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Overview

There is not truly one area of practice that would be encapsulated by the term “international law.” American lawyers who practice internationally can practice in myriad and varied areas. International trade lawyers help facilitate the movement of goods across borders and import-export laws, international treaties, and the litigation before the International Court of Trade. Project finance lawyers often focus on funding projects in one or more international markets, including Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Oil and gas attorneys are often involved in deals with or in oil-producing countries. Litigators who want to practice international law can focus on the growing area of international arbitration. An M&A attorney may have significant expertise in international transactions, an IP attorney may deal with protecting intellectual property assets in other territories, a bankruptcy attorney may deal with the various national laws that touch on the insolvency of a multinational corporation. What ties these disparate areas together is that they are often practices in the largest international firms, involve lawyers of various nationalities, and attract lawyers who like to travel and have expertise in geographic regions or languages. Some firms also have practices focused on specific regions outside of the U.S. Those following a nonprofit path may find legal positions with organizations that address global issues.

Featured Q&A's
Get an insider's view on working in International from real lawyers in the practice area.
Bill Schwitter, Partner
Allen & Overy LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

My practice comprises mergers and acquisitions for private equity sponsors, their portfolio companies, and other U.S. and non-U.S. corporations, as well as the leveraged finance aspects of those transactions. Our team counsels buyers and sellers in matters across a variety of industry sectors, and with a deep history of working for borrowers and lenders in syndicated loan and debt capital market transactions, we provide end-to-end advice on all aspects of complex acquisitions. In addition, we represent issuers and underwriters in public offerings of equity securities and counsel clients in connection with matters involving U.S. securities laws.

What types of clients do you represent?

I represent private equity sponsors, their portfolio companies, and strategic acquirers in various jurisdictions, as well as traditional and alternative lenders providing financing for leveraged acquisitions. I also represent those entities and investment banks in private and public offerings and sale of securities.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

I work with clients on transactions ranging in size from $10 million to $1+ billion. Those clients are based in the U.S., Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region and touch various industry sectors. Our work necessarily involves collaborating and coordinating with numerous specialists in Allen & Overy’s global network of offices, including individuals in our tax, antitrust, employee benefits, and environmental practice groups.

How did you choose this practice area?

I began my career working with investment banks in connection with providing financing on large complex leveraged acquisitions. That practice included transactions “across the table” from strategic acquirers and private equity sponsors. As our team and profile grew, those deal participants asked us to work with them on their own sophisticated matters, and, thus, we developed the expertise to represent clients in nearly all aspects of their transactional needs, as well as on a counseling basis as they integrated and operated assets acquired in leveraged deals.

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

Given the breadth of our practice, each day involves providing a range of advice on matters “up and down our clients’ balance sheets,” meaning that we advise them on their senior debt, mezzanine debt, and equity needs, as well as their growth strategies—whether that is organic growth or growth by acquisition. Initial advice always involves the intricacies of deal structuring and issue spotting, which then moves to negotiations, which in turn (hopefully!) moves to deal execution.

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

With few exceptions, we recommend that our younger associates experience a mix of transactional work early in their careers, not only to allow them to get a feel for the type of work they might like, but also to expose them to the myriad of issues involved with putting together complex transactions. That enables them to work with a mix of partners, senior associates, and clients and—ultimately—provides an opportunity to shape their own practice style. We try and promote both in-house and web-based training, and given Allen & Overy’s international footprint, our training consistently includes teaching around cross-border transactions and the issues associated with working on deals that touch several jurisdictions. Finally, I tell the junior associates what I heard from a senior partner when I first started out: “Read The Wall Street Journal each morning!”

What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?

The most challenging aspect of my practice is the juggling involved. Our team is intently focused on responsiveness; we have an internal rule that no phone message or email inquiry can sit unanswered overnight. Given the complexity and variety of the questions our clients ask, and the need for us frequently to liaise with our specialist teams and/or our colleagues in other offices, providing high-end, correct, and helpful substantive advice back to our clients stretches our day.

What do you like best about your practice area?

