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

Karan Dinamani is a partner in S&C’s Private Equity Group and has extensive experience supporting private equity clients across a range of markets, industries, and sectors, including financial services, fintech, consumer, healthcare, and technology. He has been trusted to advise on some of the most complex cross-border financial sponsor-led transactions in Europe, and acts for private equity firms and other financial sponsors in relation to all strategic investment matters, including all forms of M&A, co-investment, restructurings, and supporting their portfolio companies through their life cycle with the sponsor.

Karan is described by clients as “an exceptional partner, with an enormous dedication to his profession and his clients [and] a unique ability to understand and distill very complex problems into pragmatic and actionable advice” and having “an incredible ability to adapt to a deal in any sector and in any geography almost immediately.

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

As a partner in S&C’s Private Equity Group, my practice involves advising private equity firms and other financial sponsors to help them deploy their capital by buying assets, supporting both them and their portfolio companies during their ownership and through to the exit of the financial investor. The needs of the clients are varied and so is the work—alongside the staples of helping the clients undertake M&A, capital structuring, IPOs, etc., we are involved in crisis management, restructuring, and anything else that is strategically important to either the sponsor or the portfolio company. Our Private Equity Group is distinguished by its exceptional depth, its hallmark multidisciplinary approach, and its broad geographic reach. I draw upon the integrated resources and efforts of S&C offices around the world, taking advantage of the firm’s preeminent global capabilities, including in antitrust, finance, IP, and tax, to advise our clients in their most important and complex transactions.

What types of clients do you represent?

As mentioned, my main focus is acting for financial sponsors, and that represents over 90% of my practice. Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to have been trusted to advise a wide range of leading private equity houses such as Apax Partners, Ardian, Blackstone, Bridgepoint, EQT, PAI Partners, and others. Word of mouth is often a good source of introductions, so I will occasionally also be recommended by a client to act for a large family-owned business or anyone else where an instinctive appreciation of how personal the matter is for the client is a unique selling point. I have also advised a number of major corporations on strategic transactions over the years, as the same skill set and personal approach are valued by certain in-house legal teams.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Our service is relationship led, and each client often has a different focus, which means the transactions on which I have advised are in a range of sectors and markets—one day, we may be looking to buy a bank, the next, we will be looking to acquire a pan-European medical distribution business, and then may get instructed by another client to help them with the carve-out of a large consumer business from a listed company. Each deal has to be approached with fresh eyes from a legal perspective, which keeps every transaction interesting.

How did you choose this practice area?

I spent my first few years as an associate doing work for a range of clients, including private equity clients but also large banks and corporations, large pension funds (who were just starting to directly invest in assets), and family offices. By the time I was a fourth year, I felt capable of advising effectively on most types of transactions. The beauty of acting for private equity clients is I never had to give that up—they are constant users of external legal services because if they’re not doing an M&A deal, they’re doing an IPO, or a restructuring or growing the business with M&A, or having to deal with a major adverse event, which requires specialist advice but also a big picture view. On top of that, private equity professionals are very personally tied to the success of their investments. I am by nature very committed to my clients and find it natural to go above and beyond for them, which I understand is something they have always appreciated. You have direct access to clients early on in private equity, so you see all of this firsthand. It was an obvious choice for me.

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

My day is very client- and team-centered. Building strong relationships and trust are critical in our job, and I cannot think of a day where I am not engaging with a client, whether it be over a meal or in a meeting. Given the level of service we aim to provide our clients, I am deeply involved in all of our deals and actively leading teams. I also spend time every day interacting with the associates and ensuring they are enfranchised and growing. Our deals are usually on very tight timetables, so it is a full life! As the years have passed, I have also come to appreciate the frequent outreach from clients to help with a judgment call that may or may not be directly related to law or work, which is when you know you are a trusted advisor.

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

The capital structures are complex, and lawyers are very involved, so make sure you are not scared of spreadsheets! Being proficient with numbers is a real advantage as these transactions are very financially driven (although I would say that all lawyers should strive to be comfortable around numbers).

Stepping back more broadly, it’s critical to understand your client’s business so that you can provide the best possible service. You could be working on a refinancing or public takeover or advising on preliminary steps for a future listing of the company. Being open-minded in the first years of your career and trying to understand as much as you can about all aspects of the law is important as it means you are more likely to be useful and relevant to the client as you get more senior.

What do you like best about your practice area?

I enjoy that it’s dynamic in almost every sense. The transactions are complex, interesting, and fast-paced. If you’re privileged to be viewed by clients as useful, you will get rewarded by being constantly busy and doing more and more interesting transactions for them. If you are committed and do an exceptional job, the feedback is instantaneous because the client will tell you they will be using you again—and they do!

Linked again to the relationship and quality point, I take immense pleasure and satisfaction in helping my associates grow. They get direct access to clients at a very early stage, and I think that makes the job more rewarding for associates. Advising on these matters is a team sport, so I am also constantly learning—I cannot count the number of times one of my associates has thought about an issue or angle differently from me.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

If you take all I have said above, I think Sullivan & Cromwell is uniquely suited to servicing private equity and financial sponsor clients. Our General Practice associates are encouraged to experience a range of transactions. We have an unremitting focus on quality. Across all of our practices, our partners are always hands on, which is good for the client and also good for the associates. There’s been a growing tendency of segmentation and specialization in the legal industry, which has its place in some instances, but because private equity clients are best served by counsel who have the ability to instantly understand and anticipate their needs, we are effective in a range of industries and types of transactions.

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

While it has existed for much longer, private equity in its current incarnation has been a growing practice area for the last 20 years, and is now a mature business. It’s a type of business where growth-minded associates can often find a space for themselves because new players constantly emerge, and it lends itself well to relationship-oriented people, who are often naturally inclined toward helping to create and generate business.

One of the great things about private equity is that you are very quickly given a lot of trust from a client who is deploying a significant amount of capital. This allows you to have direct access to, and understanding of, the decision-making process and puts you in a very good position to do two things in particular: get to the heart of creating new relationships between the firm and develop a critical skill set, which is the ability to translate risk into value. Many of our clients don’t have in-house counsel to make that translation, so private equity lawyers often gain that experience by default.

How important is it to understand your client’s business, and how can junior attorneys gain this insight?

As large as private equity and the broader private capital industry is, the business is still intensely personal in nature. The outcomes for private equity professionals are intrinsically linked to the manner in which they close a deal, the manner in which they realize investments, etc. The vast majority of private equity professionals come from banking, consultancy, and accounting backgrounds, but very few are from legal backgrounds. It is fundamental to understand how they think about risk and give advice that is tailored to their thinking. What I always say to junior associates is—do you understand the issue? If you understand the issue, do you understand the consequence(s)? Sounds simple but can be trickier in practice!