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Overview

Clean Tech lawyers advise new and established companies and their investors on issues affecting the renewable energy industry, including project development, energy regulatory counseling, debt and tax equity project finance, joint ventures, and startup counseling. Many clean tech lawyers also practice in other areas of the energy industry, or at least got their starts there. The energy regulatory landscape for companies in this sector has a lot of overlap with that of those in the traditional energy sector, so the knowledge and practice can often be very similar, though the regulations affecting renewable energy companies are still developing. The companies in this space include traditional energy and power companies that are branching out, as well as startups that are focused solely on renewable energy technologies. Clean Tech practices allow lawyers interested in combatting climate change to put that into practice in a commercial manner. As the renewable energy industry is still in its infancy and growing quickly, this is an area which is quickly developing—clean tech lawyers are in demand and have a lot of career options.

Featured Q&A's
Get an insider's view on working in Clean Tech from real lawyers in the practice area.
Dao Huynh, Senior Associate
Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

I primarily represent energy project developers, sponsors, lenders, and other financing providers in connection with the development, financing, buying, and selling of renewable and traditional utility-scale energy projects and the financing of residential distributed solar projects.

What types of clients do you represent?

I have a broad range of clients from rooftop solar financing providers to developers, sponsors, and lenders. In the past few years, my clients have included Recurrent Energy, LLC; Wellhead Electric; Rabobank; Kilowatt Financial; Sunrise Energy; SunEdison; TerraForm Power; and 8minutenergy Renewables.

What types of deals and/or cases do you work on?

My work is primarily focused on the following areas:

  • Project M&A: Representing sellers in sales of utility-scale renewable energy projects, including due diligence, term sheet, and M&A negotiations.
  • Project Debt Financing: Representing borrowers and lenders in bridge, construction, and term loan financings for utility-scale renewable energy projects.
  • Project Tax Equity Financing: Representing sponsors and developers in tax equity financings for utility-scale renewable energy projects.
  • Residential Solar (Rooftop) Financing: Representing fin-ancing providers in creating financing programs and drafting-related agreements for residential solar customers and contractors.

How did you choose this practice area?

I really lucked into this practice—I was not confident when I was a law student that I had the right skill set to be a finance attorney and did not have much exposure to this area of law at that time, but I ended up being in the right place at the right time as a junior associate. The better question might be what keeps me here. I greatly enjoy working with my colleagues and the range of clients that I serve, from big multinational corporations to small companies with a few individuals—my clients and colleagues demonstrate a great passion for the energy sector and the courage to dream of the next big thing and make it so, particularly in renewable energy. My practice is always evolving, and we deal with new issues on a regular basis. I went to law school to find a career with constant challenges and rewards, and I have found just that in my practice.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

On any given week, I may be working on anywhere from two to four transactions and other minor ongoing matters for clients. I spend a large part of my time drafting, reviewing, discussing, and revising agreements and other documents for those transactions. For example, this week, I’m revising a new term sheet for a client’s portfolio tax equity transaction and preparing to close a transaction for another client. I supervise more junior members of the team and in turn, work closely with more senior members to address more substantive drafting and legal issues that arise.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

While there are no classes that are strictly required, courses or background experience in secured transactions and energy-related environmental, regulatory, and tax law would be helpful. Clear, concise writing; strong organizational skills; and methodical attention to detail are also highly valuable skills to have.

What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?

My clients often face real deadlines for successfully completing their projects, and every day can bring a new challenge to be overcome when it comes to meeting construction and financing deadlines. No two challenges are ever the same, but that is also what I find rewarding about this job!

What do you like best about your practice area?

I love being able to describe my job to my friends and family, have them connect directly to—and understand—my work, and know that I am helping to make a difference in energy. Believing in my work and my clients’ work makes all the difference on those inevitable late nights.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

One misconception about this practice is that it is not as broad as it actually is. Our energy and infrastructure group at Orrick alone includes copper mining and hydroelectric project deals, public-private-placement transactions, wind, solar, natural gas, and a variety of other energy project transactions.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

I joined the Orrick energy and infrastructure group five years ago, and since that time, we have increased our presence in Vietnam, started an office in West Africa, and continue to grow our other offices. We staff seamlessly across offices, particularly among the U.S. offices, and we are truly one firm when it comes to serving our clients’ needs.

Dao Huynh, Senior Associate—Energy and Infrastructure

Dao Huynh is a senior associate in the San Francisco office of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and is a member of the Energy and Infrastructure group. Ms. Huynh’s practice focuses on energy and infrastructure project finance and development and general corporate matters. Ms. Huynh has participated in a variety of transactions for traditional and renewable energy projects and public and startup companies. Prior to joining Orrick, Ms. Huynh held a year-long fellowship position as a staff attorney at TechSoup Global, a nonprofit technology organization. She also has previous experience working as an editor and contributing writer for Yahoo!, Inc.

