Box clever

Leaving a successful US firm in favour of a UK one may seem to many a surprising career move. But Texan Anglophile Tamara Box is in her element. Fiona Callister investigates

Can anyone remember the last time a lawyer appeared on Parkinson? No, because so many lawyers seem to believe that everything that comes out of their mouths forms either a verbal contract or the basis for a defamation suit. Unless the journalist’s pen is resting at least a yard away from the notebook and a full body search has been carried out to check for hidden microphones, this breed can make the Queen look indiscreet.

Long-term readers of this page may remember one lawyer who refused to comment even on what he liked about Paris and London, which is why meeting someone like Tamara Box, who has recently joined Tite & Lewis as the office’s sixth partner, is not so much a breath of fresh air as a gale blowing in from the sea.

Now before you all think that Box has just signed the contract ending her career, her openness does not extend to clients. But she realises that there are other things to life than just clients. Perhaps this is because she does not carry the genetic burden of British reserve. Box is a Texan who has moved to Tite & Lewis, which is linked with Ernst & Young, from Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe‘s London office, where she was managing partner.

Box admits that the move was the cause of more than a few raised eyebrows within the market. After all, US firms have been the Holy Grail for a while among starry-eyed lawyers in London. “My clients were very surprised [at the move],” says Box. “My practice was going fantastically well and Orricks is a great firm, especially within securities work. There is no question that the reputation of the firm is a good one. But they were understanding about the lack of resources that I had – the lack of tax, property and competition departments and the like.”

Box was clearly exasperated at having to work with only a fraction of the resources she required. When the London practice opened in 1996, for the first few weeks she was working from home as Orricks had not rented office space. “I didn’t have a secretary for six months,” she recalls. “I worked out of my flat in East Molesey and couriers would constantly send documents round to the wrong house, so I’d have to run round to my neighbour’s to get them back.”

She says that the frustration of not being able to hire lawyers to work in the support areas was due to the difficulty in trying to marry justifying hiring another lawyer to the US office with a time when a suitable lawyer was actually available. The failure of merger talks with Bird & Bird in February this year did little to attract new blood.

So Box admits that her resignation letter probably did not come as a huge shock to her bosses. “I’m pretty vocal about my concerns and views about what should happen,” she says. “They suspected as much, as things were not moving in the way I wanted. And due to the two new partners we got in during the summer [Jeanne Bartlett and Conor Downey] I feelbetter about leaving the practice.”

Readers will agree that the above makes a change from the usual drivel of, “While I was sorry to leave firm X, the opportunities offered by firm Y were just too good to miss.”

The reasons for leaving Orricks may now be clear, but why did she join Tite & Lewis when accountancy-linked law firms do not exactly possess the most glamorous image within the London market?

“Tite & Lewis was the only place to go. As an English firm it’s very appealing because it has a strong strategy of building up an Anglo-American practice. No one else out there has that attitude. Americans want to hire Brits, but aren’t able to build up enough of a practice to be one of the big players, while UK firms want a US practice but aren’t prepared to integrate it.”

Being dual-qualified, integrating lawyers from both sides of the practice is particularly important to Box. She says: “I can see up front how appealing that is to clients – in securitisation work clients don’t need to know where they’re going to distribute securitisation. They can change their mind during the transaction.”

Box has confidence in her new firm. She believes that Ernst & Young considers it an important practice because it allows the accountants another way into the market to broaden and deepen its existing links with clients. The firm, she believes, also has the same commitment to the London market that she has.

Box, brought up in Texas, left her home to attend university in London. She says: “It was an eye-opener. Don’t get me wrong, I hadn’t grown up in small-town Texas, but everyone is homogenous there; everyone is exactly the same. At that time there were 160 different countries represented in the student body. I fell in love with the learning process here and with the city. I just had that feeling that this was home.”

Despite the strong connection, she then returned to the US to go to law school in Grangetown, which she again chose because of its international feel. Once she had completed her course she interviewed only with firms with London offices, finally settling on Coudert Brothers because it seemed the most international.

But unfortunately, during that period (1993-1994), London was “dead, with nothing happening”. So Couderts offered her a post in Singapore instead. “I didn’t know what work was going on there, so I rang a woman who was out there that I’d worked with before and asked her. She said it was fun and that I’d enjoy it, so, aged 26, I just got on a plane and went. It was fantastic.”

While she was out there Box met and fell in love with – you guessed it – a Brit. Was he a lawyer too? “Oh my God no!” Box exclaims. “He works for Pepsi.”

And so the trail led back to London and the setting up of an office for Orricks. Tite & Lewis was set up at the beginning of the year, and having a hand in forming a relatively new practice was one of the main attractions. “I’m a sucker for these opportunities,” she says. “It’s a chance to make a real difference, which is always really appealing. But there’s also great support, for example in human resources and IT. To get that sort of support in conjunction with a start-up operation is just fantastic.”

It remains to be seen whether Box’s enthusiasm about Tite & Lewis remains, but it seems clear enough that she is chuffed to bits about it now.
Tamara Box
Tite & Lewis