Client contact. I believe that the practice of law involves, at its core, helping individuals find solutions to their problems. At a large international firm, that usually translates into finding solutions to their most difficult, most urgent, and most important problems. While our client is almost always the “enterprise,” the reality is that we are counseling the individuals in the C-Suite and their team members, who in turn must have the confidence of their own teams as they create paths forward. That is where we come in, and the interaction with the executives in different businesses with different needs is what we enjoy most.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

The biggest misconception is that our practice is predictable and formulaic, meaning that it merely involves tracking down the single, correct answer to a narrow inquiry. That couldn’t be further from the truth—instead, our day to day involves making judgment calls spread across different risk scenarios. We analyze, assess, and sculpt answers to questions that are frequently novel, complex, and not susceptible to a single textbook answer. That means that the more experienced—and sometimes more creative—legal team will provide the client with the winning solution that enables him or her to drive successful results within their business. Our practice is anything but “cookie-cutter.”

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

The most unique aspect of our practice is how frequently our work involves some international aspect of the law. We subscribe to the notion that the “world is shrinking,” and one only needs to read each day’s headlines to conclude that the legal and regulatory regimes (and associated risks) within which a company must operate are overlapping more than ever. That creates unprecedented issues and problems for multinational businesses—problems that our clients may not even see on the horizon. Given that dynamic, A&O is uniquely positioned to provide the best advice, synthesized geographically in a way that few, if any, other law firms can match.

Bill Schwitter, Partner—General Securities

Bill Schwitter has a diversified practice concentrating on domestic and cross-border private equity, corporate finance, and securities law and is a recognized long-standing leader in the U.S. debt capital markets. He has extensive experience in complex transactions, including mergers and acquisitions and leveraged buyouts.

Bill represents private equity firms, corporations, commercial lending institutions, investment banks, underwriters, and other financial institutions in both debt and equity transactions. His work covers a variety of industries, including media, telecommunications, retail, gaming, and heavy manufacturing.

Bill graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, cum laude, and Albany Law School of Union University, cum laude.

Carmen Halford, Associate
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

My practice entails project financings, leveraged financings, and occasionally structured finance products. I also do bankruptcy work and have particular experience with Chapter 15 (this is the chapter of the bankruptcy code devoted to ancillary U.S. proceedings for debtors engaged in their main bankruptcy proceeding overseas).

What types of clients do you represent?

I represent government export credit agencies, such as OPI C; private equity funds in acquisition financings and refinancings; public companies as borrowers; and banks—among other lenders—in a variety of transactions. In bankruptcy work, I have represented both debtors filing for bankruptcy and creditors pursuing claims.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Some of my recent deals include representing an export credit agency in its senior secured financing of the development of a geothermal plant in Central America, representing the sponsor in a first-lien-second-lien acquisition financing of a California-based company in the food industry, acting for OPI C in its financing of a telecommunications network in Myanmar, and representing Italian airline Alitalia in its Chapter 15 petition.

How did you choose this practice area?

As a summer associate, I worked on project financing transactions and was fascinated by the complex international issues of having long-term investments in developing markets and the industry-specific knowledge of the partners at the firm that plays into how parties allocate risks.

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

As a third-year associate, my typical week includes drafting and revising key financing documents (such as credit and security agreements), as well as ancillary documents (e.g., direct agreements with third parties, corporate resolutions, organizational documents); participating in client calls that are both issue-specific and broader, high-level deal updates; supervising first-year and second-year associates and paralegals; working with local counsel on non-New-York-law-governed items; and negotiating with counterparties over the phone and email.

As an international firm, we have many foreign offices that are also leading financing transactions. As a junior associate, I have many opportunities to take the lead on the U.S. aspects of overseas-based transactions. For example, recently I worked on a refinancing for a French borrower led out of our Paris office. The company had U.S. subsidiaries, so we took care of the New-York-law-governed components of the deal. This is great work because you get the chance to be the U.S. expert on a team of foreign lawyers, which sharpens your understanding of the U.S. system.

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

A class on secured transactions is helpful (though certainly not necessary). Also if you have the chance to study Spanish or Portuguese, I would recommend that as well because a great deal of Latin American work at major firms is handled out of U.S. offices.

What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?

The most challenging aspect is that as an international firm that focuses on the high end of the market, the transactions we work on are often very bespoke and require analysis of complex legal and business issues. Often there is no clear right answer, so you need to make judgment calls, which can be stressful.

What do you like best about your practice area?

