A Spartan in Moscow-- MSU law professor has great time in 'New Russia"

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Attorney Bruce Bean spent eight years in Russia from 1995 to 2003 -- and loved it, despite the challenges the "New Russia" presented.

"You just get the bug," he said. "Once you get there and discover the real Russia, not the fictional place our popular media describe, there is no way you cannot enjoy being there."

The Russia "bug" bit way back in Bean's childhood.

"I'm a child of the Cold War -- I know where I was standing when I heard that the USSR had launched sputnik," he says. "At that moment I resolved to become a 'rocket scientist.'

"I later changed my focus to International Relations but did study Russian as an undergraduate at Brown."

A law professor with a focus on global corporate law at the College of Law at Michigan State University, Bean still travels to Russia, and lectures and writes about the country.

A corporate and securities attorney with more than thirty years of experience in finance and oil and gas, he went to Russia in 1995 and became Managing Partner at Coudert Brothers' Moscow office.

These were exciting, challenging, formative years for Russia, following Gorbachev's fundamental reforms in the Soviet system that ultimately led to the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.

The economic chaos brought drastic changes to Russia, and Bean -- who also served as Chairman of United Way Moscow and the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia -- was a large part of the mix.

In 1998, he became a partner and head of Corporate and Foreign Direct Investment in the Moscow office of UK-based Clifford Chance, at the time the leading law firm in Russia and the world's largest international law firm. For most of this period, he was the senior American lawyer in Russia.

At this time, Clifford Chance had 55 lawyers in Moscow, assisting in foreign investment and litigation, representing Western banks making loans in Russia, private equity placements, share listings, tax law, real estate law and natural resources and energy law.

The firm helped western businesses get a toehold in Russia, and after 1998 represented Russian companies making investments outside Russia.

Despite its economic crisis, Russia -- with a population of around 150 million people -- had enormous resources in need of extensive development.

Bean notes, "Seventy years of communist central planning required a huge amount of undoing. The potential for American and other businesses was fantastic, but adjusting to chaotic, rapidly changing Russia was difficult -- which, of course, was a perfect opportunity for lawyers."

In Moscow, Bean was active with the U.S.-Russian Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, serving on its capital markets committee. He also was one of the original founders of the Russian Institute of Corporate Law & Corporate Governance.

It was an interesting political time -- during Bean's two years as chairman of the Chamber of Commerce from 1998 to 2000, Russia had five prime ministers and two presidents. His work brought him in close contact with many senior government officials including President Boris Yeltsin, and Prime Ministers Victor Chernomyrdin, Yevgeny Primakoff and Sergei Stepashin.

Life in Moscow -- a city of 14 million -- was fascinating and enjoyable for Bean, his wife and two children, then aged 10 and 13.

Language wasn't an issue -- Bean had studied Russian as an undergraduate but all the legal work was in English. His son graduated from an international high school there and his wife, Barbara -- a former banking lawyer in New York City and Los Angeles and now a research librarian at MSU Law School -- studied Russian for three years.

"She's crazy for Moscow theater, which is unequalled in the world, at least according to her. I'm certain she could happily spend an entire year in Moscow, just attending plays," Bean says.

The Metro system is the best in the world, he says; trains run at 60-second intervals during rush hour. The system moves 3.5 million people each day and costs less than $1 per ride.

"It's the only bargain left in one of the world's most expensive cities," he says.

But the most amazing thing about Russia today is how different it is from the Communist days.

"I was a true Cold Warrior, and would have fought to be the person who pushed the button to destroy that evil. I spent 20 years in Air Force intelligence, retiring as a Colonel, and spent most of this time focused on the threat posed by the Soviet Union," he says.

"The truth is the Russian people were the ones who suffered during the Cold War. They have clearly 'won.' The Russians have an entirely new country while we still have high defense-related taxes and the same Cold War mindset in much of Washington, particularly in Congress.

"The prosperity apparent in Moscow at the moment, which now extends to the regions outside Moscow, is totally new and evolves each day. Modern Russians are the epitome of western consumers. The Medvedev-Putin government is regularly totally misportrayed in the western media."

Bean returned to Moscow for five weeks in 2005 and again earlier this year, to teach a course on Doing Business in Emerging Markets. This year the whole family enjoyed the return visit to their former home.

"I plan to return regularly to teach and to watch the incredible transformation which is on-going," he says.

At MSU Bean -- who has also taught at Columbia's Harriman Institute and at the University of San Diego Law School Moscow Institute -- teaches Business Enterprises, Strategic International Transactions, Doing Business in Transitional Political Systems and serves as Faculty Advisor to the Journal of International Law and Coach of the Jessup International Moot Court Team. He is now the Director of MSU Law's new LL.M. program for Foreign Educated Lawyers.

Published: Thu, Aug 12, 2010