Skip to Main Content
Overview

Attorney practicing in the area of Project Finance assist in just that—the financing of large construction projects, often in the energy sector (dams, power plants, wind farms) or infrastructure (railroads, airports, canals). Because the projects are large and complex, they are document intensive and can take a long time to close. Project finance attorneys deal with the negotiation and drafting of financing documents, generally involving many companies and often government entities partnering on one deal. The practice often has a significant international bent to it and can be a good area of law for international or multilingual attorneys and those who enjoy international travel. Attorneys regularly interact with multinational corporations, sources of private equity, large banks, and international government agencies and the ability to negotiate with these disparate actors is key to this practice.

Featured Q&A's
Get an insider's view on working in Project Finance from real lawyers in the practice area.
Jillian Ashley, Senior Counsel
Allen & Overy LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

I am part of the Projects, Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure (PENRI) group at A&O. It is a sector-focused group, rather than product focused. That means that we work on all types of transactions within the energy and infrastructure space, from traditional project financing to M&A to public-private partnerships (“PPP”) to structuring of equity investments and fund vehicles. I also head our firm’s U.S. China Group. We represent “outbound” Chinese clients doing deals in the U.S., as well as “inbound” investments into greater China by global investors.

What types of clients do you represent?

I represent all types of clients in the energy and infrastructure space, but in particular, I frequently represent private infrastructure funds on their investments. On the China side, the New York branches of several Chinese and Taiwanese banks are among my clients.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

It is quite varied, but to give you a snapshot, my currently active transactions include the redevelopment of a terminal at JFK airport, a PPP project to operate the water and wastewater utility of a town in New Jersey, and the formation of a fund that will invest in global gold and other precious metal mining assets.

How did you choose this practice area?

It was originally driven by my interest in China, but over time, I also developed a love for infrastructure. I came to A&O to join the U.S. China Group, as I had been an East Asian Studies major in college and wanted to make use of my language skills. As it happened, the partner heading the group at the time was part of the PENRI group, so those were the types of transactions I was exposed to. And as it turns out, building big infrastructure projects is fun!

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

My days vary quite a bit depending on the transactions that I have and where we are in the transaction cycle. Tasks include drafting—or reviewing others’ drafts of—advice memos and agreements, participating in conference calls or in-person meetings to provide advice to clients or negotiate agreements, doing project management, and coordinating the team. I also spend a significant portion of my time on business development, including meeting clients over lunch or coffee, presenting at and attending events, providing trainings to clients, and preparing pitches.

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

Any experiential and transaction-focused courses or training programs you can take will be valuable. The law school course that has proven to be most useful in my legal career was the negotiation workshop—I use those skills every day.

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

Because our practice is so diverse and involves many different types of legal documents—from financing documents to purchase and sale agreements to concession agreements—it
can take a long time to get to the point where, as a lawyer, you feel fully “on top of it.” In the long run, I think it means associates develop into very capable and nimble lawyers, and it means that I feel I am still learning every day 10-plus years into my career, which I value.

What do you like best about your practice area?

I find my practice area exciting because on my deals, I am working to build something very tangible that will be beneficial to the public, and I am learning all about how the projects—roads, airports, rail lines, water utilities, solar or wind power plants, etc.—actually work because I have to understand in order to draft the legal documents. It is never boring, and I am learning every day.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

Some people think we are solely project finance lawyers, and we have to correct that misperception. Project finance is part of what we do, but we do so much more, and we really understand the energy and infrastructure field up and down the value chain.

What is unique about this practice area at your firm?

Allen & Overy is a market leader in energy and infrastructure. We regularly top the league tables in our field. We also work globally as a team, sharing know-how across jurisdictions and coordinating on cross-border projects. We are innovative in our approach because we have knowledge of what has and has not worked in the past and are constantly thinking creatively about how to take it to the next level.

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

We throw summers right into the heart of our deals. Summer associates can expect to see the excitement of closings, draft documents, research deal points, and participate in calls and meetings at all points in the deal cycle.