Dan Sinaiko, Partner • Alena Geffner-Mihlsten, Counsel
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

The Akin Gump Global Project Finance practice advises clients on the development, purchase, sale, and financing of large infrastructure projects. Most of the projects we work on are energy projects. We have developed a brand and focus around renewable energy transactions.

What types of clients do you represent?

We represent many of the world’s most significant developers, lenders, investors, equipment vendors, offtakers, and others interested in infrastructure investment. Some of our clients are SunPower Corporation, Royal Bank of Canada, Santander Bank, D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments, Total S.A., Southern California Edison Company, Ørsted AS, and AES Corporation.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

We represent clients that want to develop, build, buy, sell, or finance infrastructure. This typically means asset M&A work, finance work, and project contracting.

How did you choose this practice area?

Dan: The practice area chose me. I was looking to transition my practice to the West Coast and met a group of lawyers who worked on project finance transactions, largely renewable energy projects. Not knowing much about renewables or project finance, I invested as much in the people as I did the practice. Having good people around you is as important as anything in creating a fulfilling and successful career.

Alena: I came from a corporate background but found myself really interested in working in the renewable sector. I began doing a few projects with the project finance team and really enjoyed the work, the people, and the industry.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Dan: My day is spent largely managing: managing clients, managing deals, managing teams providing legal service, and managing our practice. This mostly means responding to emails and phone calls, but it also means reviewing and commenting on key transaction documents. I also try to spend time mentoring more-junior lawyers, preparing organizational materials, and working through internal administrative issues.

Alena: Each day is different, but, on the whole, I divide my day between participating in calls with clients/opposing counsel, working with junior associates, and drafting documents. I spend a lot of my day checking in with people—seeing what they need, answering questions, and making sure that deliverables are on track.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Dan: I began my practice as a restructuring lawyer, though, I would say the most valuable skills I learned there were not easily ascertainable through law school education. In terms of course work, certainly Article 9, Article 2, bankruptcy, and advanced contract coursework might be helpful. I also think pursuing an internship with a company, government agency, or law firm in the relevant industry would be very valuable.

Alena: Coming from a corporate background, I think that having strong corporate experience is also helpful (in addition to everything that Dan identified). Corporate financing coursework and working on drafting skills, either through projects or through coursework, are very useful.

What do you like best about your practice area?

Dan: Many areas of law are about transferring capital from one concern to another. In project finance, most transactions directly result in the construction of large infrastructure that makes a difference for people. At the end of our transactions, something useful is there that wasn’t before, and oftentimes that “something” is a wind farm or solar plant that has a positive effect on the world.

Alena: In addition to Dan’s response, the industry as a whole is very focused on making a constructive impact on the country and world. There is a lot of innovation and encouragement in the industry, and I love being a part of that.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

It is an interdisciplinary practice that involves a variety of specialties and subject matters. At the same time, project finance is its own industry, with specialized norms and practices. To the extent our transactions concern renewable energy, they also relate to a very specialized area of tax law.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

Typically, junior lawyers focus on the nuts and bolts of the transactions. They learn how deals work by documenting basic corporate functions and developing deal-management skills.

The Clean Tech and Renewable Energy practice includes everything from M&A to financing to tax and much more. How do you think this multi-faceted practice has helped you grow as a lawyer?

Dan: Our practice is not limited to clean tech and renewable energy, though we do a lot of that work. One of the best things I did in my career was to start it as a restructuring lawyer—it exposed me to a very wide range of issues and areas of the law. Project finance is not dissimilar in that it is a multidisciplinary practice. The more you can learn about different areas of the law, the more value you will bring to transactions for clients. Our practice offers that type of growth opportunity for new lawyers.

Alena: Similarly to Dan, my previous background as a corporate lawyer allowed me to work across a variety of areas. Project finance has pushed me even further—on any given project, we touch on a lot of different legal areas that I’ve learned a lot about. We also get to work with amazing specialists. In one day, I may work with regulatory, trade, employment, tax, privacy, and data rights specialists.

Dan Sinaiko, Partner, and Alena Geffner-Mihlsten, Counsel — Project Finance

Dan Sinaiko is a partner in and co-leader of Akin Gump’s Global Project Finance practice. His practice focuses on the renewable energy sector, and he handles transactions including development, debt finance, equity finance, and mergers and acquisitions. Dan represents developers, sponsors, lenders, and investors in capital and infrastructure projects. Dan has been practicing in the renewable energy space since its emergence as a viable large-scale power source. He has been involved in some of the world’s largest and most complex projects throughout the United States and in the Middle East. Dan is based in the firm’s Los Angeles office.

Alena Geffner-Mihlsten is counsel in the Akin Gump’s Global Project Finance practice. Her practice involves a variety of financing and mergers and acquisitions for U.S. and international companies. She has worked for many private and public companies in debt financing and equity financing transactions, as well as for clients in securities, mergers and acquisitions, media finance, and other commercial matters. Alena is based in the firm’s Los Angeles office.

