Jennifer Pastarnack, associate at Clifford Chance, discusses her work in the firm’s global distressed debt trading practice, including the importance of knowing the real people behind the deal.
CCBJ: Jenn, Clifford Chance's global Debt and Claims Trading practice has you working with hedge funds and asset managers in trading the debt of financially distressed companies in the secondary market. Please tell us what interests and inspires you about your work.
Jenn Pastarnack: One of the main reasons I love working with my clients is that they are helping to restructure and bring back to life companies that were otherwise faltering. It is exciting to help effectuate that kind of change. We are one of very few international firms representing hedge funds and asset managers in this space, and I’m gratified to be working from that position in the market.
Many of my deals require advice from my colleagues in different offices and practices. While the work is mainly focused on the distressed debt trading issues, interdisciplinary issues also arise. I provide a one-stop shop to my clients by providing access to the world's top counsel in tax, banking and finance, and litigation. It is rewarding for me that Clifford Chance offers the full suite of services to my clients so that they can manage their assets on a global scale.
Our senior partners are very supportive, providing me the opportunity, as an associate, to devote time and energy to building relationships and growing the practice. It’s great to be a lawyer and an entrepreneur – to combine both skillsets.
Finally, I look up to my clients. I am inspired by their work ethic and want to work just as hard as they do. The bar is set high, and I love that about my job!
What are the most important issues facing hedge funds in your market? What kind of legal advice do they need?
Hedge funds need advice that focuses sharply on the commercial aspects of their deals. Being analytical and book smart is important, but you have to keep the practicalities and the client's objectives front and center, and tailor your advice. I really stress that. Our answers need to be right and they need to be measured to mitigate risk. I always remember that the clients are running a business and that I must be responsive and commercial.
What has made you successful in a practice that is so dominated by men?
I've done the same thing that they've done, really. Over the past 11 years, I have proven that my approach of investing in relationships within my practice, especially in connection with high-profile and sensitive mandates, can lead to strong institutional relationships for the firm. I really believe in that. When I mentor junior associates, my central points are that friends want to work with friends, and developing relationships starts at the junior level. Never lose sight of the fact that there are people behind the deal. Your priority is to make the client shine.
Particularly for junior women lawyers, it's important to feel excited about becoming a business generator and, just like successful men, to show it. I've taken every opportunity to get involved, and I take ownership of my assignments. This approach has helped tremendously in building my credibility with senior colleagues, and once clients see my work, they know they can trust me with any matter of any size.
Working at a dynamic firm that promotes women is incredibly helpful, and I have been given a platform to expand our practice globally. Our regional managing partner, Evan Cohen, is a champion for women's advancement, and I get strong support from our senior Banking partners, including Mark Pesso, Jay Gavigan and Zarrar Sehgal. I'm indebted to the mentorship of our M&A partner, Sarah Jones, who also sits on the firm's Americas Management Committee.
Let’s talk more about the idea of being a business generator. How did this happen for you?
It happened gradually. As I became more senior, I thought about what excited me every day in my practice and just tapped into my own entrepreneurial spirit. I love going out, getting the work and then delivering a great product. My practice is conducive to this because it's very deal-oriented and people-focused.
It sounds simple, but I have found success by giving clients what they want. Pedigree is important, and we have that, but value is the real key. Taking a quick step back, distressed debt trading deals involve discrete legal issues, but they are rarely isolated to one practice area and often require expertise in tax, ERISA and bankruptcy. At Clifford Chance, I have the unique selling point of being able to take an interdisciplinary approach and offer integrated, global capabilities across the range of issues my clients are facing.
Building an internal network has been essential. Our partners offer structured and detailed guidance and really walk the walk in supporting my pitching efforts. As just two examples, Mark Pesso attends pitches with me, and our Bankruptcy partner Doug Deutsch and Banking partner Jay Gavigan have come with me to present our cross-practice capabilities.
Tell us about your Women’s Committee.
Our Women's Committee is a great support system and is very active in providing opportunities to discuss and address issues that women face in a male-dominated industry, particularly at the higher levels. The senior women I look up to the most have a similar entrepreneurial spirit as mine, and being a part of our women's network allows me to pick their brains about ways to build my book of business. This gives me confidence in getting out onto the field because I never feel that I am out there alone.
Published May 8, 2019.