Jillian Ashley, Senior Counsel, Banking—Projects Group

Jillian Ashley is a member of the Banking department and head of the U.S. China Group in the New York office. Jillian has extensive experience in banking regulations. Her experience includes representing several foreign banks—including First Commercial Bank of Taiwan, Land Bank of Taiwan, and Taiwan Business Bank—in their applications before the Federal Reserve Board and the New York State Banking Department to establish branches in New York and to expand existing banking powers, as well as advising on applications to the Fed Discount Window. Jillian has advised ICBC on their acquisition of a broker-dealer (the first PRC bank to do so), including securing required approvals from the Federal Reserve and FINRA. She has also advised foreign banks on various aspects of New York and federal banking laws.

In addition, Jillian regularly represents lenders, sponsors, and investors on the acquisition, financing, and development of major projects around the world. She has significant experience advising Chinese clients including China Railway International, Sinopec, and China Harbour Engineering on their infrastructure projects in the Americas. She also has extensive experience in the structuring, formation, marketing, and financing of private investment funds in the infrastructure, energy, real estate, and mining sectors.

Jillian graduated from Harvard College, summa cum laude, and Harvard Law School, magna cum laude. She is fluent in Mandarin.

Vijaya Palaniswamy, Partner • Andrew Compton, Counsel
Linklaters LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

We represent lenders or borrowers in the development and financing of projects that will be financed on a limited-recourse basis, also called project finance. This type of financing is typically used to build infrastructure or energy assets that require significant upfront capital and that provide a steady stream of revenue over decades, like a toll road or power plant.

What types of clients do you represent?

On the lender side, we act for commercial banks, export credit agencies (government-based financial institutions), and multilateral development agencies such as the World Bank. We also act for borrowers, who are owned by entities called “sponsors.” Sponsors are anything from private equity funds that are involved in energy and infrastructure transactions to developers or utilities that operate assets. Increasingly, we work with funds that are involved in the energy and infrastructure space, both in Latin America and the U.S. We have a very diverse and international client base—from working on the expansion and financing of the international airport in Santiago, Chile, to a domestic renewables transaction.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

We’ve balanced our traditional energy and infrastructure work (e.g., gas power plants, LNG terminals) with work in the renewables space. Renewables are becoming an increasingly important source of energy generation from a practical and environmental perspective in the U.S. We helped to shape and grow this sector in Europe, and we hope to do the same in the U.S. by harnessing the global strength of Linklaters’ Energy and Infrastructure practice.

In the last 18 months, we’ve worked in the solar space with a fund in New York called C2 Energy that distributes solar projects (rooftop and other small-scale projects where the offtaker is an office park or “big box” retail store). We’ll be working with C2 on the development and financing of more than 100 such projects, to be sited at Walmart stores across 12 states.

We’ve also acted for Ørsted (formerly DONG Energy), a Danish developer of offshore wind farms. We helped them grow in the U.S. through a joint venture with Eversource Energy, one of New England’s largest energy providers. Highland Pellets in Arkansas is another good example of a client trying to find more environmentally friendly solutions: they’re a biofuels developer that’s now using wood pellets as an alternate fuel to reduce coal consumption. In Latin America, we’ve been active with more traditional photovoltaic solar and wind developers.

How did you choose this practice area?

Vijaya: I was focused on doing something involving development, technology, and human rights. With that in mind, before starting law school, I completed internships with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the World Intellectual Property Organization, both in Geneva. I realized that project finance brought together creative financial and corporate structures with the applied development perspective I was looking for. In addition to the intellectual rigor of practicing law, project finance allows us to play a role in bringing power to a city, providing clean water to a region, or expanding an airport that enables a nation to access the world. The ultimate benefit of the work we do is what guided me to a career in project finance.

Andrew: When I started practicing law, I had an opportunity to go to Asia for a three-to-six-month secondment. At the time there were two types of big ticket deals in Asia—Chinese capital markets work and project finance. I didn’t speak Chinese, so capital markets wasn’t a logical route for me! Luckily, I was naturally drawn to project finance due to the complexity of the deals and the international makeup of the major players in the space. On top of that, I found the work fascinating because what we do directly impacts the development of companies globally. I’ve genuinely loved each day in the project finance space since. I ended up spending 8.5 years in Asia, and in the past 11 years, I’ve been privileged to work on deals on five  continents.

