The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault’s Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Susanna M. Suh, Partner—Corporate
Susanna M. Suh represents global commercial and investment banks and public and private companies in a wide range of legal matters, including loan financings, debt and equity securities offerings, and liability management transactions. Susanna is recognized as a leading lawyer in bank lending and debt capital markets by IFLR1000 and The Legal 500. She was honored as a Woman of Distinction by the Girl Scouts of Greater New York in 2017.
Susanna has practiced at Cahill since graduating from Yale Law School, where she was editor-in-chief of the Yale Journal of International Law. She became a partner in 2003. Susanna is co-chair of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and has also served as co-administrative partner.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
My banking practice involves representing financial institutions and public and private companies in loan financings.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent major financial institutions like Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, and PNC Bank—who act as arrangers, administrative agents, and lenders—and borrowers like Praxair, Inc., a major industrial gas company, and Arch Capital Group, a Bermuda-based insurance and reinsurance group.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
We generally work on large, complex credit facilities, ranging in size from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars. Many credit facilities are used in M&A transactions and involve commitment letters provided to the buyer in the acquisition. Most deals involve non-investment-grade borrowers and are, therefore, secured by assets of the borrower and its subsidiaries. I recently represented Citibank and PNC Bank on a credit facility for CONSOL Energy Inc. in connection with its spinoff as an independently traded public company. It involved a very complicated collateral package and required negotiations with many parties, culminating in a closing that occurred concurrently with the spinoff and related transactions.
How did you choose this practice area?
My first bank financing at Cahill was when I was a summer associate. It was a syndicated credit facility of over a billion dollars for Time Warner. It was exciting to be part of this big, important deal. As an associate, I continued to work on bank financings, but also worked on all types of transactional matters. Fortunately at Cahill, I am able to maintain a wide-ranging portfolio, even as a partner. While I do a lot of banking work, I have also worked on debt and equity securities offerings, corporate advisory, and M&A. My varied experience gives me a broader perspective and helps me to be more effective in banking transactions as a result.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
I spend much of my day advising clients, negotiating issues with other parties, reading and analyzing loan documents, and talking through ideas and questions with my partners and associates. I may work through a novel or difficult question, help a client structure a deal, or walk a junior associate through my comments on a draft document he or she prepared.
The partners at Cahill are very hands-on in the life of the firm in addition to client work. So nearly every day, I do something in my role as co-chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, a member of our Professional Development Committee, or as a formal mentor to several associates. This could include moderating a discussion during a luncheon with affinity groups, giving a training program to associates on analyzing acquisition agreements from the lenders’ perspective, and meeting with a mentee associate about how his or her work is going.
Our deal teams are generally staffed leanly, so every member of the team has an important role. Junior associates may begin by drafting initial drafts of ancillary documents and preparing initial markups of documents prepared by the other firm. However, we don’t limit junior associates on what they can do—we give assignments based on what we believe they can handle. We often see our junior associates working with counterparts at other law firms who are much more senior. This is because our associates gain so much more experience during their time here.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Law students should hone their writing and analytical skills. Careful drafting is key to loan financings (and most other practice areas in law firms). For substantive knowledge, I re-commend the following classes to law students who are interested in a finance practice: bankruptcy, federal income tax, secured transactions, and securities regulation.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
Loan financings often move very quickly. Timing often depends on an M&A transaction, market conditions, or some other driver that requires us to work on a tight timeframe. The most challenging aspect when I started my career was managing time, and that continues to be the case.
What do you like best about your practice area?
Every day, we face difficult issues and problems on deals— the parties on the deal often have divergent interests that they want to protect. I love using critical thought and creativity to come up with solutions that work for all parties. The relationships with clients and colleagues that I’ve developed over the years are also very rewarding.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
A lot of law students think that work experience or a business, finance, or accounting degree is a prerequisite to working in a transactional practice. This is not true at Cahill. We train our associates from the ground up. Although a business, finance, or accounting background can be helpful—especially when starting out—you can learn what you need to know on the job.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
We have been the market leader in leveraged loan financings since 2010, with a 27 percent market share in 2018. This means that we have unparalleled experience in the market. Our clients entrust us with their most difficult, most high-profile deals because we’re really good at what we do, and we keep getting better.
Nearly all our corporate partners started their careers at Cahill. Our long personal histories together at Cahill help us maintain a cohesive culture—we are committed to providing excellent service to our clients and understand what it takes to do that. And we are committed to training our associates to become superb lawyers so that Cahill continues its preeminence in finance.