If you need evidence of the euro’s potential impact on the legal profession, look no further than Ian Bell. The Clifford Chance partner has just been made senior European counsel to Standard & Poor’s, the New York-based credit rating agency, making him the firm’s first non-US lawyer.
Bell, who is 35, has been a partner at Clifford Chance since 1996, working since he joined the firm in 1987 in the complex world of asset securitisation, where companies borrow on the strength of a pool of financial assets placed in a special purpose company.
The US asset securitisation market is, he says, a trillion-dollar market. The European market has developed more slowly. But recently it has been expanding rapidly and the euro will bring greater cross-border investment and increased demand for Standard & Poor’s credit analysis – hence Bell’s newly-created post.
He will bring a European perspective to analysis of the legal structure of deals and will direct the external law firms that Standard & Poor’s uses in Europe, liaising between them and New York.
Standard & Poor’s in London knew of Bell through its connection with Clifford Chance, which has acted for the company in the past.
Bell is also highly-qualified on other fronts. He has worked in asset securitisation since the European market began and his first deal was only the fourth such transaction.
Born of English parents, Bell was raised and educated in Paris and came to England when he was 15. He studied law at the London School of Economics and the University of Strasbourg.
His otherwise perfect English accent retains a hint of his first language, French, and he speaks fluent Portuguese, passable Italian and Spanish and, as he puts it, “schoolboy German”.
His new role has a touch of poacher-turned-gamekeeper about it. Rather than working out the legal structure of a deal, he will be scrutinising legal arrangements as part of the firm’s assessment of credit risk – for instance, whether a company is liable to be wound up by the Inland Revenue for tax reasons.
“Everybody has an interest in the structures working, but an aspect of my work at Standard & Poor’s will be making sure that nobody has bent the corners or presented things more bullishly than is actually the case,” he says.
Bell claims to have no outside interests or pastimes worth mentioning, apart from his two children. “One of the benefits of working in structured finance and securitisation is that it leaves one with very little time for other things,” he says.
Some of us might not consider this a benefit, but Bell’s enthusiasm for his work has not diminished, even after nearly 12 years.
His new job will, he says, be “far more conceptual and intellectually challenging. At Clifford Chance I saw the deals that came our way, but in this job I will see the full market, and to be in that central position is very attractive.”
Senior European counsel
Standard & Poor