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

Vijaya: It depends on how advanced the projects are that we’re working on and where they’re located, as there are several stages to each one. At the beginning, you’re working closely with the sponsors to build a commercial structure that will be lender-friendly. After that, you engage with the lenders to work through the commercial structures that will be in place for the next 10 to 30 years and ensure that they meet the bank’s requirements while preserving the sponsor’s objectives and ability to make a competitive return on investment. After financing, you enter the construction phase. We’re relatively quiet during that period, unless there are disputes in litigation. Big projects will often have expansions or follow-up work, so you can live with a project for years. We are called in from time to time to help with new developments on a project started in 2004.

Andrew: No two days are the same. What’s challenging about being a lawyer, but also what I love, is that you can show up having a plan for the day that can get completely sidetracked by something that happens on a deal. On a normal day, I have a mix of conference calls and documents to review; we’ll often have deal calls with 30 to 40 people on the line or in-person meetings to negotiate the specifics of a deal. I love the fact that we’ve got a great team—there’s a ton of energy when I come in every day. It makes it an exciting place to work.

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

You need to know about secured transactions because everything we do is ultimately secured in favor of the lenders, whether U.S. or abroad. An understanding of bankruptcy, creditor rights, and protections is also helpful. Finally, a foundation in contracts and corporations is useful. You’re setting up companies and agreements that intend to run independently for 10 to 30 years, so understanding joint venture structures for development and long-term corporate governance will all be helpful.

Ultimately, there’s no book or person that’s going to teach you how to do a project finance deal. An eye for detail and being willing to throw yourself in and work hard with a team is how you’ll best learn to structure a project finance 101 transaction. And that structure is something you can apply to an energy deal (e.g., powerplant), infrastructure deal (e.g., rail line), or anything else that’s financed on a limited-recourse-project basis.

What do you like best about your practice area?

Vijaya: No two projects are the same. Even an expansion of an existing project brings new challenges. You have general principles and market conventions—you start with the same toolkit for every project, but how you apply those tools is different every time. There’s always something unique about each project, which keeps things fresh and mentally engaging.

Andrew: The international aspect of practice—it takes people from around the world (banks, equity players, contractors, host governments)—is something I find quite exciting. I enjoy creating something novel, something that hasn’t been done before, and something complicated that you need to structure in a commercially creative yet bankable manner so you’re able to get the deal across the line for your clients.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

Vijaya: One of the early misconceptions is that project finance is driven by oil and gas. Historically, a lot of big projects were in the Middle East or involved the oil and gas industry. Nowadays, it’s also being used for social infrastructure and renewables. It hasn’t been employed for domestic social infrastructure in the U.S. as much as in certain other countries, but we’re starting to fund and put forward more public-private partnership (PPP) structures. The U.S. is playing a bit of catch-up with other countries on the social infrastructure front, but we’re moving in the right direction.

Andrew: Another misconception is that it’s just banking work. It is a form of banking, but to be a good project finance lawyer, you need to understand how commercial contracts for the transaction are put together. You do that by getting experience negotiating, reviewing, and drafting commercial contracts. On a power deal, you might have a concession agreement, an EPC (engineering, procurement, and construction) contract, a power purchase contract, and an operation and maintenance contract. You need to build financing that’s responsive to that structure and have a holistic view that includes the construction side as well as the financing side.

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

Junior lawyers are a critical part of our team. They manage processes, draft security documents and credit agreements, and own the closing checklist and deliverables—it’s a wide spectrum. We don’t have first-, second-, or third-year-specific work—first years are almost always working on substantive documentation.

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

Last summer, we closed a solar portfolio, working with a summer associate and a junior associate to get it successfully completed. We also worked on a series of form documents—project finance loan agreements and ancillary documents. There were five or six summer associates involved in that process, which was a big undertaking for the team over the course of a year. As we do with junior associates, we fully integrate summer associates into the deal team and give them real-world experience and responsibilities from day one.