The best thing is the cross-border nature of the work; I love liaising with colleagues and clients in foreign offices and sorting through the different legal regimes to find the best solutions for our clients. It’s also very interesting to learn about confidential developments in political situations overseas before a story breaks in the news.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

A major misconception is that you need to have a finance background to practice finance law. Our work is legal, and your background in law school is absolutely sufficient to prepare you for finance practice. Industry-specific knowledge is, of course, helpful, but it’s something that you will pick up as you go. And since our clients are not all banks, industry-specific knowledge in non-finance sectors is also really helpful to understanding your particular client’s needs.

On the bankruptcy front, I didn’t realize that (1) bankruptcies are often very international and (2) you will get much more time in front of a bankruptcy judge than in general civil litigation. Bankruptcies of multinational companies involve complex issues of international law and can be an amazing opportunity to add value for international clients unfamiliar with the U.S. regulations. As a first-year associate, I had already appeared in the Bankruptcy Court of the SDNY to argue for a Chapter 15 petition.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Our finance group is distinct from other groups at Freshfields in that we have a variety of very different work products (project financings, leveraged financings, structured financings, and bankruptcy work—both transactional and litigation) but as a junior associate, you work on all of them. Since my time at the firm, we have added three bankruptcy partners, which has greatly expanded our scope of expertise in this area. This diversity showcases the flexibility of the skills you gain as a general finance associate, which makes associates well placed to weather the highs and lows of the financial cycle and the evolving business needs of our clients.

Carmen Halford, Associate—Global Transactions

Carmen Halford is a global transactions associate in the New York office of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer who focuses her practice on finance transactions and bankruptcy. Carmen represents private equity firms, debt providers, and government agencies on matters relating to domestic and international acquisition financings, project and infrastructure financings, and other types of complex financing transactions. She also advises debtors in bankruptcy proceedings.

Some of Carmen’s deals include representing an export credit agency in its senior secured financing of the development of a geothermal plant in Central America, acting for OPIC in its development financing of a telecom network in Myanmar, representing the sponsor in a first-lien-second-lien acquisition financing of a California-based company in the food industry, and representing Italian airline Alitalia in its Chapter 15 petition in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Carmen has a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Prior to joining Freshfields, she worked in the media industry in China.

Grissel Mercado, Partner
Shearman & Sterling LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Our Latin American practice at Shearman & Sterling is wide and varied. We represent financial institutions, foreign and domestic companies, and governments in a wide range of capital markets, mergers and acquisitions and finance transactions, litigation, regulatory matters, and investigations across a diverse group of industries—including banking, retail, telecommunications and media, energy, natural resources, and infrastructure.

Within our practice, I focus on capital markets transactions across all of the industries mentioned above and covering a host of different security types, including debt—whether that be high yield or investment grade—equity, and convertible securities. Some of my transactions are for first-time entrants into the market, whereas others are for more-experienced, frequent market participants.

What types of clients do you represent?

My practice is evenly split—50 percent of the time, I represent companies who are seeking to finance themselves in the capital markets, and the remainder of my time is spent representing the financial institutions that provide the initial financing for such transactions.

My issuer clients vary across countries in Latin America and across sectors. As an example, in Mexico, I represent Volaris—the ultra-low-cost airline serving Mexico, the U.S., and Central America—and Industrias Bachoco—the leader in the Mexican poultry industry and one of the largest poultry producers globally. My financial institution clients include all of the major banks providing financing products in Latin America.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

My practice is extremely varied with no two deals being alike. Some of my most recent transactions include representing (i) Inversiones Atlántida, a financial conglomerate in Honduras, in its first ever international bond transaction, (ii) the underwriters in connection with ongoing debt transactions by the Republic of Chile, and (iii) Sura Asset Management, the largest pension fund manager in Latin America based on assets under management in connection with a debt offering by their finance subsidiary.

How did you choose this practice area?

During law school, I very quickly decided that my personality was more suited for a corporate practice rather than litigation. However, during both my summer and first year at Shearman & Sterling, I really did not have a preference among the corporate groups so long as the work was heavily focused in the Latin American region. Luckily, I was able to rotate among the project development and finance and capital markets groups. I eventually chose capital markets for many different reasons, including the fast-paced nature of our transactions, the very different industries in Latin America where the practice takes us, and the fact that our practice has a large business component. By the latter, I mean that on my transactions, I am not only a lawyer, but also a business consultant helping to describe and sell a company to public and private investors.

