In a nutshell
Banking and finance is a giant sector internationally, intersecting with various industries and overlapping with multiple other practice areas. Banking and finance lawyers may work in any one of the specialist areas described below, but all deal with the borrowing of money or the management of financial liabilities. Their task is to negotiate and document the contractual relationship between lenders and borrowers, and to ensure that their clients' best legal and commercial interests are reflected in the terms of loan agreements. It is a hugely technical, ever-evolving and jargon-heavy area of law.
- Straightforward bank lending: a bank lends money to a borrower on documented repayment terms.
- Acquisition finance: a loan made to a corporate borrower or private equity sponsor for the purpose of acquiring another company. This includes leveraged finance, where the borrower uses a very large amount of borrowed money to meet the cost of a significant acquisition without committing a lot of its own capital (this is called a leveraged buyout or LBO).
- Real estate finance: a loan made to enable a borrower to acquire a property or finance the development of land and commonly secured by way of a mortgage on the acquired property/land.
- Project finance: the financing of long-term infrastructure and public services projects, where the amounts borrowed to complete the project are paid back with the cash flow generated by the project.
- Asset finance: this enables the purchase and operation of large assets such as ships, aircraft and machinery. The lender normally takes security over the assets in question.
- Islamic finance: Muslim borrowers, lenders and investors must abide by Shari’a law, which prohibits the collection and payment of interest on a loan. Islamic finance specialists ensure that finance deals are structured in a Shari’a-compliant manner.
- Financial services regulation: lawyers in this field ensure that their bank clients operate in compliance with the relevant financial legislation.
What lawyers do
- Meet with clients to establish their specific requirements and the commercial context of a deal.
- Carry out due diligence – an investigation exercise to verify the accuracy of information passed from the borrower to the lender or from the company raising finance to all parties investing in the deal. This can involve on-site meetings with the company’s management, so lawyers can verify the company’s credit profile.
- Negotiate with the opposite party to agree the terms of the deal and record them accurately in the facility documentation. Lenders’ lawyers usually produce initial documents (often a standard form) and borrowers’ lawyers try to negotiate more favourable terms for their clients. Lawyers on both sides must know when to compromise and when to hold out.
- Assist with the structuring of complicated or ground-breaking financing models and ensure innovative solutions comply with all relevant laws.
- Gather all parties to complete the transaction, ensuring all agreed terms are reflected in the loan and that all documents have been properly signed and witnessed. Just as in corporate deals, many decisions need to be made at properly convened board meetings and recorded in written resolutions.
- Finalise all post-completion registrations and procedures.
Realities of the job
- City firms act for investment banks on highly complex and often cross-border financings, whereas the work of regional firms generally involves acting for commercial banks on more mainstream domestic finance deals. If you want to be a hotshot in international finance, then it’s the City for you.
- Lawyers need to appreciate the needs and growth ambitions of their clients in order to deliver pertinent advice and warn of the legal risks involved in the transactions. Deals may involve the movement of money across borders and through different currencies and financial products. International deals have an additional layer of difficulty: political changes in transitional economies can render a previously sound investment risky.
- Banking clients are ultra-demanding and the hours can be long. On the plus side, your clients will be smart and dynamic. It is possible to build up long-term relationships with investment bank clients, even as a junior.
- Working on deals can be exciting. The team and its counterparty are often working towards a common goal, usually under pressure and with heavy time constraints. Deal closings bring adrenaline highs and a sense of satisfaction.
- You need to become absorbed in the finance world. Start reading the Financial Times or the City pages in a broadsheet newspaper for a taster.
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According to the Bank Administration Institute (BAI), bankers will take careful steps when dealing with cryptocurrency investments, even though ‘half of millennials and Gen Z’ own crypto in some capacity.