The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Justin Lee is a partner in Weil's Banking & Finance practice based in New York. He advises institutional lenders, loan funds, asset managers, and corporate borrowers on all types of bank financing transactions, including complex multijurisdictional financings. He has significant experience advising on asset-based loans, investment-grade lending, cross-border and domestic acquisitions, middle-market and large-cap financings, bridge loans, restructurings, working capital facilities, and subordinated and second lien financings.
Justin is recognized as a “Rising Star” for Banking in the U.S. by IFLR1000 and recommended for Bank Lending by Legal 500 US. He was named a 2020 “Rising Star” for Banking by Law360, among The M&A Advisor’s 2020 Emerging Leaders, and a 2020 “Rising Star” by the New York Law Journal. New York Super Lawyers selected Justin as a “Rising Star” in Banking, 2016-2019. Justin was named to the LGBTQ+ Bar’s 2022 “Best LGBTQ+ Lawyers Under 40” list.
Justin received his law degree from New York University School of Law in 2009, where he served as Symposium Editor for the NYU Journal of Law & Business. He received his B.A. from New York University in 2006, where he graduated magna cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
Weil’s Banking & Finance practice assists investment banks, financial institutions, direct lenders, and corporate borrowers with their financing needs. This ranges from dividend recapitalizations to refinancings to restructuring liability management, both event driven—such as for a large acquisition—or refinancing for companies in rough waters.
I advise my clients on everything related to financing, but am also heavily connected to my colleagues across the firm. If I am working on a deal that includes other jurisdictions, I work very closely with my colleagues in our global offices. If there is a high-profile M&A deal, our market-leading M&A team is advising on the structuring. That’s true regardless of whether we are advising the company directly or their bankers.
What types of clients do you represent?
Weil has an incredibly varied practice. Young attorneys benefit from seeing a broad range of clients and transaction types and learning about different markets and different financing needs. This helps them develop quickly in their careers as they learn on the job.
I frequently work with Goldman Sachs, Citi, and other leading financial institutions on their high-profile, cross-border acquisitions, including, most recently, Dye & Durham’s (a Canadian public company) proposed acquisition of LINK (an Australian public company) as well as multiple billion-dollar financings involving Ford Motor Company and Campbell Soup Company, amongst others. In the bankruptcy sphere, I am working on the Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) bankruptcy on the debtor side right now and previously advised Apollo on the LATAM Airlines deal. The SAS case has a lot of cross-border aspects to it and is incredibly complicated and interesting.
I do pro bono work and not-for-profit law, as well, which Weil strongly encourages of all their attorneys.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I work on all types of banking and finance transactions, with a particular focus in complex multijurisdictional financings.
Roughly 50 percent of the deals I work on involve some cross-border aspects. That is when I get to collaborate with finance colleagues around the world, which I very much enjoy. One day, I may be dealing with the UK takeover code requirements. The next day, a deal may involve equitable subordination in Germany. I work closely with finance partners in Germany, France, and the UK. We also benefit from comparing notes on covenants and the structuring of deals. It’s really the variety of matters I get to dig in on that makes things fun, especially with outstanding colleagues across the globe.
How did you choose this practice area?
Practicing banking and finance at Weil was a no-brainer. The attorneys here opened their doors to me and I found the work super interesting. The market is constantly evolving, and we get to be at the cutting edge of exciting transactions, financings, and liability management—no day is the same, and we are constantly learning and improving. I wanted to be at a law firm where I could do the type of work that most interested me and be a part of high-profile deals, but I also wanted to be around people that I enjoy. You need to have people who are rooting for you, and I found that in the Banking & Finance practice.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
For corporate finance lawyers, the day to day is going to be full of negotiations, advising clients, and keeping up with market and deal terms. But, of course, it also varies. Sitting across from a top-tier sponsor on a leveraged buyout will be very different than advising on a middle-market corporate deal, which will be much different than assisting on a debtor-in-possession financing, so you have to be ready to switch gears quickly. The dynamic nature really keeps you sharp and on your toes. If every day was cookie cutter, I would be bored. By having some high-profile matters in different spheres, we achieve a nice ebb and flow as well as a helpful leveraging across practices and practice groups.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
I think some people assume that going into a finance practice means you need to have accounting training or a business school background, but that is not true. You need to find a place that's going to invest in your training and development by integrating you into their deals. It can be nice to have your name on deals, but if you are not invited to calls or getting drafting experience, you are really missing out. At Weil, you learn by osmosis from the mentors and teachers you have thoughtfully chosen, so you want to be at a firm where junior associates are in the mix.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
There are a lot of firms that do only borrower-side work, lender-side work, or restructuring work. Weil is one of the few top law firms that does all three. I think it is beneficial for young attorneys to see how those practices interrelate with one another and learn about different perspectives, different markets, and different negotiating tactics. We expect a lot from our young lawyers—we throw them into the mix really early—and we also place a big emphasis on providing the right mentors. That exposure provides them with highly challenging work and the tools to get it done right.
What kinds of experience can summer associates gain at this practice area at your firm?
I want to staff a summer associate on all of my matters, and I treat them exactly as I would a first-, second-, or third-year associate. Obviously, they will initially have less experience, but they learn quickly.
A lot of law firms go one of two ways when it comes to summer programs: they either run a summer-camp-style program, where you do not get to see what the actual work is like, or they expect you to work constantly without getting to know anybody.
Weil is right down the center. We really want people to have an excellent time, but we also want them to know exactly what it is like to practice here.
What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?
Of course, there is the traditional path to law firm partner, but not everyone is going to want to make partner in a banking and finance practice. Some people may prefer to look at in-house opportunities or on the business side to try something new. Weil lawyers have done all kinds of things. Amongst other opportunities, a banking attorney can work for private equity sponsors on their capital market desk or investment banks in their legal or business functions, or become more of a generalist in-house at a corporation.
We have a strong alumni network at Weil, which is vital. Some of my best friends are alumni of the Weil Banking & Finance practice. One of the best things at Weil is that you can chart your own adventure. The skills you learn here and the relationships you gain are all very translatable.
How do you prepare for a negotiation?
I always want to be well prepared and strike a very respectful tone. The strategy I pursue will vary depending on who is across the table, but I think it is important to find win-win scenarios. It doesn’t help to make anyone look bad. You want to present your case in a way that is thoughtful and takes into account everyone who is on the call.
The Weil Banking & Finance practice prides itself on being collaborative and friendly. When the dust settles, we want the other side to come away with a good impression. The finance community is very small, so you could easily get tagged as someone who is difficult to work with. That’s something we absolutely try to avoid, while still vigorously advocating for our clients.