Global Derivatives Awards 2021 — Global Law Firm of the Year: Clifford Chance
Many law firms claim, but few can demonstrate truly global connectivity and collaboration between partners and practice areas in parallel with the provision of deep financial markets experience and expertise across transactional, product and regulatory issues.
Clifford Chance is one elite firm that does demonstrate this combination, and especially in global structured finance and derivatives, where it is unmatched across multiple different areas and geographies, underpinning why the firm is GlobalCapital’s Global Law Firm of the Year.
Indeed, the sheer breadth of client advisory work Clifford Chance was involved in globally over the past year is impressively diverse. The firm covers everything from Libor transition (leveraging their product and market expertise across New York and London) and Initial Margin phases 5 and now 6 for buy-side clients, to ESG-related and sustainability-linked derivatives, carbon trading, asset repackaging, structured notes, China and India netting developments, synthetic securitizations in Africa, and airline close-outs in Asia Pacific.
The partners were also involved in some pioneering work on developing crypto derivatives and trading platforms, structured token programmes, blockchain platforms for collateral management and settlement and new artificial intelligence systems in trading, execution and research. In fact, there are very few areas of global structured finance and derivatives where the firm is not deeply involved or leading the market.
These strengths empower the partners and senior associates to essentially lead the conversation with a client on any matter
Overall, Clifford Chance stands out for its pioneering transactional work guiding their clients on complex structured notes, repackaging and risk transfer transactions which have continued to evolve with global and regional markets. These transactions embrace conventional assets such as bonds, loans and listed equity but now also extend to more novel assets such as funds, private equity, crypto and tokens. The team has also been highly active in structured credit and structured equity transactions this year, reflecting very dynamic and strong debt and equity markets globally.
For Paget Dare Bryan, partner and global head of the derivatives practice, one of the reasons why what Clifford Chance offers is different from other firms is the longevity of the working relationships among partners in the global practice area. He, Paul Landless, partner in the derivatives and structured products practice and co-head of the technology group, and Francis Edwards, partner and head of the derivatives and structured finance practice in Greater China, have worked together on transactions, global clients, market initiatives and regulatory requirements for over 20 years.
“The strength that this brings to our ability to serve clients globally has been enormous,” he says.
Edwards echoes this sentiment, adding that clients expect highly experienced partners working seamlessly together globally to address their issues. “That’s the heart of it,” he says.
Yet, just as important, is operating one platform across the spectrum of regulation within derivatives and structured finance, the collaborative, idea-sharing culture of the practice, and the breadth of experience and specialists it has. “These strengths empower the partners and senior associates to essentially lead the conversation with a client on any matter,” says Dare Bryan.
Our approach in combining technology expertise with regulatory expertise and product knowledge is something other firms don't really replicate on the derivatives side
For Landless, this fusion of regulatory understanding with product knowledge is different to other firms – where there is more separation of the derivatives lawyers from the regulatory lawyers – is a key differentiator and competitive advantage for the firm. He also believes the fusion of constantly evolving technology with regulatory and product expertise is truly where the firm stands out.
"Our approach in combining technology expertise with regulatory expertise and product knowledge is something other firms don't really replicate on the derivatives side,” says Landless.
For many finance clients, this is precisely what they want to see in their legal advisor, and why Clifford Chance was involved in such a huge array of complex and challenging advisory and transactional matters over the past year. Leading experts from across the firm's global platform have been supporting clients on a broad spectrum of work.
For example, on Libor transition, partners Jeremy Walter and Anne Drakeford in London and Gareth Old in New York have been supporting clients as they transition to risk-free rates, working closely with team members across the firm's European, Middle East and Asia Pacific platform where local and regional clients have also required support on transition issues. And on synthetic securitization and significant risk transfer transactions, London-based partners Tim Cleary and Jessica Littlewood have been instrumental in maintaining the practice’s leading global position in this area.
In addition, partners such as Steve Jacoby in Luxembourg have been deeply involved in the digital space, advising on a number of DLT projects and structured token programmes. Partner Terry Yang and Counsel Kimi Liu have also been leading on a number of complex transactional and regulatory matters in China, including on China netting issues and the potential introduction of a new PRC Futures Law, which is an area of intense focus for international clients.
The close-out work in Asia Pacific is an important piece of work that we were all involved in and really proud of
Together with this, the team advises sell-side and financial investor clients. Partner Will Winterton in London, is one of the team who focuses on buy-side clients. The firm also advises trade associations and financial market infrastructure institutions such as exchanges and clearing houses on new products and regulatory, netting and collateral issues across multiple jurisdictions.
For the firm, the recent derivatives close-out work the practice executed in relation to the troubled Asian airline industry deserves special mention due to the complexity of the work and the importance of advising their clients on managing their exposures, including where airlines succumbed to insolvency. Teams in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, London, and New York worked together around the clock to assist their clients in handling these dynamic and challenging situations.
It is the type of advisory work that Clifford Chance thrives on and illustrates the firm’s global connectivity, collaborative focus and expertise in action. “It’s an important piece of work we were all involved in and really proud of,” says Edwards.