Name: Russell Wells

Organisation: Clifford Chance

Role: Partner

Based: London

Trained at:  Clifford Chance

Year qualified: 1990

What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?

This would have been when I was a trainee in Hong Kong in 1990.  We had been contacted by Donald Trump’s lawyers who wanted us to take action to stop someone using the name Trump Tower on a building in Hong Kong. We successfully did this and had a phone call with the lawyers to discuss the matter, at which point Donald Trump came on the line and asked if we knew of anyone who would be interested in buying his yacht that was moored in Hong Kong harbour at that time (he was experiencing a bit of “cash crunch” in those days). Alas, we were not able to assist with that particular enquiry….

Tell us about a sliding doors moment when your career could have gone in an entirely different direction?

That would have been as a newly qualified lawyer in the banking group of Clifford Chance. One partner asked me if I wanted to work more closely with him on general banking matters and another partner asked if I wanted to work more closely with him on the project financing of a power plant in Pakistan. Thankfully I took the Pakistan option and have never looked back.

What’s the hardest question you’ve ever been asked at interview, and how did you answer?

Having really only had one job my entire life, I am fortunate not to have attended very many interviews! So I will say it was the choice, in 1986, of which law firm to join. I was effectively asked to choose between Clifford Turner and Coward Chance (as they were then). I really couldn’t decide between them and so I did the only logical thing to do in the situation, I tossed a coin. I will not reveal which firm “won” the toss but a year later I received a letter to say that the two firms had merged. Of course I have always made out that they both wanted me so badly that the only thing they could do was to merge! Well, that’s my version of history at least. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?

Two pieces of advice. First, remember that the client, their time and their issues are more important than you and yours. Without them, you would not be where you are doing what you do. You are not the most important person in the room. Secondly, common sense and an enquiring mind are two of the most important skills for a successful energy lawyer. Some of the most interesting dinners I have ever had have involved listening to an engineer describe what they do and how they do it. Far more interesting than the relative merits of different MAE definitions.

Tell us about ONE former colleague who you miss, and why? 

Having had the benefit of a very long career at an amazing firm where I have met and been guided and inspired by some fantastic people, it is very difficult to pick out just one former colleague and so I’m going to cheat and give you two names.  One is Chris Wyman who is still, hands down, the best lawyer I have ever worked with. He guided me in my early career to become a projects lawyer and showed me the importance of having both excellent technical and commercial judgement.  One day I will be half the lawyer he was.

The second is Sam Bonifant who I worked alongside in Singapore to build and grow the Projects/Energy practice in the early 2000s.  Sam was and is the most kind hearted person I have ever worked with and is still a dear friend who, despite retiring 10 years ago, I speak to every six months without fail. A lot of the lawyer I am today was forged during the six years I spent in Singapore working with Sam and the amazing team I worked with during those years (both in Singapore and throughout Asia).