Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Pauline Schneider was chair of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe’s public finance group. Schneider was head of that group for the firm’s Washington office. This version has been corrected.
Take a tour around Washington, and you can see traces of Pauline Schneider and Tatjana Misulic’s work all over: the Spy Museum, the convention center, the Capital Beltway’s high occupancy toll lanes, the new Costco in Northeast.
Schneider and Misulic are attorneys who specialize in public finance law, working behind the scenes with investment banks and local governments to piece together financing through bonds to construct highways, retail developments, sewer systems, bridges and virtually any other project built for public use.
The duo, who have worked together for more than a decade, join the Washington office of Ballard Spahr today. Both came from Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, where Schneider was head of the firm’s Washington office public finance group.
In the legal industry, Schneider and Misulic are known as bond lawyers. It is a niche practice that exists at many major law firms around the country. But Ballard Spahr has the largest such group in Washington by attorney count, with about 12 of the group’s 60 attorneys in D.C. focusing on the parts of tax, municipal and transactional law that together make up the legal backbone for funding infrastructure through a combination of public and private money.
Their arrival will help grow Ballard Spahr’s bond practice into a “regional juggernaut,” said William Rhodes, who chairs the firm’s public finance department.
The department represents various players in the bond financing process, including transit authorities and municipalities that issue bonds, as well as banks and other financial institutions and underwriters that help pay for the upfront cost of constructing projects.
Ballard Spahr, a Philadelphia-based law firm with nearly 500 attorneys nationwide, opened its Washington office in 1978 with a handful of public finance and tax lawyers. Today, the public finance group makes up about 10 percent of the firm, both in number of lawyers and in overall revenue, which in 2012 was about $300 million, according to the American Lawyer, a legal trade publication.
In Schneider and Misulic, Ballard Spahr is laying the groundwork for a succession plan in the public finance practice, firm leaders said. Schneider is a veteran transactional attorney who worked on many of the most recognizable infrastructure projects of the last decade, including the extension of Metro to Dulles through tax-exempt bonds and government grants. Misulic has worked closely with Schneider since they met in 2002, when Schneider was a partner and Misulic a summer associate at Hunton & Williams.
Schneider got her start in District government, working in the Office of Intergovernmental Relations, which at the time had to review any legislation related to financing in the city.
“I started thinking about what I wanted to do after government, and my experience during government drew me to this area,” she said. “I thought about joining the investment banking side, but decided I was much better suited for legal side. I don’t like the adversarial process [of the law]. This is a process where everyone around the table represents different parties, but we have a common goal, and it’s to get the project financed and done. There are no losers at the table, and everything we finance has a public purpose.”
In 2001, Schneider helped structure the deal to build the International Spy Museum, the first project in the District that used tax increment financing. The museum got $21.9 million from the city in the form of bonds, to be paid back over 15 years from revenue generated from museum ticket sales. Schneider said she couldn’t believe when the debt was paid off in seven years because so many people were willing to pay for admission.
“As a resident of the District, I couldn’t imagine people would spend $9 to go to a museum and we’d generate enough money [to pay off the debt],” Schneider said. “I remember how skeptical I was. But we did the financing and I will never forget the long lines of people to get in when they first opened. The amount of interest in that project was so significant, it paid off early. That to me was wonderful.”
Misulic, a native of the former Yugoslavia, came to the United States at age 15 as an exchange student and was forced to stay after war broke out. She bounced around exchange families in Texas and California, and eventually made her way to George Washington Law School.
“Pauline’s group seemed the most excited about what they did and seemed to enjoy their day-to-day,” Misulic said of the first time she first heard about the public finance group as a summer associate. “It really resonated with me.”
Misulic and Schneider also helped structure bond transactions to finance the AeroTrain at the Dulles airport.
The best part of her work, Schneider said, is “looking around town and seeing how I helped influence the landscape of the city.”