James Ellington: Standard Chartered

A recent reshuffle has extended Standard Chartered group head of legal James Ellington’s remit. But he’s relishing the challenge. By Julia Berris

It has been a busy six months for group head of legal at Standard Chartered Bank James Ellington. After taking over from David Brimacombe, who moved to Standard Chartered’s Dubai office to head its United Arab Emirates team last December, Ellington has been at the forefront of several exciting developments for the bank.

After winning the in-house banking category for its innovative legal approach to Standard Chartered’s global strategy at The Lawyer Awards 2007 in June, and successfully implementing a new in-house structure, it is fair to say Ellington has not wasted much time since his appointment.

“I honestly haven’t stopped since I took up the role in December,” he says. “We’ve all been very busy and it’s been an exciting time.”

Earlier this month (9 July) The Lawyer reported on the combination of the wholesale banking and the central legal functions, which are now both under Ellington’s control.

“The general structure of both groups remains the same, but both have come together to provide better visibility of risk across all areas of the group. This structure is far better strategically aligned with what Standard Chartered’s doing globally,” Ellington explains.

With a new structure to his team and the bank promoting an aggressive global expansion strategy, Ellington certainly has his work cut out for him.

Before becoming group head of legal Ellington worked in a number of departments in the bank, including the M&A and corporate team, where he was head of legal for one year.

“Becoming the [overarching] group head has been very exciting and challenging for me. It’s interesting to go from working in one area to covering all the different sections of the bank’s legal requirements. It’s definitely a sobering experience,” he says.

The legal team is divided into seven sections: dispute resolution, policy and operations, IP, HR, IT, M&A and corporate, and wholesale banking.

The wholesale banking team is based in several key locations for Standard Chartered, including Dubai, Taiwan and India, while the other six teams, which are made up of 32 lawyers, are based in London and Singapore.

Ellington explains: “The bank has a strong focus on emerging markets, so the legal team has to have experience and knowledge of an extremely diverse range of regulatory environments and jurisdictions in general.”

The bank is well known for its international acquisitions in emerging markets, such as the purchase of Taiwan’s Hsinchu International Bank for £650m in September last year. The acquisition added to Standard Chartered’s existing three branch-strong presence in Taiwan.

“It’s very interesting working with so many different jurisdictions. There’s always something new for you to deal with. It makes the job much more varied,” says Ellington.

Ellington moved to Standard Chartered from Freshfields Bruckhaus Derringer in 1998, where he trained and qualified in the corporate department. While highlighting the advantages of working in both private practice and in-house, Ellington says he feels he is most suited to an in-house environment.

“It suits some people and not others,” he says. “I’ve found that you’re much more involved with the business and key decisions that are made. When something at Standard Chartered is changing, you’re included in the discussions and have much more of a pivotal role.”

Being connected to the wider business is essential for Ellington and his team. Each of the seven legal sub-groups works closely with different parts of the business on a regular basis.

As such, contributing to the company’s complete legal needs is critical to Ellington’s team. While each member of the legal team is assigned to a specific sub-group, they are still able to branch out and work across all areas of law.

“It’s about getting the job done. If you can help on something that’s not your specific remit, it doesn’t matter, it’s still something that you can get involved in,” says Ellington. “We don’t want to define and constrain with too much regulation.”
James Ellington
Head of Legal
Standard Chartered Bank

Organisation: Standard Chartered Bank
Sector: Banking
Name: James Ellington
Title: Head of legal
Reporting to: Director of people, property and assurance Tim Miller
Turnover: $3.18bn (£1.56bn) profit before tax
Number of employees: 60,000
Legal capability: Approximately 170 worldwide
Legal spend:

$30m (£14.67m)-$40m (£19.56m)

Main law firms: Allen & Overy, Baker & McKenize, Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Lovells, Slaughter and May
James Ellington’s CV:

1986-90: Christ Church, Oxford
1990-93: City of London Polytechnic, common professional education and Law Society finals
Work History:
1993-95: Trainee, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
1995-98: Associate, Freshfields
1998-2000: Group legal counsel, Standard Chartered
2001: Chief executive’s office, Standard Chartered
2002-05: Group corporate development, Standard Chartered
2006: Head of legal, M&A corporate, Standard Chartered
December 2006: Group head of legal, Standard Chartered