fivehundred magazine > Energy Yearbook 2024 > Perspectives: Clare Burgess

Perspectives: Clare Burgess

‘Work hard, be curious, support others (it is noticed and appreciated) and grab opportunities.’ Clifford Chance partner Clare Burgess on energy perspectives

What made you decide to become a lawyer and why did you choose to go into infrastructure transactions?

I chose to study law with thoughts of becoming a barrister. While at university I was introduced to City law firms through the milk rounds and was drawn to the emphasis on working as a team, opportunities to work on headline deals, international secondment opportunities… and the law school grants!

At Clifford Chance, having worked on infrastructure projects in Singapore as a trainee, on qualification I leant towards the project bond-financed PFI projects that our team was working on. The deals had a good level of complexity, but related to tangible assets like hospitals, so I could understand the real-world impact of the projects I was supporting through my work. This became a running theme in my career as I moved towards renewables and energy transition transactions, which make up the bulk of my practice today.

What have been your career highlights?

When it comes to transactions, I always think of the most recent one! We have just signed the H2 Green Steel transaction in Sweden, where we acted for the mezzanine lenders. It is a fantastic first-of-a-kind project with a great project team and inventive and engaged clients. As the world’s first large-scale green steel project, it is genuinely a game-changing transaction, involving 1GW of electrolysers, powered by Sweden’s renewable energy, to produce hydrogen to replace coking coal in the iron extraction process, lowering CO2 emissions by up to 95%. We need more innovative projects like this, across all industries, to demonstrate what is possible.

Another recent highlight has been advising on the funding of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Not energy and infrastructure, true, but through many years working with EIB I am pleased to still advise them on many innovative structures and products and have now supported them on several health-related mandates, including providing funding to Gavi during the Covid-19 pandemic to support the supply of Covid-19 vaccines to low and middle-income countries. This particular transaction involves EIB providing funding to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative via UNICEF and the World Health Organisation, backed by support from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the European Commission. It was an innovative, outcome-based structure which had to cater for the different policy requirements of all organisations involved. Certainly a challenge, but with work on all sides and the tenacity of several key individuals, the arrangements were agreed. Helping to eradicate polio equals a good day at the office!

Finally, being a member of our world-wide projects group (WWPG). It is such a fantastic group of energised people with extremely strong connections across the globe, who work on amazing deals together. Between us, we have seen it all, and everyone is always happy to share their experiences and support each other. Looking forward to our next get-together!

What has been your proudest professional moment?

Aside from making partner myself, I am proudest when those I have worked with and supported do well – whether that is within Clifford Chance or outside it. That can be a big moment for them (a new job or partnership), or just a presentation that they smash. Clearly, their successes are down to their hard work, not mine, but I am a proud mother hen regardless!

What has been your biggest professional challenge and what did you learn from it?

I am sure it is yet to come! With a career in law, your role is always evolving, and you are confronted with new issues every day. With the encouragement of others, I have put my hand up for opportunities (such as moving from our capital markets team to head up our energy and infrastructure team in London) and new responsibilities (co-founding our ESG board), which always bring challenges but also new experiences. Key learning is about getting involved, reading up, talking to lots of people and asking for support when needed, you can do it!

What has been the biggest change you’ve seen since you’ve started practising and has it made things better or worse?

One change is the reduction in big in-person meetings. Now, while no-one likes being stuck in endless meetings for weeks on end, I have to say I miss them. Meeting people and solving problems together is the best part of the job, and I find having people together in a room helps bring them together in approach too. It is also much easier to read the mood of the group, and a great environment in which to learn key skills. There is no one right way to be a lawyer and people have different strengths and styles. Seeing these play out in big in-person meetings is an invaluable experience for those starting out in their career.

Would you recommend a life in City law to your younger self?

Absolutely! There are very few careers where you can work your way up, on merit, to be the owner of a business. The partnership structure allows people with different, complementary skill sets to lead and succeed together. Even if partnership is not for you, it opens doors to many other roles and opportunities which, frankly, as a girl growing up in a small town in Shropshire, I was not even aware existed.

What advice would you give to those who want to get to where you have?

Work hard, be curious, support others (it is noticed and appreciated) and grab opportunities.

What is the most important change that needs to happen in City law?

You should ask new trainees that question! The industry has undergone a big change post-pandemic with the move to hybrid working, which many people love as it helps us manage life outside work and brings a bit more balance. That said, we are exploring ways to get the most from the team’s time together in the office. Everyone in the team has a responsibility to nurture the culture of the team and contribute to the growth and professional development of our people (lawyers and business professionals). That is not something to do when you have finished your ‘proper work’ – it is a core element of all our jobs!

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing clients right now?

Given my work on energy transition and sustainability, the challenges (and indeed opportunities) posed by climate change loom large. Clients need to strike a balance between maintaining profitable businesses, and ensuring they are sustainable and are not overly exposed to climate risks. Those risks are wide-ranging and include policy changes leading to stranded assets; extreme weather events disrupting business, staff and customers; social unrest; and insecurity. The good news is we can and must do something to avoid the worst outcomes, and in energy transition we need ambitious, innovative, bold leaders who are prepared to do things a little differently and sometimes take a leap of faith – our projects now do not always come tied up with a bow!

And finally – what was your favourite childhood book and why?

Shadow the Sheepdog by Enid Blyton, a story about a boy and his collie, and their life on a farm. My wonderful mum is from a farming background and so perhaps she instilled the fondness – although we never did get a collie despite my regular pleading. Maybe when I retire…

Clare Burgess is a partner at Clifford Chance.