The travelling tax man

After spending just eight months as head of tax at Eversheds, the man who seems unable to keep his feet in one place meets Dearbail Jordan


When it comes to grabbing job opportunities, Reginald Nock’s timing is little short of awful.

When Nock left the Bar in the late 1980s to join accountancy firm Deloitte Haskins & Sells, two things happened.

Firstly, Coopers & Lybrand, which Nock had previously turned down for Deloittes, announced it was merging with his new employers.

Secondly, in an explosion of controversy, the Bar Council threatened to disbar Nock on the basis that his employment at an accountancy firm broke the rules by giving legal advice direct to the client.

With this experience behind him, last year he decided that an offer to head Evershed’s tax department would give him the “green field site” on which to build his dream tax department.

But ironically, after only one month, Eversheds decided to merge with debt-ridden Frere Cholmeley Bischoff, leaving Nock with more than his fair share of cow pats in his green pasture.

Nock’s first thought was to resign, which, as The Lawyer revealed last week, he eventually did after just eight months in the job.

So is Nock the right man in the wrong place, or the wrong man to adapt to a changing legal environment?

He remains relaxed about his need to walk out of Eversheds, saying: “When the Frere Cholmeley merger came along, it muddied the waters a bit. From a tax point of view it changed the parameters.”

Two partners and two assistants from Frere Cholmeley joined the tax department, automatically interfering with Nock’s plans to build on the previously minimally staffed department.

Nock adds: “It was clear there was a problem. We had got off on the wrong foot on a personal level because I am used to a different style of work, having not realised how reactive tax lawyers in law firms were.”

Eversheds declined to comment. But the revelation that Nock “got off on the wrong foot” with colleagues is no surprise to those who have worked with him before.

Asked where the ideal place is for Nock now he is back on the job market, a former colleague said: “I would put him in a room, on his own, away from everyone else.”

Graham Aaronson QC at One Essex Court, a previous tenant with Nock at Queen Elizabeth Building, is more charitable. “Reg has never been afraid to express his views very plainly.”

“I adored working with him, he had such mischievous comments about everyone and everything,” says Aaronson.

Paul Boorman, head of tax and legal services at PricewaterhouseCoopers, who worked with Nock on a consultation basis back in the days when it was known as Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte, says: “Everyone knew Reg. We are proud of the fact that Reg worked with us for seven years, which is the longest time he has been anywhere.”

Indeed, when it comes to his career, Nock, as one former colleague puts it, is a “much travelled man”.

He began his long career teaching at what is now Kingston University after graduating in law from the London School of Economics.

After moving on to Queen Mary’s College – where, by a strange twist of fate, he taught his recent boss Peter Scott, managing partner at Eversheds – his supervisor suggested that if he wanted to be a barrister he had better go and get some qualifications.

Following a successful application for an admissions scholarship and a push in the right direction, Nock ended up under the guidance of tax boffin John Munroe, co-author with Nock on what is regarded as the definitive book on stamp duty.

Not only was Munroe a mentor, but it seems he was quite capable of putting his understudy in his place. “John was a very bright man,” Nock says. “He was a code breaker in the Second World War and he used to do The Times crossword in about 15 minutes.”

Working as a barrister for the next 20 years, Nock built up an almost mystical reputation as being the leading expert on tax law, specifically stamp duty.

Boorman says: “He has a fantastic brain. Nock was the only partner to have an office twice the size of everyone else to store all his books.”

Others speak of his “encyclopaedic brain” and that he had the “biggest client list in chambers”.

However, Nock hit a blip in 1989 when he joined Deloitte Haskins & Sells.

He says: “I thought about the implications of moving to an accountancy firm and the irony of the situation was that I had thought about voluntarily disbarring myself. But I couldn’t see the Bar Council getting very agitated about it.”

He was also clearly ready for a confrontation.

“This was the sort of tax I wanted to practise and I didn’t see why I should be prevented from doing it.”

The Bar Council eventually gave in by allowing barristers working in accountants and solicitors firms to offer services to the public if they were termed “non-practising barristers”.

Nock has just had his right of audience returned, but feels that his actions paved the way for barristers hoping to follow a similar path.

“I have opened up huge career opportunities that were blocked, and made accountancy firms aware of what lawyers and barristers can contribute,” says Nock.

Regarding the future, Nock is examining all the options. “My wife would love me to go back to the Bar. But she does not realise it has changed over the last few years from being very civilised.”

Nock may be reluctant to return to the Inns, but clearly the door is open.

Rex Bretten QC at 24 Old Buildings, says: ” He should be at the Bar. It is difficult being in an organisation after being your own boss for 20 years.”

Aaronson says: “Nock is a bit of a lone ranger and maverick, and the Bar is a good political stomping ground.”

But he adds: “You have to have good antennae in this area, and Reg uses his antennae like spears instead of for picking things up.”
Reginald Nock
Head of tax
Eversheds