Vijaya Palaniswamy, Partner, and Andrew Compton, Counsel—Project Finance

Vijaya Palaniswamy is a partner in Linklaters’ Global Energy and Infrastructure practice and leads the team’s work in the Americas. He regularly advises project sponsors, marketing companies, commercial lenders, multilateral development banks, and regulated entities in the acquisition, development, structuring, and financing of energy and infrastructure assets. He graduated with an A.B. and B.S. from the University of Georgia, earned his Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy (M.A.L.D.) from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, and holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Andrew Compton is a counsel in Linklaters’ Global Energy and Infrastructure group based in New York. He represents export credit agencies, commercial lenders, project sponsors, multilateral development agencies, and other project participants in a wide range of domestic and cross-border project financing transactions, with an emphasis on the power (including renewables) and infrastructure sectors. Andrew spent a number of years based in Hong Kong and Tokyo. He studied public policy and management at the University of Southern California and holds a J.D. from Cornell Law School.

Eric Silverman, Partner • Roland Estevez, Partner
Milbank LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

We advise clients in the structuring and execution of highly structured financings involving projects and assets in the energy and infrastructure sectors. Project finance generally focuses on the financing of a specific asset in which lenders or investors look principally to the revenues generated by the operation of the asset for the source of funds from which loans will be repaid and investments returned (e.g., revenue from the sale of power from a solar power plant, revenues from operations of mass transit infrastructure, sale of copper from a copper mine, etc.). The primary security for the loans consists of the assets of the project, including—most notably—the cash flow generated and the contracts that assure the stability of its costs and revenues. This type of structured finance is deployed most commonly in the development of large infrastructure projects (e.g., power generation and distribution, toll roads, airports) and the development of energy and natural resources.

What types of clients do you represent?

In our practice, we generally represent developers, private equity sponsors, investors, debtors and creditors, and other major parties in both domestic and cross-border transactions. Some are sophisticated, experienced institutions, including Google, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, and BlackRock, while others can be newly formed private equity funds or startup developers looking to develop a new or innovative energy solution.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

A majority of our clients are involved in high-profile projects involving some of the largest transactions in the energy and infrastructure sectors across the globe. Over the last three years, we have acted as legal advisor in more than 200 transactions that have raised more than US$150 billion of limited and non-recourse debt for a wide variety of renewables and conventional power, pipeline, oil and gas, power, metals and mining, and other infrastructure projects. It is our ability to combine strong legal skills with deep sector knowledge that distinguishes us from the pack. Our expertise extends to asset acquisition, restructuring, portfolio securitization, and political risk mitigation techniques, making for an interdisciplinary practice that regularly draws upon other lawyers and professionals within the firm with expertise in fields such as M&A, energy regulation, tax, economics, bankruptcy, litigation, and international trade.

How did you choose this practice area?

Eric: Having worked in energy/environmental consulting prior to law school, I was looking for an opportunity to work on cutting-edge energy financings. Milbank was interested in developing its project finance practice, and it turned out that Milbank’s reputation for doing sophisticated finance transactions was a great help in attracting project sponsors and investors as clients. Today, there are great opportunities for young associates to get involved in exciting global power/energy/infrastructure/natural resources projects and develop the broad development and financing expertise that is required in this dynamic sector.

Roland: As a summer associate, I found myself working on the financing of a project that involved the construction and launch of a communications and imaging satellite for a large European country. To me, the review and allocation of the risks involved in executing such an endeavor was the ultimate challenge. Milbank puts you at the forefront of pioneering new and innovative financial technology. I constantly find myself challenged to think creatively and develop new skills. I have the pleasure of interacting daily with individuals all over the world, creating a global network of peers (and friends). The skills learned and sector expertise gained over 16 years at Milbank allow me to advise clients from Brookfield to Google to Citibank throughout the world.

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

Eric: I spend most of my time helping clients develop business and legal strategies that will enable them to achieve their goals and objectives. My work entails consultation with clients and providing advice and counsel on project development and financing transactions. Given the diverse client base that we serve, I am constantly challenged by the different types of issues that face our clients in attempting to develop large, capital-intensive projects around the world. Our work is heavily influenced by global macro-economic trends and industry-specific factors that can profoundly impact our clients’ investments. Since market volatility and economic cycles are major challenges to our clients, we spend significant time trying to mitigate economic, political, and commercial risks that can dramatically impact large-scale projects.

