineering on their infrastructure projects in the Americas. She also has extensive experience in the structuring, formation, marketing, and financing of private investment funds in the infrastructure, energy, real estate, and mining sectors.
Jillian graduated from Harvard College, summa cum laude, and Harvard Law School, magna cum laude. She is fluent in Mandarin.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
I am part of the Projects, Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure (PENRI) group at A&O. It is a sector-focused group, rather than product focused. That means that we work on all types of transactions within the energy and infrastructure space, from traditional project financing to M&A to public-private partnerships (“PPP”) to structuring of equity investments and fund vehicles. I also head our firm’s U.S. China Group. We represent “outbound” Chinese clients doing deals in the U.S., as well as “inbound” investments into greater China by global investors.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent all types of clients in the energy and infrastructure space, but in particular, I frequently represent private infrastructure funds on their investments. On the China side, the New York branches of several Chinese and Taiwanese banks are among my clients.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
It is quite varied, but to give you a snapshot, my currently active transactions include the redevelopment of a terminal at JFK airport, a PPP project to operate the water and wastewater utility of a town in New Jersey, and the formation of a fund that will invest in global gold and other precious metal mining assets.
How did you choose this practice area?
It was originally driven by my interest in China, but over time, I also developed a love for infrastructure. I came to A&O to join the U.S. China Group, as I had been an East Asian Studies major in college and wanted to make use of my language skills. As it happened, the partner heading the group at the time was part of the PENRI group, so those were the types of transactions I was exposed to. And as it turns out, building big infrastructure projects is fun!
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
My days vary quite a bit depending on the transactions that I have and where we are in the transaction cycle. Tasks include drafting—or reviewing others’ drafts of—advice memos and agreements, participating in conference calls or in-person meetings to provide advice to clients or negotiate agreements, doing project management, and coordinating the team. I also spend a significant portion of my time on business development, including meeting clients over lunch or coffee, presenting at and attending events, providing trainings to clients, and preparing pitches.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Any experiential and transaction-focused courses or training programs you can take will be valuable. The law school course that has proven to be most useful in my legal career was the negotiation workshop—I use those skills every day.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
Because our practice is so diverse and involves many different types of legal documents—from financing documents to purchase and sale agreements to concession agreements—it
can take a long time to get to the point where, as a lawyer, you feel fully “on top of it.” In the long run, I think it means associates develop into very capable and nimble lawyers, and it means that I feel I am still learning every day 10-plus years into my career, which I value.
What do you like best about your practice area?
I find my practice area exciting because on my deals, I am working to build something very tangible that will be beneficial to the public, and I am learning all about how the projects—roads, airports, rail lines, water utilities, solar or wind power plants, etc.—actually work because I have to understand in order to draft the legal documents. It is never boring, and I am learning every day.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
Some people think we are solely project finance lawyers, and we have to correct that misperception. Project finance is part of what we do, but we do so much more, and we really understand the energy and infrastructure field up and down the value chain.
What is unique about this practice area at your firm?
Allen & Overy is a market leader in energy and infrastructure. We regularly top the league tables in our field. We also work globally as a team, sharing know-how across jurisdictions and coordinating on cross-border projects. We are innovative in our approach because we have knowledge of what has and has not worked in the past and are constantly thinking creatively about how to take it to the next level.
What kinds of experience can summer associates gain in this practice area at your firm?
We throw summers right into the heart of our deals. Summer associates can expect to see the excitement of closings, draft documents, research deal points, and participate in calls and meetings at all points in the deal cycle.