Mark Huddlestone is Partner at Clifford Chance Amsterdam and the head of their banking and finance practice, Financial Markets Group
Can you tell me a bit about Clifford Chance’s profile?
Clifford Chance was created through the merger of two other law firms in 1987. In the UK, it was considered as one of the biggest law firms. Since then, the firm became active in 30 locations amongst 20 countries. The work at the Amsterdam office has a multinational aspect to its nature due to its collaboration with international corporate and financial institutions. Our client target is companies and financial institutions operating in international markets that are involved in complex transactions. Our practice involves large lending transactions, corporate M&A transactions, litigation and dispute resolution, tax and employment law. Regarding the structure of the firm, Clifford Chance has one partnership that oversee the other officies in the world. Hence, it is an umbrella concept. Some other firms have separate legal entities; however, at Clifford Chance, it is all one big family!
What field of law do you work in?
I practice in our Financial Markets Group; I am specialised in all aspects of bank lending, including acquisition finance, structured trade finance, commodity financing, export finance, general syndicated lending and restructuring.
How did you manage reach this position in such a multinational firm?
I began working in the London office of Clifford Chance. After 5 years, one of the partners, a dutchman, asked me to work in Amsterdam. I expected to work in the development of the banking practice in the Netherlands. The partner asked the London office to provide help, so I was requested to work in Amsterdam in 1991. At that time the ABN AMRO merger had just taken place; ING was product of a recent merger; Rabobank was also a big player. These banks were trying to become a player on the global financial market. I was lucky with my timing because there were a lot of transactions ongoing which required related legal knowledge at that time. Being an English banking lawyer in the Netherlands at that time was unusual, but it helped to create market recognition. We were lucky enough to construct quite a successful business here. I was made a Partner in 1997.
What are the opportunities for law graduates considering your own law firm and the legal sphere in general?
Predicting the future of lawyers is risky. People have been making predictions about computers replacing legal jobs. But that has not happened – yet! Being a lawyer is a people’s job, things tend to change quite slowly in this business, yet there are also changes in the work we do. Still, the opportunities remain the same for law students. International finance and M&A transactions and litigation continue to provide a great variety of interesting work.
Successful firms such as Clifford Chance require besides excellent knowledge, also a certain understanding of the law of law students. So how does Clifford Chance find a suitable candidate that satisfies all requirements?
First of all, we need law students with very good academic skills; the problems we face are pretty complex, so they will have to deal with complex work. We also need people with excellent interpersonal skills which they can use to bring about the best results for our clients through influencing and persuading people of a very high calibre. Having said that, whilst we need people with a good academic record, we also require people who can clearly demonstrate common sense as well. Because in a law firm, whilst you need to apply the law, you also need to be able to work with the law. Other skills you need are excellent organisational, management and communication skills. And of course if you want to obtain a good position in a law firm like partner. You need to be able to sell yourself, not only towards other parties, but also within the firm. In summary, law is a very demanding area, but you will learn different skills.
How do you assess that the client company you are working with has a state of mind similar to your company? Like compatible in a sense?
Obviously we have a certain strategy, we want to do the best work for the right clients, preferably with the best people. What is the right work is a hard question, but it is mainly something related to having an international basis with the best clients who are very active in the corporate world. Our clients tend to be the people who are playing at the top of the game. Regarding who will bring the most interesting work, there is no specific blueprint, they will typically be companies operating at the top of their sectors.
Did you change your working method after joining Clifford Chance? Was the reality in Clifford Chance different than you expected, if so in what sense?
To be honest with you, I didn’t know what to expect at all. When I arrived, I had the impression that everyone was incredibly smart. I thought that there was a very challenging atmosphere ahead of me. I think that is what made me work and perform harder initially. Luckily I was good enough to succeed, yet I have to admit that the firm had a quite intimidating environment back then.
However, it is certainly less intimidating now. Back in my early years, you did not know whether you were doing well; there were no such things as annual appraisals. But these days we look out for our people. Stagiaires are given a mentor, an education programme, and every week we have a short discussion with to check in and to make sure they are doing ok. To see whether they are able to manage and whether their career is headed in the right direction. This new programme is actually working really well, and I hope it law graduates will find this attractive aspect of Clifford Chance, since it will help them integrate into this challenging environment. After all, the welfare of the firm depends on the welfare of our people and we want to make sure that this is a rewarding and fun place to work.
Lastly, can you summarise your advice for law students in one sentence?
Be prepared to work hard, but look forward to a very rewarding career.
Written by Dilara Sancar