The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Jean Lee, Partner, and Sami Mir, Partner — Banking
Jean Lee and Sami Mir are both partners in the Projects, Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure group; the Latin America group; and the ECA group in Allen & Overy’s Washington, DC, office.
Jean represents agency and commercial lenders as well as sponsors in complex project financings in a variety of sectors, including oil and gas, power, and infrastructure. Her experience includes advising ECAs and DFIs—such as DFC, U.S. Exim Bank, IDB Invest, IFC, KEXIM, and K-Sure—on a diverse range of projects around the globe. Jean is a proficient Korean speaker and recently spent several years in A&O’s Seoul office.
Sami Mir also serves as the firm’s relationship partner for a number of ECAs and DFIs, including DFC, U.S. Exim Bank, IDB Invest, IFC, NADB, and EDC. Sami’s practice is predominantly focused on advising lenders (including ECAs, MLAs, other official credit agencies, and commercial lenders) and sponsors on project finance and PPP transactions, as well as equity and fund investments, in Latin America and emerging markets around the world. He is a native English speaker and is fluent in Spanish.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
Our U.S.-based team advises clients on complex, market-leading project investments, developments, and financings in the energy, natural resources, and infrastructure sectors. To date, we have been involved in a wide variety of projects in these sectors and in all stages of project development—ranging from tendering through to initial financing, construction and operations, refinancing/restructuring, and disposal. Our core regional focus is the Americas, but we are also quite active in Africa, Asia Pacific, and Europe.
What types of clients do you represent?
Our clients include project sponsors/developers, host governments, and lenders. The agency finance side of our practice focuses on advising export credit agencies and multilateral/development finance institutions, such as the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, Export-Import Bank of the United States, Inter-American Investment Corporation, and International Finance Corporation, among others.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
We advise on renewable energy, conventional power, transportation, social infrastructure, mining, telecommunications, oil and gas, and satellite projects across the Americas and beyond. From wind farms in Argentina to ports in Brazil to roads in Colombia to airports in Ecuador to petrochemicals projects in Mexico to water supply projects in Peru, we truly cover all sectors.
How did you choose this practice area?
Jean: I, fortunately, had the opportunity to work on a project finance transaction as a summer associate and realized this was the practice for me! I found (and continue to find) the practice to be both challenging and rewarding—challenging in that the transactions are highly structured and complex and rewarding in that my work allows me to gain specialty expertise in a variety of sectors and markets.
Sami: During my 2L on-campus interviews at Georgetown, many practice areas sounded generally the same. That changed when I was very fortunate to meet my first mentor, Bob Vitale, who explained project finance to me, and I was hooked! A few years later, I joined A&O, the clear global leader in project finance, and have never looked back. I have a personal interest in development work and emerging markets, and the ability to work on transactions that have a meaningful impact to the surrounding communities is very rewarding.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Every day involves collaboration with friends and colleagues across the A&O global network, from progressing deal documentation and handling specific client requests to preparing proposals to bring in our next mandate.
The lawyers play a key role in structuring project finance transactions, so it is incumbent on us to know how all of the pieces of the transaction puzzle will fit together. Identifying, assessing, and managing risks is at the core of our responsibility, and this can include construction risk, environmental risk, insurance risk, revenue risk, and—of course—political risk.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
If your law school offers a project finance course, we would recommend taking it, along with courses on commercial trans-actions/UCC and transactional negotiation. In addition, courses on cross-border transactions and choice of law are quite helpful.
What do you like best about your practice area?
Jean: Being part of a collective effort to fill critical infrastructure needs in developing markets. And it’s never boring!
Sami: Each project, whether because it is in a new sector or region or has its own bespoke qualities, is a new challenge, so we are constantly learning. From winning a new deal to getting it closed, it is always a team effort, and being able to work collaboratively with our teams and clients on impactful projects is truly a dream.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
We have a very deep bench of market-leading project finance practitioners across the globe who consistently and seamlessly work together on innovative and groundbreaking transactions. We are a truly collaborative team.
The global breadth of our practice area is truly unmatched. Right now, we are currently working on different deals with different clients in Nevada, Brazil, Bulgaria, Mozambique, and Indonesia!
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
Our junior associates gain significant exposure early on to contract drafting and negotiation, often being responsible for preparing first drafts of loan and security documents under the supervision of a more-senior attorney.
Our team is fully integrated, and our associates are directly involved in every aspect of our practice—in particular, pitching and working on business development, recruiting new talent, and training and developing both technical and soft skills.
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?
Keeping abreast of market trends and cycles is critically important for project finance lawyers. Bookmarking sector/market-specific publications and sites is a helpful tool to keep up to date on the latest news, and the availability of sector/market-specific knowledge-sharing platforms accessible by lawyers across the firm also has proven to be very useful.
Markets are constantly changing, and we must be able to adapt to new trends and circumstances to help our clients navigate new horizons. The shale gas boom completely flipped the geopolitical market, and new technologies—in particular in the satellite and telecommunications sector—will raise new questions not faced with traditional energy and infrastructure, in particular on privacy. Reading market news reports and conducting independent studies and research for client alerts is an important way to stay ahead of the curve.