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The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.

Sara Douki is an associate in the Projects, Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure (PENRI) Group at Allen & Overy, based in Washington, DC. She advises various financial institutions and sponsors on domestic and cross-border corporate and project finance transactions, with a focus on emerging markets, energy transition, and sustainability. She also has experience in programmatic counsel roles for the DOC and DOE. Sara received her J.D. from Georgetown University.

Domingo is an associate in Allen & Overy’s PENRI Group. Domingo's work involves representing financial institutions, sponsors, and companies in a wide range of project finance transactions. He focuses on domestic and cross-border matters involving the financing and development of infrastructure and energy projects in the U.S., Latin America, and other emerging markets. Domingo is a native Spanish and English speaker and received his J.D. from Georgetown University.

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

We are part of Allen & Overy’s (A&O) Projects, Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure (PENRI) group. We work on the full spectrum of transactions related to the financing, acquisition, and development of infrastructure and energy assets, both in established and emerging markets around the world. Our work covers a variety of sectors, such as transport, power, renewables, oil and gas, mining, social infrastructure, and telecoms. We also focus on financing new technologies, such as grid-scale batteries, electric vehicles, and data centers, which are transforming the energy and infrastructure landscape. 

What types of clients do you represent?

Our clients include a mix of private equity funds, such as Carlyle, who invest in and acquire energy and infrastructure assets; project sponsors and developers, such as the Clearway Energy Group, who develop, construct, and operate greenfield and brownfield projects; federal agencies, such as the Department of Energy, which support innovative energy technology; development finance institutions, such as the International Finance Corporation and the Inter-American Development Bank, who finance social, economic and environmental development in emerging markets; and tax equity investors, such as Advantage Capital, who provide investments for renewable energy projects in exchange for tax benefits. 

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

The nature of our group and our role as project finance associates means we get to work on quite a wide range of projects and deal structures. PENRI advises on anything related to the investment and funding of the infrastructure and energy sectors, including traditional project finance, mergers and acquisitions, public-private partnerships, agency finance, and tax equity transactions. We have been able to work on—and learn from—all these transaction types, which are key areas of the global renewable energy transition. No two deals are the same, and the legal landscape is constantly evolving, which keeps the work interesting and keeps us in learning mode!

How did you choose this practice area?

Sara: My parents grew up in war-torn countries with no infrastructure, so I have always been drawn towards international development. When I learned about project finance, I immediately knew it would be a good fit. I became a lawyer to help people, and fell in love with project finance when I learned it meant I could have a hand in developing projects that make a positive impact on the environment, economy, and society. 

Domingo: I naturally ended up in PENRI because of a mixture of professional and personal interests. In undergrad, I majored in economics, concentrating my studies in environmental economics (which measures the externalities of economic development as they relate to our environment). I was also born and raised in Puerto Rico, where energy and other infrastructure assets are in a poor state resulting from a systematic lack of investment. When I learned in law school that there was a practice where I could focus on both, there was no other answer!

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

A typical day involves responding to client queries, drafting agreements or revising documents based on feedback from clients or partners, managing closings, and leading checklist and due diligence calls. We are both also heavily involved in law school recruitment and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, so our days can also include preparing for events such as workshops, networking sessions, and panels to attract and retain diverse talent.

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

Sara: Corporate Finance has been the most useful class I’ve ever taken for project finance. Besides that, being curious and eager to learn about the field, the members of your deal team, and various types of financings and clients in the field has been the single most useful skill as a junior associate.

Domingo: I always recommend taking legal transactional courses (Negotiations, Contract Drafting, etc.) and some business courses as well. I think a balance of knowing the legal elements and the underlying business rationale will put you in a great position to understand what your client is eager to do and help them actually achieve it. I also took a project finance course, which was a great segue from third-year law student to first-year PENRI associate.

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

The nature of energy transition means that the underlying corporate structures, market positions, and core financing and project agreements are always changing, updating, and providing for newer ways of doing particular transactions. Therefore, we are constantly learning and updating strategies to enable us to be at the forefront of such change. This means keeping ourselves busy on live deals while simultaneously working to be ahead of the game. It certainly keeps you on your toes! 

What do you like best about your practice area?

Domingo: Our practice and daily work are international and often involve cross-border elements that add an interesting and challenging aspect to our day-to-day tasks. We also get to work with clients from all places and with our colleagues at other A&O offices (which resulted in friendships with our counterparts in London and Madrid). Even more, given our work in Latin America, I also get to speak Spanish almost daily with our clients and teams.

Sara: I find it very rewarding to work on complex cross-border transactions that involve multiple parties and jurisdictions and end in tangible projects that benefit local communities. Not many of my peers can say they lead workstreams in market-leading energy transition and infrastructure transactions with cutting-edge financial tools and structures. The passion our clients put behind their projects is really inspiring.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Domingo: We have great and experienced lawyers all around the globe. I have worked with our A&O colleagues everywhere, from Germany to Vietnam to Johannesburg. The ability to call on my peers at these offices, present them with a question or request, and receive their support as if they were sitting at our Washington, DC office is one of the most unique pieces of my job. Working together across these offices and witnessing the smoothness of this collaboration firsthand is truly an amazing experience.

Sara: The direct interaction all associates have with clients is unique to our practice group. During my first week on the job, I was sending emails directly to clients and participating regularly on phone calls or video chats. PENRI associates receive a lot of responsibility early on and are recognized by clients as core members of the team. As a first year, clients sent me a gift on my birthday, company swag, and holiday cards—the kind of stuff I thought only happened to partners.

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

Domingo: Summer associates receive a genuine insight into our practice and what our daily work is like. Our summer program allows for summer associates to work on real tasks and contribute to our ongoing PENRI matters. I would say that summers get a real feel for what a first-year associate’s day-to-day reality is like in our group, which, to me, is the best way to learn whether this is your calling. 

Sara: Summers not only get a sense of what a day in the life of a PENRI associate is like in the office, but they’re staffed on deals with team members around the country. A summer associate’s physical location for the season won’t stop them from getting to know people in other offices or getting staffed on deals that may not originate in their home office.