How Tani’s Leap of Faith Led Her to a Fulfilling Path in Project Finance!
Life is a journey rife with surprises, and often it’s the unexpected detours that steer us toward our greatest passions. Through these twists and turns, we can discover hidden talents and unexplored interests, leading us down a path we never thought possible but ultimately fulfilling.
For Tani, her journey to discovering her true calling began with a leap of faith. Returning to Israel after nearly a decade of practicing law in the United States, she was uncertain about her next steps. With no equivalent bankruptcy practice in Israel, she interviewed with several law firms, including Tadmor, where she felt a connection with the partners and the office atmosphere. It was a leap of faith to join a firm without knowing exactly what she would do there, but sometimes it’s the unknown that leads us to greatness.
Soon after joining Tadmor, she was asked to take a look at one contract and then another, and before she knew it, she found herself drawn to the project finance department. It was a field that she had never heard of before (and considered finance, in particular, as an unexciting field of law), but the challenges and complexities of project finance work ignited a passion in her that has continued to this day. As she looks back on her journey, Tani is grateful for taking a chance on the unknown and finding her true calling in an unexpected place.
After 13 years of devoted project finance work, Dr. Tani Zahavi is now a partner at Meitar. She finds the work to be difficult and intricate, and she genuinely enjoys it. She is an inspiration to all aspiring lawyers because, despite having an exceptional academic and professional background, she is modest and passionate about her work.
Let us explore further and devour Tani’s stirring journey and her love of project finance!
Please brief us about yourself and tell us your source of inspiration for venturing into this niche.
My birthplace and upbringing took place in Israel. I pursued my LLB and LLM from the Hebrew University and also interned at the Supreme Court. Later, I opted for further studies at Yale and earned another LLM and a doctoral degree (JSD). After completing my studies, I joined Paul Weiss, a law firm in New York, where I worked as an associate in the bankruptcy department for five years. Subsequently, after nearly nine years in the US, I returned to Israel. However, I was uncertain about my career path as the bankruptcy practice in Israel was not comparable to that in the US.
After interviewing with various law firms, I ultimately decided to join Tadmor, a firm where I already knew some of the partners from my time at the Hebrew University and enjoyed the atmosphere. However, neither Tadmor’s managing partner nor myself were certain of my role. Shortly thereafter, Jonathan Finklestone, the head of the project finance department, requested my assistance with one contract, then another, and before long, we were working together and thoroughly enjoying it! To my surprise, I found myself engrossed in finance work, which I had previously considered unappealing and attempted to avoid. However, I discovered my passion for project finance work and have been doing it for the past 13 years, relishing the complexity and challenges it poses. I thrive on challenges and am thrilled to be in this field.
Please brief our audience about your organization and its inception story.
Meitar is Israel’s leading law firm. The firm represents some of the world’s largest multinational corporations in corporate, commercial, litigation, and regulatory matters, both in Israel and abroad.
Meitar is a comprehensive legal firm that specializes in a wide range of corporate transactions. These include mergers and acquisitions, both domestically and globally, capital markets, finance, banking, derivatives, litigation in the corporate and commercial sectors, licensing, energy, hi-tech, infrastructure, real estate, antitrust, taxation, and regulatory matters. Meitar has a proven track record of representing clients in some of Israel’s biggest financial and corporate transactions, as well as in international public offerings. They have also represented top companies and banks worldwide in class-action litigation and corporate disputes. Meitar is recognized for its excellence by various independent guides, including Chambers & Partners, Legal 500, Dun’s 100, and BDI.
Meitar stands out among the largest law firms in Israel, as a significant number of our partners have worked for major international law firms in the US and other countries. Furthermore, many of our partners have acquired their law degrees from renowned universities in the US and UK. Our ultimate objective is to ensure that our clients, both in Israel and abroad, receive the same level of quality and service that they would expect from top-notch law firms in the US, UK, and Europe. Our firm boasts a robust team comprising over 440 attorneys and 75 articled clerks who are all dedicated to upholding our high standards of excellence and service.
