John Russell, the new capital markets partner at US firm Brown & Wood, has a professional demeanour which appears to be completely at odds with his favourite pastime – ski-mountaineering.
While he is keen to take risks in his private life, it is something he is reluctant to do in his career. This is despite his move to Brown & Wood after 12 years at Simmons & Simmons.
Russell believes he will stay with his new firm until he retires: “I am pretty much convinced that this will be my last career move.”
Nick Eastwell, a partner in the capital markets department at Allen & Overy, believes Russell’s departure from Simmons is a loss to the City firm.
Eastwell says: “I have always thought he is a more than competent lawyer and I have respect for the guy. I guess it is a bit of a blow to Simmons, whatever they may say, to lose a name that is known in the market place like John Russell.”
However Russell is just one loss among many at Simmons which has seen eight partners leave since the beginning of the year.
But Russell is at pains to point out that his departure from the firm was entirely amicable.
He also says that in the current climate where law firms are striving to be perceived as businesses rather than old-fashioned partnerships, shedding the old for the new is good practice.
“It is no bad thing when you see UK law firms losing a proportion of their partners.
“It is very encouraging that so many partners have left. You need lawyers who are not just academic lawyers but who also have good business sense.”
Russell began his career at Linklaters & Alliance and fairly early on in his traineeship he realised he wanted to work in capital markets.
He says: “I did securities work when I was a trainee that gave me such a buzz. It made me think ‘this is what I want to do’.”
It is this “buzz” that keeps him going during the long hours. “You are going to work pretty long hours because these transactions need to be done pretty quickly,” he says. “If you want to do this sort of work there is no point spending 12 months writing the documents because the markets will have moved on.
“One of the things that I have worked out in my mind is that you cannot do the long hours if you do not enjoy what you are doing. If there is no buzz then it becomes a trudge.”
There came a point where Russell felt that he was not getting close enough to the hub of the work in the practice.
He then decided to join investment bank Merrill Lynch as in-house counsel in 1985.
Regarding working in private practice he says: “By the time the banker brings you the deal it has become set in stone. I was looking for something more simple and elegant and you go in-house to do that.”
Although working in-house was an experience he enjoyed he admits it is one he is reluctant to repeat. He left Merrill Lynch for Simmons in 1988. He says: “I went back into practice because that is where I felt my strengths were.”
While Russell speaks highly of the firm he has now left behind, he says the main attraction of joining Brown & Wood is that it is a US firm.
“The US is by far the most important securities market in the world because of the amount of investment that goes on there. US investors are more willing to take risks,” he says.
He believes the US market is one the UK cannot afford to ignore, from both a business and legal point of view.
He says: “Why is it that UK law firms are hiring US lawyers? They are not doing it because it is just another place. They are doing it because the US is really at the cutting edge.”
But it is not just the US that Russell is interested in.
During his career, his practice area has taken him to various countries to work within emerging markets including Egypt, Greece, Thailand, China, Russia and Pakistan. He also has a specialised interest in India.
He believes working within these markets has given him a better understanding of life outside England.
He says: “You can learn a great deal more about a country and its people by spending a week working on a deal there than spending three months travelling around it.”
His priority now is concentrating on the US and developing a relationship with Brown & Wood’s clients. This is because, due to a restrictive covenant, Russell is prohibited from bringing any work with him from Simmons.
So for now he will have to wait before he can again indulge in ski-mountaineering.
But it is this risky passion that keeps him sane.
As he puts it: “You can be a long way from anywhere – I’ve yet to find a guide who has got a cellphone.
“It is another challenge, it keeps you busy and nobody, but nobody, can get hold of you.”
Capital markets partner
Brown & Wood