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Solicitors' practice areas

Banking & finance

Sarbajeet Nag

Milbank LLP

Firm: Milbank LLP
University: National University of Juridical Sciences
Degree: Law

Banking and finance is a global industry involving a wide variety of financial products, ranging from simple bank loans to companies, to highly structured financing arrangements across multiple jurisdictions. The rise of internationalisation and the development of increasingly sophisticated financing structures mean that modern banking law and practice is becoming ever more complex. In the post-financial crisis era, banking and finance lawyers find themselves at the forefront of the evolution and recovery of the industry.

For some aspiring lawyers, a career in law is almost inevitable due to family ties to the profession – after all, they often say “it’s not what you know, but who you know”. However, this isn’t always the case. Sarbajeet Nag, a partner in Milbank LLP’s leveraged finance team, started his legal career in India as a student at the National University of Juridical Sciences in Calcutta. When considering how he came to the decision to practise as a solicitor, rather than a barrister, Sarbajeet recalls how success at the Bar in India “was based on family connections and what context you had in the industry – I was an outsider in that sense as I didn’t have any family in law”. As such, “the solicitor law firm route seemed to be a much simpler and more attainable route for me”.

From trainee to partner

After overcoming several hurdles on his journey into the profession, Sarbajeet completed his training contract at a magic circle law firm, which is where, by chance, he fell into banking and finance law – more specifically, leveraged finance. “I didn’t really know what it was. I ended up sitting in the banking and finance team for my second seat and then qualified there because I loved the experience. A lot of the deals we work on are for retail businesses that we’ve all heard of, and the idea of working with something that’s tangible and real was exciting to me.”

Looking back, Sarbajeet is grateful for the experiences he was exposed to during his training contract as they played a large part in his career trajectory. But it wasn’t just the work and life as a lawyer that Sarbajeet had to get used to – having come from a different background and education system to his fellow trainees, Sarbajeet also had to adapt to an entirely new culture, country and legal system.

Jumping to the present day and his role at Milbank, Sarbajeet describes leveraged finance as transactional and a “very commercial part of law”. He says: “There’s a lot of law and jurisprudence that underpins all of it but it’s really about commercial view, understanding businesses and understanding markets. The work changes as you become more senior and throughout different parts of your career, but fundamentally it’s transactional, about getting deals done and having the mindset to entwine the more legal technical aspects with the more commercial aspects. You’re essentially advising clients on why the legal bits affect their commercial judgement.”    

As he explains, this work has shifted somewhat since his life as a trainee lawyer. Given the complex nature of the deals at hand, “trainees and junior solicitors will usually work on one specific area of the deal”, whereas as a senior associate or partner “you start taking more overall responsibility and have a macro view of what’s going on”.

Leveraged finance is a team sport

As with all jobs there are challenges to confront – whether that’s work you don’t want to do, administrative tasks that take up time, or the long hours that can come with working in law. For lawyers, these challenges differ between practice areas but for those working in transactional law, there’s a significant demand on people’s time. “I least enjoy the intensity in terms of what the job needs from you on a pretty much 24/7 basis.” The unpredictable nature of leveraged finance and intense timelines often mean “you might have to give up parts of your life to prioritise work at times, which can be challenging”, Sarbajeet admits.

Having said that, the aspects of his work that he enjoys far outweigh this, thanks to his passion for this area of law and the opportunity to work in teams. “I’ve always been more driven by the team philosophy; I played a lot of team sports growing up and for me working together with a common goal, as well as getting along with the people you work with (both professionally and socially), is an important part of what I do.”

"I’ve always been more driven by the team philosophy; for me working together with a common goal is an important part of what I do"

Talent drain and AI

On top of this, finding the area of law you’re working in fascinating will inevitably make for a more exciting and rewarding career. Sarbajeet describes leveraged finance as being in an “interesting phase”. He goes on to explain why in more detail: “My practice is connected to everything we do around us, for example – inflation, interest rate hikes, supply chain crisis, the war in Ukraine – all of this impacts financial markets and therefore has a direct impact on my work.”  

He goes on: “People have become more focused on negotiating documents, contractual protections and making sure deals are more balanced in terms of the negotiating dynamic, making a lawyer’s job much more interesting.” Although the pace of deal flow has slowed, the work is fundamentally more interesting.

As well as looking at trends in the market, Sarbajeet outlines the trends shaping the legal market as a whole, including “the talent drain”. Around 15 years ago when he began his career in BigLaw, it was an incredibly desirable career option. However, having spoken to trainees and vacation schemers, Sarbajeet gets the impression that this now isn’t as much of a desirable goal for the younger generation. He cites “the corporate impact” and the “intensity” of the job as potential reasons for this, before adding that “there are also lots of things to do”, including working in tech and start-ups – both increasingly interesting options for many.

It’s this demanding nature of leveraged finance law that Sarbajeet wishes he’d had an insight into earlier on in his career. While an awareness of this wouldn’t have impacted his decision to pursue a career here, he considers it “good advice”. It’s clear that Sarbajeet is incredibly invested in and excited by this area of law, and despite finding it tricky to switch off every now and again, he wouldn’t change it for the world. “We have to be able to motivate bright, young people about what we do,” he concludes. If you’re passionate about the area of law that you’re practicing (whether it’s leveraged finance or something else), the flip side that comes with it is much more acceptable.

AI is also rocking the world of law, for good and bad. “While AI is something we always talk and think about as being a ‘challenge’, there hasn’t really been anything I’ve seen so far that concerns me in terms of it actually being transformational.” Despite AI having been around for a while, it continues to grow each day and is “something we have to keep our eyes on because there’s potential for AI to be used in meaningful ways in law”.

"It’s important to find the area of law that interests you intellectually because that’s what will sustain you in the long run"

A career with sustenance

Having a finger on the pulse when it comes to these emerging trends is a great way for aspiring lawyers to highlight their interest in and understanding of the commercial issues at hand. On top of demonstrating commercial acumen and finding the issues that interest you, a variety of experience is also incredibly useful. Sarbajeet says: “My advice for budding solicitors is to try to experience different areas of law when you’re junior – for example, transactional, contentious and maybe even a pupillage somewhere.” The decision between solicitor and barrister, and practice areas should be driven ultimately “by what really interests and excites you”.

Speaking from experience, he shares stories about professionals he’s worked with who came into law for “a good job and stable income, which only gets you so far”. He adds: “It’s important to find the area of law that interests you intellectually because that’s what will sustain you in the long run.”

Continuing with his practical advice, Sarbajeet also recommends taking time for and pacing yourself when you’re a junior. “As you get more senior, the demands of your career change over time and the work becomes more intense. I think taking a gap year or qualification leave to do something meaningful is important.”

So, although having connections in the legal profession can be useful, Sarbajeet is proof that it’s absolutely not necessary. Since studying for his law degree in India and moving to the UK to kickstart his life in law, Sarbajeet has carved out an incredibly successful career as a leveraged finance partner at Milbank – self-belief, commitment and a genuine fascination with law will get you further than you might think.