Brief encounter: davies wallis foyster

Clifford Chance's public international law partner, Rae Lindsay, is an advert for her job. Breezing into the room she looks more alert and on the ball than your average Joe, especially considering the fact that she spends most of her time travelling to the far corners of the globe.

"I am very lucky," she enthuses. "I have the best job in the City." And it is this ardour that makes her the perfect candidate to head Clifford Chance's new international law unit from the firm's office in New York (The Lawyer, 11 December).

What her modesty prevents her from saying, however, is that she deserves it. Lindsay speaks French, German and a little Russian, she has two masters degrees and is qualified to practise law in the UK, the US and Canada.

Her client list – which includes foreign governments and major international financial institutions which do work in relation to the World Trade Organisation, the United Nations and the US Department of Justice – is to die for. She says: "I get to work with different governments and in different cultures. It's very cosmopolitan and I think now I would feel very stifled if I was limited to one jurisdiction."

Lindsay's training has been diverse. She studied law at the University of Leicester before completing masters degrees in both law and criminology at the University of Toronto. She qualified in Calgary in Canada, then spent two years as a litigator in Palo Alto, California.

In 1986 she joined Coward Chance, just before it merged with Clifford Turner, and was recruited to work with the firm's public international law guru, Jeremy Carver. "She's the fastest worker I have ever encountered," says Carver. "Her capacity and speed is simply astonishing."

Lindsay was immediately asked to work on a litigation case for the International Tin Council which had defaulted on debts and was being sued by its creditors. Clifford Chance was defending six governments and the European Commission (EC).

"Tin Council was the most complex piece of litigation to hit the courts, only superseded by the Lloyd's litigation," says Carver. "We needed someone to represent the EC and in the end Rae did most of it. She had no background in international or European law but she managed to master the case."

To start with, Lindsay concentrated on a mixture of litigation and international law, but it did not take her long to decide where her interest lay.

In 1997, she was made a partner, although according to Carver she should have been made up much sooner. And just four years on she is moving to New York to head the international law capability.

Lindsay says that a devoted unit is needed because international law is expanding. "The barriers between public and private law are breaking down. Traditionally, the practice was about governments, but now it impacts on individuals, multinational companies and financial institutions as well."

Clifford Chance already has an international trade practice operating out of Brussels, London and Washington. But it is still a relatively small area, with Herbert Smith, DJ Freeman and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer being the other main UK firms which undertake public international law.

Lindsay says that New York is the obvious choice for expansion because it is the financial centre of the world and home to the UN. She will work closely with the Washington office which is near both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank headquarters.

But her London practice will not be left behind. Given the locations of her clients it makes no difference where her desk is and Lindsay will continue to act for the governments of Kuwait and Jordan in relation to environmental damage claims.

In 1991, the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) was set up to handle claims resulting from the Gulf war. During the war, huge fires caused oil spillages into the Gulf waters which led to vast amounts of atmospheric pollution. There are ongoing claims against Saddam Hussein for blowing up oil wells, and in September, Kuwait Petroleum Corporation was awarded $15.9bn (£11bn).

Lindsay says: "Environmental claims are very exciting. The UNCC is the first organisation to be set up to deal with companies bringing claims against environmental damages at the time of war. New elements of law are arising that show how important environmental issues have become. There is a clear message being given by the Security Council which is that there are legitimate things you can do against an enemy at the time of war but polluting the environment isn't one of them."

Carver says that Lindsay's contribution to Kuwait is extraordinary. "She is responsible for drafting the entire manual for claims preparation submissions. Her work affected the way the UNCC dealt with the claims and has resulted in Kuwaiti claimants receiving higher pay-outs."

Lindsay has also been involved in setting up an online service called Sanctions. This provides advice to insurance companies and banks which need to respond to calls for sanctions.

She is also involved in policy development and is working with the German and Swiss governments to find ways of using sanctions which will hit targets without damaging the whole economy. "You can either target certain funds or a certain political party, or you can target a particular sector of the economy," she says. "It needs to be strategic."

Pro bono work also features highly on Lindsay's list. A couple of years ago, she was involved in the Pratt and Morgan v Attorney General for Jamaica & anor (1997) case, in which Caribbean people who were being held on death row for inordinate periods of time appealed to the Privy Council. The council decided it was wrong to keep people on death row for more than five years and in some cases, sentences were reduced to serving a life term.

She now wants to get Clifford Chance involved with Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), although she refuses to talk any more about it for fear of pre-empting a negative response.

Unusually, her generosity extends to other firms. Despite the fact that only a handful of firms have public international law capabilities, Lindsay does not regard them as competitors. "It's not like that," she says. "It's a friendly practice."

And as if to illustrate the point, Herbert Smith's head of private and public international law Campbell McLachlan says: "She's a super lawyer. The natural successor to Jeremy Carver."