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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.
Brady Berg, Partner
Wilson Sonsini

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

I’m a corporate lawyer in our firm’s Emerging Companies practice. I primarily represent startups and venture capital investors with a focus on clean tech and renewable energy technologies.

What types of clients do you represent?

I work with the full spectrum of emerging company clients, from entrepreneurs to early-stage startups to late-stage private companies as they prepare for an exit, such as an IPO, a merger with a SPAC, an M&A event, or other transaction. I also represent investors in this space—primarily venture capital, seed stage, and private equity investors.

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

We don’t work on “cases” as corporate lawyers—rather, we represent clients as they start up and throughout their life cycles. I am fortunate to work with some of the most innovative clean tech companies in the world here at Wilson Sonsini. For instance, I represent ZeroAvia, which makes the world’s first hydrogen-electric airplane engine, which is enabling zero emission air travel at scale. I also work with Lunar Energy, a new joint venture in the home electrification space, with the potential to transform residential use of clean electric energy, and HydroPoint Data Systems, a water resource management technology company that is helping the world save billions of gallons of water each year. I also represent investors in clean technologies, like Activate Venture Partners, Emerald Technology Ventures, Congruent Ventures, and SJF Ventures.

How did you choose this practice area?

This is my second time with the firm. I started with the firm in the early 2000s and was here for about 10 years. I was fortunate during my first tenure with the firm to work with the first group of lawyers at the firm who were focused on clean tech. I was drawn to the practice because of my passion for working on what I thought was one of the world’s most critical problems—climate change—and this practice gave me a way to marry working with entrepreneurs and innovators who were developing innovative technologies with helping to solve this very important problem. It was that early work with some of the founders of our Clean Tech practice here at the firm that brought me back to Wilson Sonsini. I left for a period of time and became general counsel of a client of mine named Cylance that developed a cutting-edge cybersecurity solution based on machine learning. I represented Cylance through its sale in 2019 to BlackBerry for $1.5 billion. I then took a little time off and came back to Wilson Sonsini specifically to focus on clean tech and renewable technologies.

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

My days are really varied, which is part of what I love. I might start the day talking to a founder team about a new company that they’re thinking about starting, getting them incorporated, and planning for their initial seed financing. I might then get a call from an investor that’s thinking of putting together a term sheet for investing in a company and talk them through their term sheet. I may also attend a board meeting for one of my clients and end the day with a call with a later-stage company that is getting ready for a SPAC or IPO transaction or possibly exploring acquiring a smaller company or selling to a larger company in an M&A transaction.

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

For law students choosing law school classes, I would recommend Contracts; Tax (it is important to have a basic working knowledge of tax); Negotiations (if your law school offers it); and, of course, Corporations. I’d also look at clinics or classes offered in entrepreneurship or joint J.D./M.B.A. programs. We’re also seeing associates and prospective summer associates coming in with impressive experience, including candidates who have been entrepreneurs themselves; who have worked with venture capital firms; or who have experience working with relevant government agencies, such as the Department of Energy or the Environmental Protection Agency.

What do you like best about your practice area?

For me, I enjoy that this practice is mission driven. It’s one of the few practices in BigLaw where you not only can feel passionate about working with entrepreneurs and enabling them to fulfill their dreams, but also see really exciting technologies develop that are making a difference and helping the world combat climate change. I also appreciate the people who are part of our practice here at Wilson Sonsini and in the broader community, whether it is the investors or entrepreneurs. People in this space are like minded and mission driven. We’re all collectively trying to solve the same problem. I think embedded in all of that is you feel like you’re making a difference.

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

I think there are unique opportunities where our Clean Tech and Renewable Energy practice and our Emerging Companies Practice converge for young lawyers to work with earlier-stage companies and really take a leading role and develop relationships with clients early in their careers. In an emerging company practice where efficiency is critical and teams are thinly staffed, young lawyers have an opportunity to take leadership, give advice, and grow with clients. The nice thing about practicing here at Wilson Sonsini where we represent the full spectrum of clients—from small early-stage companies to larger later-stage companies—is that you have an opportunity to work with a variety of clients at different stages. So young lawyers also get to learn from more-senior lawyers in a different role working with larger clients and learn as part of a team. The types of tasks you might perform would be anything from helping to form the company, attending board meetings and drafting minutes, helping the company implement their equity compensation program, and taking a role in negotiating financing and M&A transactions.

How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?

I only see it growing and becoming more robust and mainstream. When I first started in this practice in the early 2000s, it was more niche. There was a select group of investors who were dedicated to this space. It was a smaller group of people who were really focused on the problem. Now, there is a noticeable broadening of awareness and recognition of the urgency of the climate issues we’re facing. We’re now seeing mainstream investors and companies like BlackRock and Amazon making bold commitments to help solve climate change. And we’re seeing the emergence of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) programs within mainstream companies where climate initiatives are on the forefront. All of this bodes well for companies and investors in this space, and it makes me optimistic that collectively we can make a difference.