Benjamin T. R. Fox, Associate
Morrison & Foerster LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

I have a transactional practice and represent a range of clients focused on energy, climate, and sustainability matters. This includes serving as general outside counsel to entrepreneurs and startups in all phases of their companies’ life cycles, as well as negotiating equity and debt financings, joint ventures, mergers, and acquisitions for both companies and investors. I also advise “mission-driven” entrepreneurs, investors, and nonprofit organizations with respect to hybrid structures between nonprofit and for-profit entities. Given the expertise of our group with respect to impact investment, we often advise clients on how to embed mission into their corporate documents (through use of new corporate forms, such as the Delaware public benefit corporation) or how to measure or report the achievement of certain impact-focused metrics (e.g., linking fund manager compensation to greenhouse gas emission reduction targets).

What types of clients do you represent?

We represent a range of clients focused on energy, climate, and sustainability matters. These include entrepreneurs and companies, venture capital and private equity investors, and charitable organizations.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

I work on a wide range of transactions. Although my primary focus is early and late-stage venture capital financings, I also work on mergers and acquisitions, fund structuring and formation matters, and joint ventures. For instance, in this past year, I’ve worked on significant late-stage venture transactions, the formation of an innovative fund platform leveraging nonprofit capital to address the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, and a cross-border merger of equals forming a unique data platform focused on creating more efficient commodities. I also maintain an active pro bono practice, which tends to focus on energy and the environment. Recently, we have been representing a nonprofit seeking to fund solar projects for low-income communities.

How did you choose this practice area?

I have always been interested in environmentalism and sought out this practice as a means to further environmentally positive businesses through a transactional legal practice.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Practicing as a transactional attorney involves a dynamic environment, and so my days are often quite varied. Common tasks involve calls with clients, helping them troubleshoot various issues that crop up, whether or not they are related to the matters that we are currently working on together. I also frequently spend time drafting documents, negotiating with opposing counsel, and meeting with partners or other associates on active matters.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

It is important to have solid corporate legal training, which includes drafting and negotiating a variety of agreements and writing persuasively and effectively across different mediums (formal and informal emails, memos, articles, etc.). I think it is also important to have substantive areas of focus; this helps with business development and overall career satisfaction.

What do you like best about your practice area?

I enjoy working with clients that are focused on solving some of the most pressing challenges that our society faces. I also find that our practice involves a high degree of creativity and the use of novel legal structures to help clients achieve their goals.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Our expertise in social entrepreneurship and impact investing sets us apart from other firms focused on the energy space. Many of our clients are focused on having positive social impact embedded into transaction documents, whether they are nonprofit organizations, private equity funds, or mission-driven startups. It is an exciting area to work in as a lawyer because our clients need us to be legal innovators to help them achieve their goals via novel structures that may not be common.

For example, we helped form the Carbon Endowment, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, with the goal of purchasing coal assets out of bankruptcy to be held in perpetuity (e.g., never mined or burned). The entity could take in donations from other charitable sources to purchase coal reserves, as well as spend resources on environmental remediation and job support for coal mining regions.

What kinds of experience can summer associates gain in this practice area at your firm?

Summer associates have an opportunity to work across a number of different corporate practice areas, including M&A, emerging companies and venture capital, public company counseling, finance and projects, and intellectual property transactions.

The Clean Tech and Renewable Energy practice includes everything from M&A to financing to tax and much more. How do you think this multi-faceted practice has helped you grow as a lawyer?

Working in our Clean Tech practice has contributed to my substantive knowledge across a range of different practice areas. As a result, I’ve become a better attorney and more helpful to my clients, who often seek cross-disciplinary advice.

Benjamin T. R. Fox, Associate — Corporate

Benjamin (“Ben”) Fox is an associate in Morrison & Foerster’s Corporate department in the San Francisco office. Ben is a member of the firm’s Social Enterprise and Impact Investing and Energy and Clean Technology groups.

Ben’s practice focuses on the representation of clients in the clean technology, renewable energy, and sustainability spaces. Ben counsels startup to late-stage private companies and venture capital and private equity investors, as well as family offices, private foundations, and public charities in a broad range of transactional matters, including early-stage and late-stage equity and debt financings, mergers, acquisitions, asset purchases and sales, joint ventures, and hybrid or “tandem” structuring arrangements between nonprofit and for-profit entities. He currently serves as a member of the San Francisco Young Professionals in Energy Events Committee.

Ben graduated from the University of California Berkeley School of Law with a certificate of specialization in both Environmental Law and Energy and Clean Technology Law. At Berkeley, he served as an executive editor of Ecology Law Quarterly, a member of the California Law Review, and a judicial extern for the Honorable Edward M. Chen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

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