Roland: My work on a given day or week depends largely on the client’s needs and the stage or phase of the particular transactions I am working on. One day I could be advising a developer in the construction phase of a wind farm in the Atacama Desert of Chile or a financial institution looking to invest in residential solar portfolios for a U.S. solar company. It is also not unusual to find myself in Bogota, Rio de Janeiro, or Beijing negotiating a transaction, restructuring an existing deal, or speaking at a renewable energy conference (sometimes in the same week!).

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

Eric: Having some background in finance/business planning, accounting, and tax are all good foundations for lawyers interested in project finance. Also we have found that project finance demands lawyers with intellectual curiosity, as we are constantly challenged to learn about new types of business models, industries, and technologies.

Roland: No single path will lead you to a career in the energy and infrastructure finance practice. The group at Milbank is comprised of individuals from diverse and varied academic as well as personal backgrounds. That said, if I had to do it over again, I would seek out more academic exposure in secured transactions and bankruptcy to the extent available. Exposure to these areas would certainly provide useful tools in analyzing, negotiating, and allocating risks within a transaction. Nonetheless, associates are trained and exposed to real work experience immediately facilitating the development and strengthening of those skills.

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

Eric: We are always striving to anticipate future market trends and developments, so we can assist our clients with cutting-edge advice and legal support. This requires interest and understanding in global economic and political developments/trends as these can have profound market impacts. Keeping abreast of market developments in distant regions and coordinating our global practice with so many talented lawyers working around the world is a major challenge. But the rewards are significant when we are able to support our clients in successfully developing/financing major global projects.

Roland: The best thing about my practice is also the most challenging. You are constantly pushed out of your comfort zone as a result of the varying nuances from project to project and client to client. Financing a hydropower plant in Peru is very different from financing a port in Brazil or an LNG terminal in Louisiana.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

We find that the inclusion of the word “finance” in the name of our group dissuades candidates without a business background from inquiring into our practice. In reality, on any given day, we are equally as likely to find ourselves negotiating a construction and engineering contract, a guaranty, a political risk insurance policy, or a Mexican fiduciary trust as we are a loan document. Hands-on experience and our deliberate and continued professional development programs will give you the finance tools you need to be successful.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

The breadth of knowledge that an energy and infrastructure finance attorney must master strays far beyond the legal aspects of a transaction. In order to make the many complicated pieces of each unique transaction come together, it is incumbent upon us to have a working knowledge of the technology, industry, and country, as well as the various parties involved in these complex transactions. Gaining this know-how supports your ability to differentiate yourself and evolve with the needs of clients.

Energy and infrastructure finance lawyers have to stay ahead of trends and keep track of many moving variables, including capital liquidity, global commodities prices, interest rates, renewables technology, geo-political change, and changes in law. The core skills of deal architecture will translate across the spaces.

The last decade has seen a significant increase in clients seeking not only our finance services but engaging us for our expertise in the energy and infrastructure sectors. As the power infrastructure around the globe experiences a generational shift to gas and renewable power and the commodity-based economies face unprecedented challenges, our clients find themselves needing to be more nimble and strategic than ever.

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

The most successful associates are those that get immediate exposure. Early in your career, you will find yourself taking control of a particular workstream for a transaction (e.g., the collateral package for a hydro project financing or review of solar panel supply arrangements). We tailor our assignments around constantly giving associates the opportunity to expand their skill sets. It is not unusual for junior associates to be the day-to-day interface with clients, keeping them apprised of relevant action items or answering questions. Finally, as a junior associate, you will find yourself taking the initial attempt at drafting the varied types of legal documentation that comprise the framework of a transaction. All of this is done within a supervised environment focused on training but also challenging associates. We benefit from the firm’s reputation and ability to attract the most complex, world-class, and largest project financings in the world, creating unique learning opportunities for junior associates.

Eric Silverman and Roland Estevez, Partners—Project, Energy and Infrastructure Finance Group

Eric Silverman is a partner in the New York office and co-chair of the firm’s Project, Energy and Infrastructure Finance group. Mr. Silverman has extensive experience in project development and financing of major energy, power, and infrastructure projects in the U.S. and overseas. His experience includes representing multinational corporations, private equity funds, and other project participants in greenfield projects and acquisitions, restructuring, and recapitalization transactions. Mr. Silverman has been recognized as a leading project finance lawyer by Chambers GlobalChambers USA, and Legal 500.