What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?

Obviously, having a long and prosperous career within the law firm itself is one exciting path. I think it’s also a natural path for junior lawyers to think about becoming a general counsel like I did at Cylance. You really do serve as the virtual general counsel to startup companies here before they have an in-house legal team. You get the call for everything from employment to IP matters to tax and sometimes even litigation as companies are starting to grow. You’re the lawyer that is in the boardroom and engaging with the executive team as they are navigating their legal issues. Our firm is particularly well networked in this industry and in Silicon Valley and other technology centers, so it’s a great launching pad for someone who wants to work in clean tech and represent exciting companies who are helping to combat climate change.

Brady Berg, Partner—Corporate

Brady Berg is a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, where he focuses on corporate and securities law, including venture capital transactions, public offerings, and mergers and acquisitions with an emphasis on technology startups.

Prior to rejoining Wilson Sonsini, where he had served as an associate from 1999-2008, Brady was general counsel and corporate secretary between 2015 and 2019 at Cylance, a next-generation, AI-based cybersecurity software company. Brady helped the company raise in excess of $250 million in multiple rounds of venture capital, private equity, and debt financing; he also helped lead an IPO process and contributed to the negotiation and closing of the company’s $1.5 billion sale to BlackBerry. During his time at Cylance, he built and led a legal department which was responsible for all legal matters involving the company and its 10 global subsidiaries.

Brady was a partner and co-chair of the Venture Capital and Emerging Companies practice at Mintz Levin from 2008-2015.

Brady received his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and his B.A., cum laude with departmental honors, in Communication Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Deanne Barrow, Senior Associate
Norton Rose Fulbright LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

I contribute to the fight against climate change by helping to get renewable energy projects built and financed. Renewable energy projects include everything from the solar panels homeowners and businesses install on their rooftops to offshore wind farms, geothermal projects, anaerobic digesters, battery storage devices, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The projects are typically financed by a combination of debt and tax equity. The debt is non-recourse, which means the lender is repaid from the project profits the loan is funding and not from any other assets of the borrower. Tax equity allows sponsors to partner with an investor that is able to use the tax benefits available to renewable projects in exchange for an investment in the project. There is also a large amount of M&A activity in project finance, and I represent both buyers and sellers of everything from shovel-ready projects to large portfolios of operating projects and entire renewable energy companies.

What types of clients do you represent?

Norton Rose Fulbright is unique in that we represent both project developers, as well as the lenders and investors who provide the capital to finance the projects. On the developer side, our clients range from startups trying to get their first projects off the ground to Fortune 500 companies developing massive infrastructure projects that create thousands of jobs and have a huge impact on the community.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

I have developed a specialty in the development and financing of energy storage projects. Energy storage is considered the missing link for renewable energy because it solves the intermittency challenge. Intermittency refers to the fact that renewable energy sources are not always available due to natural daily or seasonal production cycles. Energy storage helps with intermittency by storing renewable energy during peak production times for discharge during peak demand times.

The great part about working in the energy storage field is that it is bursting with innovation. One of our most innovative clients is developing a gravity and kinetic energy, long-duration energy storage product. Energy is stored by using cranes to lift huge concrete blocks high up into the air. Electricity is generated when the blocks fall to the ground, driving the motor on a turbine.

How did you choose this practice area?

I was drawn to project finance because it involves an interesting combination of law, finance, and technology. No one expects the lawyers to crunch numbers on a deal. Still, working in this area, you will inevitably develop fluency in financial concepts and a basic understanding of financial models. Likewise, understanding how the underlying technology works can be advantageous because technical issues can affect cash flow. On almost every deal, an engineer will be engaged to help evaluate technical risk.

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

Closing a renewable energy deal is like conducting an orchestra. Many different instruments need to be harmonized to put on a good concert. At the end of the day, everyone on the deal has the same objective of getting the deal done, which boils down to cataloging and allocating risk, but this must be done to work for all the players. 

The first part of a day might involve brainstorming with the finance, construction, or operations personnel of a developer client to develop a creative solution to some thorny issue that has arisen in the course of negotiations. The next part of the day could include speaking with senior executives of the client to provide high-level strategic, commercial guidance for the same deal. Yet another part of the day could involve hammering out deal terms with other lawyers, whether that is the client’s in-house counsel or opposing counsel.