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

Although it may sound like a cliché, there really is no typical day or week in my practice area. I’m often handling multiple deals at a time, which could be at very different stages of their timelines. For one, I could be meeting with management for diligence purposes in Lima, Peru; for another, I could be at a drafting session at our offices in New York fine tuning the business and financial description of a company; for yet another, I could be on calls negotiating the main deal documents; and for a fourth, I could be with my deal team going through the various documents for a closing.

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

A lot of law schools have recently expanded their corporate class offerings to include negotiations, financial statement review, and corporate clinics. In addition to securities regulations, I would recommend someone who is interested in capital markets take advantage of these courses.

For those interested in an international practice, I would also recommend taking economic development, as that will help you analyze the different economies you may encounter on your transactions, as well as any course comparing different legal systems across the world. We are often dealing with local counsel on our transactions, and it will be crucial to learn how deals can be structured across jurisdictions.

What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?

The cyclical nature of my practice is by far its most challenging attribute. While capital markets deals can be exciting, they also depend heavily on what is happening in the international capital markets. When the markets are hot, we are going to be incredibly busy, and you never know when a client is going to call you out of the blue and say, “I want to do a transaction now,” which requires a tremendous effort to get the job done. On the other hand, when the markets are slow, you can go through short periods of downtime or have transactions, which you may have worked very hard on, put momentarily (or permanently) on hold. To be successful, you have to be able to manage these ups and downs adequately.

What do you like best about your practice area?

The best thing about my practice is that I get to touch upon a lot of different issuers, including corporate, sovereign, and sub-sovereign institutions, across many different industries and across virtually every country in Latin America. In addition, capital markets transactions operate on much faster timelines than other financing transactions. The longest deal, an initial public offering, typically takes four to six months. The vast majority of deals vary between four months to as little as a week or two. Because of this variety and the fast-paced nature of my practice, I am never bored!

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

Many people, including myself as a junior attorney, often think you need to have a background in banking or finance in order to be a successful capital markets lawyer, and that is very far from the truth. I never had one!

In addition to your law school curriculum, you will learn everything you need on the job. Slowly but surely, and as you get a few deals under your belt, the capital markets “puzzle” will come together. In addition, we have an excellent training program here at Shearman & Sterling where you will get different sessions and materials on all the tasks and documents you will encounter in your practice.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Our Latin American practice truly is remarkable. We have an undying commitment to the region that is best reflected in the vast diversity of our practice. We don’t just do one or two deals in Latin America a year. You can build your entire career to the region.

Furthermore, although we all may practice in different areas, we all meet regularly to discuss our work and potential opportunities. The cohesive nature of the practice really stands out compared to other firms.

Grissel Mercado, Partner—Capital Markets, The Americas

Grissel Mercado is a partner in the Capital Markets practice of Shearman & Sterling LLP. Her practice consists of representing and advising financial institutions and corporate issuers in debt and equity capital market transactions. She focuses on Latin American issuers. In addition, she advises a number of Latin American issuers on their ongoing SEC reporting requirements, Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, and corporate governance matters. Grissel has also represented and advised financial institutions and corporate issuers in international project financings and other private financings.

Grissel represents corporate and financial institutional clients, including Ecopetrol, Volaris, Grupo Sura and its subsidiary Sura Asset Management, AES Gener and its subsidiaries in Chile, and Findeter. She received a J.D. degree from New York University School of Law and an undergraduate degree, magna cum laude, from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

Sergio Galvis, Partner
Sullivan & Cromwell LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

I came to S&C after clerking on the Second Circuit because I wanted to do cross-border work. I had no idea at that time how international and multidisciplinary my practice would become. I work with the firm’s clients from all over the world—Australasia, Europe, North America, and Latin America. Many of these clients are in natural resources industries, and the work ranges from complex commercial deals to sovereign finance and restructuring issues to crisis management, international arbitrations, and cross-border governmental investigations.

What types of clients do you represent?

I work with large U.S. corporations, such as AT&T and UnitedHealth Group; multinational natural resource companies like BHP from Australia and Repsol from Spain; Japanese trading companies like Marubeni and Sumitomo; Chinese state-owned entities like Minmetals and State Grid; and leading Latin American multilatinas, such as Bancolombia (Colombia) and Tenaris (Argentina). I also work frequently with private equity firms, family offices, sovereign wealth funds, and governments and government-owned entities. For example, one of my colleagues and I have handled significant litigations and corporate transactions for the Central Bank of Argentina.

What types of matters do you work on?

