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Firm: Milbank LLP
University: National University of Juridical Sciences
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”. But this isn’t always the case. Sarbajeet Nag started his legal studies in India almost 20 years ago and now considers how he came to the decision to practise as a solicitor: “The barrister profession in India was based quite heavily on personal connections, which made it hard for outsiders to just walk in and be successful.” As a result, “becoming a solicitor was a much more desirable career option”, and one that was more accessible for someone like Sarbajeet, who didn’t have a personal background in law.
After overcoming several hurdles on his journey into the profession – including that at the time of applying for training contracts, there was only a “relatively small group of firms hiring graduates directly from law schools in India” – Sarbajeet is now a partner in the leveraged finance team at international law firm Milbank LLP.
Looking back, Sarbajeet is grateful for the experiences he was exposed to during his training contract at magic circle firm Allen & Overy – experiences that have “shaped” his career to date. “During my training contract, I completed my first seat in the finance department. The team had several subsections and I sat with someone who worked largely in leveraged finance,” he explains. “I loved the work in this seat, as well as my secondment to Goldman Sachs. I qualified in leveraged finance off the back of those experiences.”
While Sarbajeet’s area of law “involves a broad spectrum of products”, he describes his work as heavily transactional: “We do a combination of advising on commercial aspects, advising on the legal aspects of financings and transaction management.” He continues: “Broadly speaking, leveraged financings are those related to an acquisition – a large part of what we do is connected to a tangible M&A event.” His work in this area has brought about many transactional highlights but when asked about the highlight of his career to date, Sarbajeet doesn’t hesitate: “For me, it was making partner.”
"We do a combination of advising on commercial aspects, advising on the legal aspects of financings and transaction management"
“Not so much from a perspective of reaching a point of personal success, but rather that it confirmed that the industry works on merit – the idea that hard work and talent will set you up to achieve a level of success such as partner,” he adds.
Aside from the technical aspects of his job, Sarbajeet enjoys the opportunities to work within a team. “Transactional law, but also specifically finance and leveraged finance, is a team sport. I love this part of the job – working together with partners, senior associates, juniors and trainees. It’s an aspect of the job that makes it a much less lonely experience, especially when you might find yourself working late hours,” Sarbajeet explains.
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 often come with working in law. For lawyers, these challenges differ between practice areas but for those practising transactional law “there’s a significant demand on people's time outside of the strict nine-to-five working hours, which makes long-term sustainability a challenge for many people,” Sarbajeet says. That said, having a team around you during busy periods does “soften the edges”.
"I think it’s a really interesting time to work in finance because of everything going on in the world, such as inflation, interest rate hikes, the commodity prices – all of this has a really tangible impact on the finance market"
On top of this, finding the area of law you’re working in fascinating will inevitably make for a more exciting and rewarding career. “I think it’s a really interesting time to work in finance because of everything going on in the world, such as inflation, interest rate hikes, the commodity prices – all of this has a really tangible impact on the finance market.”
Sarbajeet continues: “We’re going through a period of flux right now where the market for our main products, which are the term loan instrument or high-yield bond, is really quite volatile. We’re also seeing some interesting trends in terms of who’s buying our debt products, what that means for documentation and how people are financing various acquisitions. However, the main trend in the market right now is volatility and how people will navigate that with more creativity and alternative sources of funding.”
As well as looking at trends in the market, Sarbajeet is also keen to look inwardly at the trends shaping Milbank. Having joined the firm around three years ago, Sarbajeet considers the growth that he’s witnessed during this time: “When I started at the firm, we had around 13 associates and three partners in the leveraged finance and capital markets team. Three years later, we have more than 60 associates and 10 partners, so we’re growing incredibly quickly. The firm’s training programme has also expanded in line with this growth.”
He adds: “While growth, in itself, is obviously not the aim, being able to grow while doing the same kind of work, and profitably, is a big focus for Milbank and particularly in my area of practice.”
Put your best foot forward
How can aspiring lawyers reach Sarbajeet’s level of success? “You need good transactional management skills, as well as the ability to distil the merging of technical legal aspects and commercial aspects – and explain these issues to clients. You must also stay calm under pressure. A lot of what we do involves working to strict timelines and working with clients on transactions can be demanding.”
“Being organised, staying on top of your work and being commercially focused, as well as being able to zone in on micro issues, understand them and help your client to understand them are all key skills,” he adds.
Aside from the skills required for success, Sarbajeet shares some closing advice based on his past experience and the work ethic that supported him: “Always try to do your best work regardless of who you’re working with and what you’re doing. Throughout your career, you’ll sometimes find yourself working on things that you’re not keen on, but I’ve found that putting your best foot forward inevitably reaps rewards.”