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

An excellent way to get familiarized with industry topics is by reading Norton Rose Fulbright’s Project Finance Newswire. It reports on recent developments in the power and infrastructure sector and often includes articles that provide foundational knowledge for project finance. We also have a newsletter called the Energy Storage Updater that offers a digest of global regulatory and policy news in the energy storage sector. Those who like audio should subscribe to our Currents podcast on project finance. It has an average of 13,000 listeners per episode and a total of 1.66 million downloads. You can find all of these resources on our microsite, projectfinance.law.

What do you like best about your practice area?

Renewable energy is a high-growth area. When law students decide on a practice area to pursue, I think it is essential to choose an industry that is growing quickly rather than stagnant or in decline. The more growth there is, the more opportunities you will have for career advancement and impacting and contributing to meaningful change.

Sometimes it takes me hours in the morning just to catch up on all the headlines and new developments in the renewable energy space. One interesting trend is the increasing involvement of corporate America as buyers of renewable energy. For renewable developers, securing long-term power purchase agreements is crucial to securing financing for their projects.

The market has traditionally been limited to utilities, but that is changing as more corporate buyers enter the space. The largest of these buyers is Amazon. It has invested in 6.5 gigawatts of wind and solar projects to supply renewable energy for corporate offices, fulfillment centers, and data centers worldwide.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

When I was a summer associate, we had a training exercise called “swimming lessons for baby sharks.” The idea was to help junior lawyers develop commercial acumen. Without a doubt, renewable energy is good for the environment, and that will probably be one of the key motivating factors for anyone in this line of work, but economic considerations are also paramount on any transaction. As with any area of legal practice, it is important to take a commercial-minded approach to solving legal problems and to provide sound business advice to your client.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Norton Rose Fulbright is a franchise name in project finance, particularly in the renewable energy sector. Our projects lawyers are among the best and brightest in the field and practice law at the highest level. We have 83 projects lawyers in the U.S. and over 200 globally. Roughly two-thirds of the work we have done every year since 2009 has been renewables. In 2020, we did the most wind and solar transactions in North America and Latin America of any law firm in the world, which altogether accounted for US$4.9 billion in transaction volume.

Another distinguishing feature of the projects group at Norton Rose Fulbright is its entrepreneurial spirit. It is due to this entrepreneurial ethos that I was able to develop a specialty in energy storage beginning in my third year. Associates, even at the junior level, are encouraged to identify new trends in the power and infrastructure industry and to become experts by writing articles, blogging, hosting webinars, and speaking at conferences. The idea is that some of these trends will blossom into profitable sources of non-commoditized business in the future. Associates are supported in this effort by receiving hourly credit that counts for bonus purposes.

In what ways has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice? How have you adjusted to lawyering in the wake of COVID-19?

Project finance thrives on collaboration, and collaboration has been made easier by the growing ubiquity of video calls brought on by the remote work era. Although video call technology is not new, before coronavirus, I had to call my IT guy to set it up. It could be frustrating, not to mention that I had to convince whoever I was talking to that they should use it too. That has changed. Video is now the default. On checklist calls, I share my screen so everyone can follow along as we cross off deliverables. I have marked up agreements in real time on video calls with clients. It saves the client the extra step of reviewing the mark-up after the call to make sure it reflects the business deal. It also helps to see the person you are talking to during negotiations. You can read their facial expressions and body language. Plus, it adds an element of relatability because you are getting a glimpse inside someone’s home, complete will opportunities for endearing family and pet cameos.

Deanne Barrow, Senior Associate—Projects

Deanne Barrow is a corporate lawyer whose practice focuses on project development, financing, and M&A transactions for renewable energy and infrastructure projects. Drawing on her background as an engineer, Deanne has developed a specialty in energy storage transactions. She has considerable experience with the development, financing, acquisition, and sale of energy storage projects, including stand-alone, hybrid, front-of-meter, and behind-the-meter battery storage projects in California, Texas, the Northeast, and Hawaii. Deanne is the U.S. editor of Norton Rose Fulbright’s quarterly Energy Storage Updater. She holds law degrees from The George Washington University Law School and Cambridge University and an undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from Georgia Tech.

Dao Huynh, Senior Associate
Orrick

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; 8minute; Clearway; and EDP 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; and 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 continued to grow. 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.

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 and early-stage venture transactions and several sale transactions for wind energy projects. 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, so my days are often quite varied. Common tasks involve speaking with clients and 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 media (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 uses 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, whether they are nonprofit organizations, private equity funds, or mission-driven startups, are focused on having positive social impact embedded into transaction documents. 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 (“Ben”) T.R. Fox - Associate, Corporate

Benjamin (“Ben”) T.R. 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 + Impact Investing, Energy, and Clean Technology groups.

Ben’s practice focuses on the representation of clients in the clean technology, renewable energy, and sustainability space. 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.

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. While 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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