“We do not think in terms of product categories, but advise each client individually.”
As sponsor of this year’s JUVE Awards for Banking and Finance Law, our Frankfurt-based advisors Nicolai von Steinaecker and Alexander Gorny had the opportunity to talk to Vanessa Schürmann about the nomination, the market in general and the freedoms at White & Case in particular – both entrepreneurial and personal.
Laurence Simons (LS): Ms. Schürmann, thank you very much for inviting us to talk to you, and congratulations once again on your nomination. This is your third nomination in banking and finance law within four years. Surely the chances should be good?
Vanessa Schürmann (VS): The probability is definitely not decreasing. Even if we think we’ve been the best team on the market for several years, that doesn’t mean necessarily we’ll win. We have seen that in other areas as well: It’s not always the law firms that are number one in the market that end up being the winners. Today, criteria such as growth and innovation seem to be more decisive. But here, too, we at White & Case certainly have a lot to offer.
LS: Speaking of growth: You do indeed have one of the largest firms in the market and have recently been able to strengthen your team, especially with Senior Associates or Counsel from competitors who have since become (local) partners with you. Is there any appetite at all in this respect?
VS: Definitely, although we also keep an eye on our leverage. In addition to the great colleagues we have gained or promoted in recent years and the very successful young partners, we still see a need for growth, especially at the mid- and senior associate level.
LS: You yourself did not start your career at White & Case, but previously worked at a Magic Circle law firm. Now you are very successful in a US unit. What prompted you to make the switch back then and what makes White & Case different or even better?
VS: At the time, I was convinced by the cultural environment and by the entrepreneurial freedom. As a young lawyer, I already thought and acted very entrepreneurially and saw good opportunities at White & Case to position myself as a partner in international finance. For example, during a secondment at a major bank in London in the early 2010s, I had seen that it was possible to bring together financing topics, e.g. any form of debt capital, be it loans or bonds. The teams that were in-house were working together and thinking across different products. And this is also the case at White & Case: we do not think in terms of product categories but advise each client individually! Ultimately, the focus is on the client and on his or her concerns. To give you a concrete example: In the spring of last year, we prepared a loan agreement under New York law for our client Delivery Hero with regard to a TLB (Term Loan B) transaction with the support of Yannick Adler in our Frankfurt team, as the market for such financing was still available there. In Germany or Europe, this no longer existed at that time. However, European banks were also on the RCF (Revolving Credit Facility) and therefore there were some European features in the credit agreement and an intercreditor agreement under English law. Therefore, in the past it was and is not unusual that during a deal the geographic market environment turns (see Delivery Hero: Europe vs. USA) or the product changes (High Yield Bond vs. TLB). It is not important for us which colleague originally opened the file, but what is the best solution for the client according to the market environment. In this respect, we have no vested interests and no “politics”. JUVE has already recognized this correctly when it talks about us as an integrated capital markets team.
Finally, the entrepreneurial approach is also evident when advising start-ups. When I joined White & Case alongside Gernot Wagner and Rebecca Emory, it was only here, as a dynamic team, and a few years later also together with Andreas Lischka and Sebastian Pitz, that we were able to advise promising start-ups. This starts with large-volume financing rounds, which are often equity transactions. In addition, debt capital (in the form of loans and bonds) is usually raised and, depending on the market environment and the maturity of the start-up, the advice culminates in an initial public offering (IPO), in which Thilo Diehl, in addition to the above-mentioned colleagues, also successfully advises on the market. Subsequently, we typically draw on the entire advisory spectrum of our corporate finance practice as well as other practices of the firm. A lot of perseverance is often rewarded here. I would like to mention that we also have a notary in our team, Sebastian Schrag, who we can call upon.
LS: That does indeed sound very flexible and makes good entrepreneurial sense. What do you currently see as special topics or challenges for your clients?
VS: The real estate financing area is relatively fallow, but we will certainly see more in the restructuring area. The Adler Group may have been just the tip of the iceberg. Regulatory law is still a ” perennial issue,” especially at the Frankfurt office, both in advising new market participants and in new financial service offerings. Sebastian Pitz and Woldemar Haering, who joined our team last year after many years of experience at Bafin, advises on this.
The energy transition, intensified by the war in Ukraine, is becoming clearly visible in the market. Thus, the area of project financing which is steered from our Hamburg office with increasing support from the Frankfurt office by partner Sébastien Seele, is becoming increasingly important. Here, there is a trend away from pure wind farms to solar parks and other alternative forms of energy generation. In addition, financing in the area of digital infrastructure plays a major role – we are working on numerous deals for the expansion of fibre optic networks and data centres. And of course, ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) continues to keep us on our toes.
LS: The topic of ESG is indeed on everyone’s lips. Can you tell us how do you encounter this topic in your daily practice?
VS: Yes, in addition to the classic “E”, i.e. environmental protection, we are seeing the social and governance side increasingly coming to the fore. Investors and clients are looking more and more at how decisions are made, how employees are treated and that brings us quickly to D&I (Diversity & Inclusion).
LS: How do you handle the D&I issue internally? With a share of almost 20%, the female White & Case Partners in Germany are “in the healthy midfield with an upward trend”.
VS: Yes, I think that’s something to be proud of, and we are continuing to work on increasing the proportion of female colleagues. In particular, we are focusing on coaching offers for our young colleagues who aspire to a partnership and whom we trust to become partners. However, our primary goal is to show our younger colleagues at White & Case that family and partnership are not mutually exclusive. We also take the approach that, while we do not slow down the development of the born “rainmaker”, we also look at who looks after “repeat business” on which file so well that the client can be retained and, if necessary, expanded. There are often many other qualities required. The “silent stars” are therefore equally valued.
NS: I see – you are a mother yourself. Hand on heart: how much do you work and how often can you put your son to bed?
VS: That’s a good question, and I can only answer it in typical legal terms: It depends. Of course, remote work has become a matter of course for us, too, and allows us all more flexibility and the opportunity to incorporate family appointments into our daily routine. But I personally prefer the office. Especially since, in my eyes, it is also part of my role as a Partner to be physically there for younger colleagues. My team has to be able to come to my office when in doubt.
NS: And you don’t take the electric bike, I hear.
VS: Yes, I really enjoy walking to the office. It gives me exercise and a chance to let my mind wander.
LS: Ms. Schürmann, thank you very much for the very interesting and informative interview. We are looking forward to a great celebration on October 26 with you and your colleagues!