Roland Estevez is a partner in the New York office, a member of the firm’s Project, Energy and Infrastructure Finance group, and a member of the firm’s recruiting committee. Mr. Estevez’s practice is primarily focused on the representation of financial institutions, multinational corporations, and developers across a broad spectrum of sectors, including renewable and conventional power, oil and gas, infrastructure, and mining throughout the Americas and particularly in Latin America. He is recognized as a leading project finance lawyer by Chambers Latin AmericaChambers USA, and Legal 500.

Julia F. Bell, Associate
White & Case LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Our Energy, Infrastructure, Project Finance and Asset Finance(EIPAF) group has a range of structuring and financing expertise, including traditional project financing and capital-markets-based financings. The group also has construction, feedstock, offtake, and related contractual expertise in the power generation and transmission (including all forms of renewable energy), oil and gas (including liquefied natural gas (LNG) and petrochemicals), infrastructure (including roads, airports, bridges, railways, ports, and social infrastructure), water and wastewater treatment, and telecommunications (including towers, wireless, landline, and satellites) sectors. We also work on asset-based and structured financing transactions, particularly in the aviation, maritime, and telecommunications sectors. Most of our work (in EIPAF and throughout the firm) has multiple cross-border components, and our projects are located all over the world.

I have been fortunate to work on a variety of projects throughout the various sectors we cover, though as I have gotten more senior, my practice has focused more on energy and infrastructure financing. I am currently on secondment in our Mexico City office, where my practice has been more focused on Latin American deals.

What types of clients do you represent?

I represent both sponsors and financial institutions, including development banks, export credit agencies, commercial banks, and private equity funds. Representing clients on all sides of different transactions helps to build an understanding of the risks and mitigation strategies common in projects deals.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

One of the big deals I worked on in 2018 was representing Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC, IDB Invest (the private sector arm of the Inter-American Development Bank), the International Finance Corporation (a private sector-focused member of the World Bank Group), and Swiss Export Risk Insurance (a Swiss export credit agency) in the structuring and financing for the design, construction, and operation of a 1,516 MW thermoelectric power plant and related liquefied natural gas receiving-and-transportation infrastructure in Brazil. At approximately BRL 5 billion (US$1.8 billion), this is the largest LNG-to-power financing in Latin America to date.

After we close an initial financing, such as the one above, we usually stay involved over the life of the deal. Underlying our financial transactions are real brick-and-mortar projects, so as things happen on the ground (e.g., construction delays, legislative changes, environmental decisions), we need to make sure lenders and noteholders are aware of material changes and take necessary actions to support successful completion of the project and repayment of the financing. This often means amending the documents, drafting new documents in connection with additional financing, and otherwise coming up with creative solutions to progress the project. As an example, after closing the financing for the above-mentioned Brazilian thermoelectric plant, I have continued to work with the commercial teams to make sure everyone understands their legal obligations and to draft amendments to the financing documents.

How did you choose this practice area?

I wanted to work in an area where I was making a tangible difference in the world, and my sector is really focused on improving infrastructure and making sure there is sufficient electricity and other goods available for use by individuals. While I usually work on the financing piece, the projects that are being financed help shape and grow communities around the world.

For example, in 2016, we represented Chilean and international banks in the long-term project financing for Transmisora Eléctrica del Norte S.A.’s development of a 600-km electrical transmission line and related substations connecting the Sistema Interconectado Central (SIC) electricity grid and the Sistema Interconectado del Norte Grande (SING) electricity grid in Chile. The SING power grid is in the sunny north of Chile, where multiple solar plants are located, and the SIC grid is in the center of the country, where most of the electricity demand is concentrated. The unified system is designed to result in a more efficient electricity market, with increased energy security and, among other benefits, lowered costs to consumers.

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

My practice is very project based, so depending on where we are in the life cycle of a project, the days can be very different—from drafting documents and meeting with clients and opposing counsel, to negotiating documents and coordinating documents, as well as handling the madness of closing a deal. We work on several different projects at once, so I am usually working on different parts of different transactions at any given time.

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

If you’re looking for a class to take, I recommend a secured transactions class on Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code. It’s a very structured topic, but the legal basis for all deals that take an interest in non-real property in exchange for borrowed money (and, therefore, extremely relevant in the transactional field). This class was recommended to me as a law student and gave me a real advantage in understanding UCC issues when I started practicing.

