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

Justin T. Stolte is Global Chair of the firm’s Energy & Infrastructure Industry Group. He represents a broad range of clients in strategic transactions in the energy and infrastructure sectors, often involving novel and complex structures. Mr. Stolte is recognized by Best Lawyers in America (2021-2023), Chambers USA, America’s Leading Lawyers for Business (2014, 2019-2022), and The Legal 500 US (2018-2022), where clients praise his ability “to bring a practical business perspective” and “understand what’s important in a transaction.” 

Ashley J. Nguyen is an associate in Latham & Watkins’ Houston office and a member of the firm’s Mergers & Acquisitions Practice. Ms. Nguyen advises clients on strategic transactions across the energy and infrastructure sector. Ms. Nguyen has broad experience in domestic and cross-border transactions in the energy and infrastructure industry. She regularly advises companies, private equity firms, and venture capital investors on mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, and development projects for oil and gas, carbon capture and sequestration, and renewables assets (including renewable natural gas, renewable fuel, and solar). Prior to Latham, Ms. Nguyen served as senior counsel for BHP in their Houston, Singapore, and Mexico City offices.

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Justin: I focus on transactional work within the energy and infrastructure space, and our practice advises global companies and investors on projects, transactions, and regulatory matters across the energy spectrum, including low carbon and decarbonization projects. We assist clients on matters of all sizes, from buying or selling assets or projects to forming new joint ventures to fund activities such as carbon capture. Our capabilities span from project development and finance, tax and environmental law, to capital markets and beyond.

Ashley: Like Justin, my practice includes the full scope of transactions related to the energy transition and decarbonization, including low carbon projects such as hydrogen, carbon capture, low carbon fuels, wind, solar, and battery storage. Our practice covers it all.

What types of clients do you represent? 

Ashley: We represent a diverse set of clients from all across the energy and infrastructure industry. Some clients are private equity companies looking to make investments in clean technology. For example, I recently advised a client in a carbon management joint venture. I also represent major oil and gas companies seeking to decarbonize through capture and sequestration and other low-carbon projects, as well as clean tech project developers who have developed disruptive technologies.

What types of cases/deals do you work on? 

Justin: Just as our clients are really varied, so is our work. We advise clients on the mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures that drive the market. And as market conditions change—sometimes with incredible volatility—we have adapted to advise our clients at the vanguard of industry shifts. For example, we advised on many of the first utility-scale renewable energy projects in the U.S., helped clients forge landmark global partnerships, and execute first-of-their kind investments in advanced energy production and storage technologies. We commonly work on joint ventures between two strategic companies wanting to enter into a new space. Sometimes we represent the developers in the joint venture, and sometimes represent the capital providers sponsoring the project.

How did you choose this practice area?

Ashley: I’ve been in the legal practice for 10 years. I started in Houston in traditional oil and gas, but as time passed the market began to shift from traditional energy into clean energy, which also aligned with my interests. That realization coincided with my decision to join Latham.

Justin: Like Ashley, I originally developed my practice in traditional oil and gas. Prior to law school, I worked as a petroleum engineer and knew that I planned to focus on the energy sector. But as clients have made this shift, my practice has evolved and expanded with them, and I found I could leverage my existing capabilities and expertise to help companies solve problems in the energy transition space.

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

Justin: I find my days often divided between transactional work, discussing strategy with clients, managing business development, and chairing Latham’s Energy & Infrastructure Industry Group. A consistent element among this variety is coordinating with the talented lawyers in our practice to keep matters moving.

Ashley: As a senior associate, my days can vary greatly, but I generally focus on deal management and associate training and mentoring. For example, if we’re negotiating a draft purchase agreement, I will review the counterparty’s proposed deal terms and spend time strategizing with our client on our responsive position. Some days involve direct discussions and negotiations with opposing counsel. I also manage a team of junior associates on all aspects of the deal, from revising transaction documents to reflect negotiated terms to conducting due diligence review of target companies to identify any potential issues that could impact the valuation or closing of our deal.

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

Ashley: I recommend taking any class that relates to contracts and transactions. Additionally, if your university offers them, enroll in regulatory classes, including classes related to energy transition and regulation, since we are seeing increased regulatory impact in our energy transaction deals.

In terms of skills, writing clearly and concisely are tremendously valuable skills in our practice. We encounter so many concepts that are extremely technical from a scientific standpoint, so you need the ability to synthesize and then describe those concepts in a user-friendly manner. Maybe surprisingly, creativity is important; the relative newness of the clean tech practice means there aren’t “pre-baked” approaches to many of our matters.

Justin: More importantly than formal classes, independently develop your knowledge of the energy industry—from reading newsletters and articles to listening to energy podcasts. Even to this day, I seek out new tools and secondary resources, including many offered by Latham. Demonstrate to clients that you can converse with them about their businesses and you’ll differentiate yourself quickly.

What do you like best about your practice area?

Justin: I enjoy my clients. And I enjoy the opportunity to interact frequently with a mix of private equity firms and energy companies. Just about everyone I meet in the energy space is level headed and well intentioned. I also like that our practice allows us to assist our clients in solving problems. In clean tech, we encounter many first-of-their-kind questions and help develop ways to create precedential answers that will be used for years to come.

Ashley: I take a lot of joy in knowing that my work helps decarbonize the world. We often hear of all the actions we can take at an individual level to lessen our environmental impact—for example, avoiding plastic straws and minimizing the use of plastic bags. But our practice allows me to leverage my skills to make a bigger impact. We see the metrics associated with projects and their projected impact on carbon emissions. That aspect of the job feels extremely rewarding.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

Ashley: Frequently I hear the myth that you need a particular background to handle the technical nature of our practice’s work. But many people practicing in clean tech are encountering these legal concepts for the first time. This industry really welcomes people—we’re always excited to show others how this practice betters the world and environment. You can come from any background, or come from any practice, because we learn together.

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

Justin: Summer associates gain applicable, real-world experience in our practice because we staff summer associates on real projects—just as we do with our junior lawyers. For instance, we’ve had summers involved in the closing of transactions. They’re copied on every email so they can really see, in real time, what daily operations look like, how we communicate with our clients, and what issues emerge when we negotiate deal points. Summer associates also sit in on negotiation calls and contribute in a meaningful way to project documents, such as reviewing purchase agreements. The experience is hands-on, early, and representative of what their experience as a young associate would look like. Whether a summer associate or junior lawyer, our practice teaches people to fill in the gaps on a team and serve as a utility player.

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?

Justin: Growing a practice that touches on so many areas of the law has equipped me to visualize the whole picture from the individual puzzle pieces. I can see how every aspect of a transaction fits together: how the regulatory aspects shape a joint venture, how the tax considerations inform the project documentation, and so forth. Learning to compile the jigsaw pieces, especially in a practice without a ton of precedent from which to work, provides me with a unique perspective that then informs the approach on the next transaction. Having that full spectrum of knowledge, and the practical application of it, has allowed me to differentiate myself and show clients I understand their businesses and objectives.

Ashley: I came from a traditional oil and gas practice, which, while a unique industry, has a narrower focus than the work I am doing now. Clean tech, on the other hand, touches on so many aspects of the law, from regulatory to environmental to tax considerations. We bring so many practice groups together, and as the deal lawyers, we quarterback all of it. Working in this practice helps me understand how our clients’ businesses run, how our adjacent practice teams operate, and how everyone contributes to the deal at the center of all this activity.