Clients typically engage us for complex, first-of-their-kind transactions. I have worked on dozens of privatizations in Spain and a number of Latin American countries and have counseled clients whose assets have been nationalized by hostile governments. I have also worked on several cross-border sovereign and corporate debt restructurings. The work at S&C is very exciting and often of historical significance. To give you one example—S&C has been active in Latin America for more than a century, and one of our founding partners William Nelson Cromwell played a pivotal role in the creation of the Panama Canal. It was thrilling for me to have the opportunity to advise the Panama Canal Authority, almost 100 years later, when Panama decided to expand the Canal to accommodate post-Panamax ships.

How did you choose this practice area?

I was always drawn to the international arena. I was born in Colombia and grew up speaking Spanish. I’ve also had a long-running interest in foreign policy and geopolitical issues, which is one of the reasons why I’m actively involved with the Council on Foreign Relations and the Council of the Americas—two foreign policy institutions in New York focused on political and economic issues. My interest in cross-border matters extends to the work I do on the pro bono front. For example, I’m on the board of trustees and the investment committee of the U.S. Foundation for Colombia’s Universidad de Los Andes.

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

In addition to my legal work, I sit on S&C’s management com-mittee and oversee the firm’s legal recruiting and administrative functions. I interact with lawyers and staff at all levels of the firm and with terrific clients and colleagues within S&C, as well as at other firms around the world.

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

We train our lawyers at S&C to develop a generalist, cross-disciplinary skill set. Associates are exposed to a varied formal training curriculum, covering everything from takeover strategies and joint ventures to current legal issues. Lawyers who are interested in transactional work should learn as much as they can about all aspects of commercial lawyering. Junior corporate lawyers spend their first 18 months as part of an “unassigned” pool, which means that they’re working with partners and associates from all sorts of transactional practices. Both transactional and litigation lawyers are highly collaborative, and we learn from one another holistically.

What do you like best about your practice area?

What I enjoy most about my practice—and about S&C—is the multidisciplinary nature of the work. We consider legal issues from a practical and commercial perspective. I also appreciate that the range of clients with whom I work is immeasurably diverse—while doing work for large corporates, I’ve also helped small countries like the Principality of Andorra in dealing with financial matters and even individuals in working through issues related to the FIFA soccer bribery scandals.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

It can be hard to appreciate all of the complexity that cross-border legal work entails. Factors like competing legal regimes and approvals and different languages and time zones mean that we’re constantly challenged to think creatively. The reality is that we live in an era of global competition. At S&C, half of our clients are non-U.S. entities, and our U.S. clients face opportunities and challenges around the world. Our ability to advise them on their most difficult global matters, regardless of location, is critical to our ongoing success as a law firm.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Our practice requires a broad skill set and necessitates different types of work depending on the context, whether it be M&A, joint ventures, project development, or restructuring. I think we’re unique in that we encourage our new lawyers to go outside of their comfort zones. There’s a strong focus on learning—not just through all of the formal trainings we offer, but also by doing and seeing.

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

There is no typical career path for an S&C lawyer. Lawyers in our international practice are now partners, in-house counsel, CEOs, and business leaders around the world. We have a strong alumni network with more than 3,000 members, and our Career & Alumni Resources Center provides lifelong benefits and support, including career counseling and networking opportunities. It also facilitates access to clients, colleagues, and friends of the firm. Some lawyers join S&C and don’t know exactly what kind of practice they want to pursue or how long they want to practice law. Our practice exposes you to a variety of legal areas and industries, so you can figure it out as you go. If you’re curious and ambitious, S&C is an ideal place to determine your career path.

Sergio Galvis, Partner—General Practice

Sergio J. Galvis is a leading corporate lawyer in the U.S. who is known for his cross-border work, especially in Latin America. He joined Sullivan & Cromwell LLP after graduating from Harvard Law School and clerking for the Honorable Lawrence W. Pierce, Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, and has been a partner of the firm since 1991. He is a member of S&C’s management committee, oversees the firm’s recruiting and administrative functions, and leads its Latin America practice. Sergio has worked with clients across more than 25 countries in Asia, Europe, and the Americas on hundreds of significant matters in a broad range of practices, including crisis management, criminal defense and investigations, workouts and restructurings, corporate governance, sovereign financing, capital markets, M&A, and project financing. He also regularly works on OFAC compliance and sanctions issues, especially as they relate to Latin American situations.

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