July 09, 2016

Opportunity Abounds as International Banking Evolves

By Hannah Hayes

In the 1980s and ’90s, those entering the field of international banking law largely focused on financial services, compliance, and regulations. While this still holds true, the global economic meltdown of 2008 resulted in seismic shifts in the regulatory arena and an alphabet soup of new financial compliance statutes. Toss in changing technologies, a bit of cybercrime, money laundering, digital currencies, and international sanctions, and international banking suddenly becomes more varied and interesting.

While still a heavily male-­dominated field, this area of law is expanding and many women are finding their niches as the number of cross-border transactions increases and technology and regulation in the area continue to evolve. In addition, other areas of law increasingly overlap with international banking as the world becomes more globally integrated.

Anna Gelpern, a professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., has written extensively on financial topics. “We’ve got people doing very practice-driven domestic work that often turns out to be very international in terms of contracts,” she says, “and even disputes are becoming more and more international and cross-­border in every sense.”

The ability to navigate cross-­border financial and regulatory issues is something more and more lawyers find a skill worth cultivating. “People who are doing environmental work may end up doing carbon trading, and people focused on human rights may end up doing debt relief and debt trading,” Gelpern points out. In the past decade, she adds, the legal academy has responded by working to better define and expand offerings in international finance.

Darknet, Cybercrime, and “Bad‑ass Crypto Cop”

Kathryn Haun’s career spans both coasts, and her expertise includes a wide range of national security–related issues from her role as counselor to the attorney general in Washington, D.C. As assistant U.S. attorney in northern California, she has prosecuted notorious gang members for murder, as well as a leading member of the Hells Angels for mortgage fraud. But her role as “bad-ass crypto cop” (as coined by International Business Times) came from her recent investigation into cyber currency companies that fail to implement money-laundering protocols.

Today, Haun also is the digital currency crimes coordinator in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). She heads a task force composed of multiple federal and state agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Secret Service. It is the first such digital task force within the DOJ and came on the heels of a years-long “Silk Road” investigation into the online black-market drug trade. Haun prosecuted two federal agents involved in closing down “darknet” cyber trade who stole money from drug dealers during the investigation.

The transition from nitty-gritty gang prosecutor to leading expert on Bitcoin and cyber currency came as something of a surprise to Haun. But three years ago when the case landed in her jurisdiction, she was forced to quickly become an expert. “No one in my office knew all that much about blockchain or Bitcoin,” Haun says. “I had to draw upon the resources that are out there.”

As she built the case, she gradually built her knowledge. Today, while still a prosecutor for the Northern District of California, she sits on the other side of panel discussions and is regularly the featured speaker on cyber currency across the country.

Subject Matter Expertise

The advent of digital banking, cyber currency, and other technologies means there’s plenty of room to become a subject matter expert. But the interdisciplinary nature of international banking also leaves room for a lot of movement and progression.

Jamie Boucher is a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. While today she is in the financial institutions regulation and enforcement group, she started out in the international trade group and then moved to corporate. She says at first banking “seemed boring to me, but it was really more that I didn’t know, and I wanted the opportunity to do more transaction work.”

Boucher points out that the queue for advancement is often within a group but “each of the three practice groups was a logical progression, and it just happened that I was willing to make the changes.”

She credits building a network of mentors and supportive team members who made suggestions and advised her with key decision points in her life.

It was a comparable belief in strong networks that helped Ingrid Busson make similar career moves.

“I met Jamie at the gym at Skadden, and she encouraged me to join her practice group, and it just turned out I had an affinity for it,” says Busson, who today is the senior director of financial regulation at PayPal and an outspoken proponent of women helping women.

When she met Boucher, she was in product liability but looking for a change. After four years at Skadden, Busson moved in-house for the French bank Credit Agricole, where she guided the regulatory practice group through the financial crisis in 2008. She then moved to Morgan Stanley, where she became executive director of the legal and compliance division.

Many lawyers attracted to international finance are initially drawn to the idea of operating on the global stage. Brenda Dieck is a partner at White & Case LLP, where she leads the West Coast bank finance practice in the firm’s Los Angeles office. She is also a member of the Joint Task Force on the Retention and Promotion of Women Lawyers, a joint effort of the Los Angeles County Bar Association and the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles. She currently represents Wall Street investment banks and private equity funds on multimillion- and multibillion-dollar deals.

Growing up in a small farming community in Wisconsin, Dieck always knew she wanted to travel and be a “global citizen.” Her first job out of college was as an international program coordinator and translator for a Japanese nonprofit. After graduating from law school, she deferred her placement at a top-tier L.A. law firm and furthered her study of the Japanese language in the context of the law. “While I was abroad, it quickly became apparent to me that if I was going to be a good international lawyer, I first needed to become a great U.S. technical lawyer in my area of practice.”

Many of Dieck’s clients are banks and borrowers with a global footprint. “It is nearly impossible to have a multibillion-dollar financing deal without some kind of cross-border issue,” says Dieck, who found that the nature of acquisition finance was a natural fit with her international interests.

In addition to honing your skills, planning a career trajectory that expands and furthers your knowledge gives you a “well-rounded” knowledge in a complicated playing field, says Beth Knickerbocker, counsel in the legislative and regulatory activities division in the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) in Washington, D.C.

This is Knickerbocker’s second stint at the OCC. With a strong interest in public policy and government, her first job after law school was with the OCC in enforcement and compliance. “I found it was a complex area of law, and I like putting puzzles together,” Knickerbocker says.

After eight years at OCC, she decided she wanted to broaden her knowledge and went to the private firm of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP.

“When you’re in enforcement and compliance, you only see one perspective,” Knickerbocker says. After four years of working with clients in the financial services industry, she then went in-house at the Marshall & Ilsley Corporation to lead an initiative to build a risk management program. She became the first woman on the executive committee when she became senior vice president and chief risk officer.

Today, she is back at the OCC as counsel in the legislative and regulatory activities division. “It was the best decision I made to work in all aspects of banking and come back to the OCC.”

Knickerbocker points out that sometimes she took a pay cut to get what she wanted in her career. “It might mean not having your trajectory go up like a ladder, but a career is a lifetime and the road is not always up or straight.”

Opportunities for Women

The economic crisis in 2008 not only changed much about the banking industry, but it also opened new opportunities. “Every once in a while landmark change helps people coming in,” Boucher says.

The financial meltdown of 2008 “created a new body of law that everyone had to learn in terms of regulatory investment and enforcement,” she adds, and that leveled the playing field for newer and less-experienced lawyers.

Women can and should act to expand their own field of opportunity, Busson suggests. She urges women to find their voice and use it to advance their careers by asking for stretch assignments, a new role or promotion, and pay increases. They should also use their voices to advance other women. Busson views this as a responsibility based on her own experience. “Women are stronger when they take an active interest in one another’s success. Sponsoring and mentoring other women creates more space for women in decision-making roles. Women helping other women is essential.”

Taking advantage of opportunities to learn technology and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields can facilitate advancement, as well as seeking mentors and taking assignments that may be out of your comfort zone. “I think this area of law is still developing, and you need to be willing to take that risk,” Knickerbocker concludes.