I would also recommend trying to develop your project management skills. Lawyers do an incredible amount of project management, dealing with internal and external stakeholders, and it does not tend to be taught in law school. Being able to efficiently and effectively manage a project is a huge boon to any incoming lawyer (and the people who work with you).

What do you like best about your practice area?

Project and asset finance are unique because the value of the deal lies solely in the project or asset itself, as opposed to in the balance sheet of the sponsor (i.e., if a borrower building a power plant defaults on a project finance loan, the lenders generally have the right to recoup their losses by taking possession of the power plant itself). As a result, it is very important to lenders to fully understand and regulate the underlying deal.

As a lawyer on this type of deal, we get very into the details of our projects, speaking with engineers, insurers, and environmental specialists, as well as regulatory, real estate, and local counsel in jurisdictions all over the world to understand each aspect of the deal. Through this process, I am continuously learning, often about matters that have nothing to do with the law. As an example, I’ve learned a lot about turtle-hatching sites and protections in my time working on Latin American deals. I love that I can keep learning in this practice, often in unexpected ways.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

White & Case, particularly our EIPAF group (in my heavily biased opinion), is unique because of the wonderful people who work here. It really is true that your colleagues are the ones who make or break any job. My colleagues are brilliant, kind people who are always happy to answer a random question or talk through a thorny problem or just have a coffee and a chat, and that has made all the difference in my career here.

Generally, White & Case is very supportive of individual associates as they figure out their career path and practice, and people at all levels here have worked with me to figure out next steps. As an example, I was eager to learn more about work with our pro bono partners, and White & Case encouraged me to do a three-month secondment with Acumen, a nonprofit global venture fund. When I was on secondment to Acumen, I worked full time as part of its legal team, focusing on loans and equity investments from a nonprofit perspective, which really deepened my understanding of the analogous work I do at the firm. Similarly, when I was eager to try working abroad, the head of our EIPAF group in the Americas and other folks at the firm spent significant time with me to figure out the best place to move and all the various logistics to make it happen.

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

As a first year (or summer associate) in any practice area, the basic tasks are just to figure out what is happening around you and how to screw things up and move on (because as a junior associate, you will make a lot of mistakes).

White & Case’s EIPAF group is unique in that it encompasses both project finance and asset finance. These two practice areas have similarities in their legal issues, but the scale and pace of the projects tend to be very different. In general, project finance deals are long-term, high-value deals; whereas, asset finance deals tend to be smaller and shorter—sometimes just financing a plane or two. As a result, junior associates can take a leadership role in smaller asset finance deals early on, including drafting documents and coordinating with clients, and eventually taking the lead in running deal closings.

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

In general, White & Case encourages summer associates to try as many different practice areas as possible. It is hard to understand the differences in pace and practice between different areas in law school, so it is important to get real experience working in different areas before committing to one (we also encourage first-year associates, and in the case of litigation, second-year associates, to try different areas within the transactional or litigation practices).

In EIPAF specifically, as a summer associate, you are a full member of the deal team. We look to summer associates to do similar work as junior associates, and often if you are staffed on the beginning of a deal during your summer, you can rejoin the deal team when you return as a first-year associate. That being said, there are lots of social and group events for summer associates in which everyone hopes you will participate.

Julia F. Bell, Associate—Energy, Infrastructure, Project Finance and Asset Finance

Julia Bell is a sixth-year associate in the Energy, Infrastructure, Project Finance and Asset Finance group. Julia’s practice focuses on international and domestic corporate and financing transactions, with an emphasis on project- and asset-based financing and related capital markets transactions. She has represented sponsors and financial institutions (including development banks, export credit agencies, commercial banks, and private equity funds) in the aviation, oil and gas, power, and renewable energy sectors.

Julia has worked in the New York and Mexico City offices of White & Case. She is active in a variety of pro bono matters involving international development and microfinance, and she completed a secondment with Acumen, a nonprofit global venture fund. She received her B.A. from the University of Chicago and her J.D. from New York University School of Law.

Related Vault Guides
Check out some of Vault's guides that are related to this field.