“Faces” is a component of the Financial Centre Focus (FCF) initiative coordinated by BFSB and the Professional Industry Association Working Group to profile role models within the financial services sector. It is produced in collaboration with Guardian Business, with profiles appearing in the Monday edition of the Nassau Guardian each week.
Industry Position: Partner, Higgs & Johnson’s Commercial Law Practice Group and Chair of the Securities & Investment Funds group.
Education and Training: Reading University, United Kingdom (LLB), London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom (LLM in Banking and Finance Law); BPP Law School, United Kingdom.
Bar Admissions: England and Wales and The Bahamas (1998)
Personal: Married with 1 son
What attracted you to the sector?
My initial exposure to the sector was as a summer student in the Corporate Department at Higgs & Johnson in the mid 1990s. After specializing in banking and finance law at the London School of Economics and Political Science, there was no doubt in my mind that I wished to pursue a commercial law practice with particular emphasis on banking and international financial transactions.
My interest in the securities pillar of the financial services industry developed a year or two into my career after the Securities Industry Act and Regulations were passed and I spent 5 months in the Securities Practice Group of the leading Canadian law firm, McMillan (formerly Lang Michener) in Toronto.
How long have you been involved in financial services?
I have been involved in the sector for most of my professional career, which started in 1999.
What keeps you motivated?
I love what I do. I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment after closing a transaction, irrespective of whether the sums involved are five figures or thirteen figures; it is what is sometimes described as “the thrill of the game”. In addition, commercial practice is diverse and involves multiple areas of the law; it is not uncommon for a single transaction to involve regulatory, banking, real estate and other legal issues. There is very little risk of boredom setting in.
I also enjoy the opportunity to work with clients and counterparts across the globe; whilst working with clients based in the United States and Europe is routine, the number of clients based in South and Latin America and Asia is steadily on the rise.
Why do you think you have been successful?
To my mind, there are a number of factors that have contributed to my success; firstly, a strong family support system; my husband, mother, siblings and my 5 year old son are always “huddled in my corner”.
Secondly, I continue to raise the bar for myself and am constantly striving to refine my intellectual capital by monitoring industry and legislative developments locally and internationally. This ensures that I have a real appreciation of the business issues driving the transactions in which I am involved and allows me to provide practical legal advice. Spending 3 ½ years as in house counsel in a business environment was also a great asset to my career.
Thirdly, spending time in law firms in a number of jurisdictions around the world, provided an invaluable insight into the global standard of productivity for commercial attorneys in tier 1 firms. I worked in firms in London and Paris as a student and spent 5 months at the Securities Practice Group of Lang Michener in Toronto.
Fourthly, being a part of a dynamic team of professionals and working in an environment with world class human and technological resources allows me to service clients around the world and in multiple time zones.
(Editor's Note: Christel was named as a leading commercial lawyer in The Bahamas in the International Financial Law Review 1000 ("IFLR") in 2006, recommended by Global Law Experts in Mergers & Acquisitions Law in 2010 and listed as a leading lawyer in her field in 2011 by both Chambers Global and IFLR1000.)
Did mentoring play a part in your success?
Yes - good sound mentoring played a critical role in my professional development. My first mentors were and continue to be my parents, who taught me the value of honesty, dedication, hard work and excellence. Once I began practicing, my mentors were all senior members of the Commercial Bar who took me under their wings, encouraged my transition from an academic to a practitioner and ensured that I was exposed to large domestic and international transactions, from the early days of my career.
What qualifications do you feel are most useful in helping you perform in the sector?
Sound academic training is essential in order to address the breadth of technical issues that may arise in commercial practice. For me, specializing in banking and finance law at the London School of Economics and Political Science provided a strong foundation for a long term career in those areas. Having said that, the law is constantly evolving and it is imperative to keep abreast of recent cases, new legislation and industry developments.
What has been your biggest challenge in your career and how did you overcome it?
One of the biggest challenges in my career has been addressing the concern sometimes expressed by clients who are unfamiliar with the jurisdiction that the quality of professional services available in a small country like The Bahamas is inferior to that available elsewhere. My strategy for allaying those concerns is to provide legal services at the very highest level in a timely fashion.
What advice would you give young people just staring out in the industry?
The advice I would give to young people starting out in the legal services side of the industry is: (i) try to gain some international exposure by working in a law firm outside of The Bahamas, (ii) find an experienced professional mentor and learn as much as you can from him or her, (iii) work diligently – the sacrifice of the long days (and often nights) will pay off, (iv) keep abreast of industry developments to broaden your knowledge of the field and (v) focus on rendering quality service to your clients at all times – this is a reflection not only of yourself but your firm and the jurisdiction as a whole.
Do you have any suggestions for the growth of the financial services industry?
Our main competitors in the industry are other international financial centres (“IFCs”) – Cayman Islands, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Jersey and Singapore instantly come to mind.
In order to maintain our standing as a premier IFC and grow the industry, in my view, our priorities must include (i) providing world class service to our clients, (ii) continuing to expose the brands of the service providers here in The Bahamas and the “The Bahamas” brand, around the world to elevate their level of recognition (BFSB does a fantastic job in this area), (iii) ensuring that our legislative regime continues to evolve to address global trends, (iv) fostering the development of our intellectual capital and encouraging the import and transfer of specialist expertise, (v) increasing the efficiency of regulatory oversight of the industry by creating a single UK Financial Services Authority style regulator with responsibility for all three pillars of financial services, (vi) streamlining the processes involved in doing business in The Bahamas and (vii) continuing our efforts to achieve a broader partnership between the private and public sectors in the promotion of the industry; clearly, a greater financial commitment is required from Government and a wider participation from business.