What led you to specialize in public-private partnerships and project finance, and what are some key factors to consider when structuring project finance deals in the power, water, and transportation industries?
In the field of project finance, lawyers are faced with a myriad of issues and must negotiate agreements with various stakeholders, including banks, financial institutions, the state, contractors, and entrepreneurs. These parties all have their own interests and goals, but they must work together to close the deal successfully. The lawyer must therefore understand the concerns and interests of each party and help their client (and the other parties involved) to reach an agreement that addresses these concerns as best as possible, considering that the contracts will be relevant for a long period, typically between 20 to 30 years. It’s a challenging and fascinating field that requires a deep understanding of finance, law, and negotiation skills.
Can you discuss a successful project financing deal you have worked on and what made it successful?
As previously discussed, the key to a successful project financing arrangement is the identification and allocation of risks amongst all parties involved. While it may be impossible to anticipate every potential scenario, parties must work together to determine the most significant risks and establish a plan for their distribution. Ultimately, the focus must be on appropriately allocating risk. Typically, the state bears minimal responsibility, although there may be circumstances where greater involvement is necessary and poses a challenge for lawyers representing either the concessionaire or the banks. Financing parties, who tend to be risk-averse, seek to transfer as much risk as possible to the contractors or entrepreneurs. In contrast, these parties aim to shift some of the risks to others, including banks or among themselves. A successful deal is achieved when all parties feel that their interests have been adequately addressed.
How do you stay up-to-date with industry trends and developments, and can you discuss a challenge you faced in a project finance deal and how you overcame it?
We continually strive to stay informed about the latest market trends by seeking knowledge from successful entrepreneurs and financial advisors. Our eagerness to learn extends beyond our borders, as we collaborate with international lawyers on various deals, affording us the chance to gain insight into how business is conducted in other regions, particularly in the UK, Europe, and America.
Are there any upcoming projects or developments in the project finance industry that you are particularly excited about?
My upcoming projects center around renewable energy, specifically photovoltaic (PV) and PV storage. Israel is at the forefront of developing storage capacity as an integral part of PV projects, and as such, we are at the cutting edge of developing the precedent documentation for these new generations of projects. These projects present unique challenges both with respect to electricity storage, which is a new and complex concept with little technical or legal precedent, and a novel form of the electricity market where selling is based on demand rather than a fixed feed-in tariff to a centralized entity. These innovations make the projects intriguing and compelling.
What advice would you give to aspiring women leaders who are looking to make a difference in their industries?
As Sheril Sandberg emphasized, it’s crucial to “Lean In” and actively engage. This involves educating yourself and becoming a professional, regardless of gender. Once you have the necessary knowledge and skills, ensure that you have a place at the table. I also believe that the latest technological trends should make it easier for women lawyers to be at the forefront of the legal profession whilst balancing the demands of raising a young family. I believe that the coming decade will see huge changes in this regard.
How to envision scaling your organization’s services and operations in 2023 and beyond?
Meitar is Israel’s largest and most respected law firm, revered for its pursuit of perfection in all aspects of its operations. The firm is not only dedicated to professional excellence but also to enhancing the welfare of the Israeli nation, as evident in its recent efforts to uphold the country’s democratic and liberal principles. Meitar prides itself on being a trailblazer in the legal profession by venturing into uncharted territories, anticipating future trends, and emphasizing the importance of being both a trusted advisor and a compassionate human being. As a member of this exceptional law firm, I am immensely proud of its achievements.
Please give us a few testimonials from your clients and awards or recognition that accurately highlight your achievements in the corporate niche.
“Tani Zahavi is well versed in project finance, which includes acting on a wide array of projects across the energy and infrastructure sector, with particular skills in the transportation and renewable energy industries. She is also experienced with the financing elements of PPP projects.”
Acting for leading sponsors, lenders, and financial institutions, the projects and energy practice at Meitar Law Offices has a strong track record in advising on large energy, transport, defense, and water projects.
I was also recognized as one of the IFLR 1000 Women Leaders in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.