The Laurence Simons Search Talking Head series continues with an interview with Tamara Box, Managing Partner, Europe and Middle East, at international law firm Reed Smith LLP.
She is a member of the six partner senior management team of Reed Smith LLP and also responsible for the nine offices in Europe and the Middle East, including more than 900 lawyers and staff. Tamara sits on the global board of the firm, one of the largest law firms in the world with almost $1.2 billion in revenues and more than 30 offices in the US, Middle East, Europe and Asia.
An American citizen who is dual-qualified to practice law in both the US and the UK, she has worked and lived in the US, Asia, UK and Europe. She has lived in London since 1997 and has established herself not only in legal and financial circles but also in areas of governance and management. Tamara is also passionate about inclusion, similarly to Clare Beresford, CEO at Laurence Simons Search, who catches up with Tamara to discuss all things career, challenges and diversity related.
Clare Beresford (CB): Good morning Tamara, thank you for taking the time to chat to me today. Please can you tell me about the moment you decided to be a lawyer?
Tamara Box (TB): I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a lawyer, even when my mother tried to discourage me by giving me a book called “29 Reasons NOT To Go To Law School”! However, when I was a child I thought that all lawyers were like Atticus Finch, arguing to get justice for innocent people, and because I was always told I was really good—or at least persistent--at arguing, that seemed like a perfect fit. It wasn’t until I was studying Monetary Economics at the London School of Economics that I realised I wasn’t destined to be in the courtroom but rather to structure financial transactions and capital markets debt.
CB: When were you most challenged as a lawyer and how did you overcome it?
TB: This is a hard question, because I generally don’t think of challenges as something to be overcome; they are just opportunities in a different cloak. I always say if I don’t feel challenged – and perhaps a little scared – every day, then I’m not happy. Frankly, I have a really low boredom threshold! So I’ve enjoyed the challenges that I’ve undertaken, such as starting a practice group in a new firm or structuring the “first” securitisation in several jurisdictions or moving to a new country I’ve never even visited, but those are really just opportunities, aren’t they? If my work isn’t challenging, then it isn’t interesting.
CB: Looking back on your career – not that it is over by any means - what are you most proud of?
TB: Being ever mindful of the admonition “Pride goes before a fall,” I will cautiously say that I am proud of being adaptable and resilient in the face of changing circumstances. I had an active securitisation practice in 2007 when Lehman Brothers collapsed; while that event was a defining moment for the entire financial market, it turned out to be a wonderful opportunity for my practice and my team. I was able to use my expertise to provide counsel to those clients who were managing incredibly complex financings and needed help to recover the funds that had been trapped in limbo during that uncertain time. I guess I’m proud of the ability to draw upon my experience to transform our practice and services to meet the needs of the market. Frankly, I love it when I have the opportunity to reinvent, adapt or change in ways that allow us to explore new ways of creating value for clients. Change is good! And innovation is even better.
CB: What advice would you give to your younger self?
TB: Explore, explore, explore. There’s so much to learn about different places, ideas, and cultures, and knowledge is its own reward. I am so happy that I was encouraged to leave Texas and go to the LSE here in London so many years ago; I think I was bitten by the exploration bug then. When my NY law firm offered to move me to Singapore, I said yes even before I knew where Singapore was! (We weren’t taught much world geography in my Texas high school.) Since then I’ve had no fear about moving to locations unknown or jumping into difficult or unprecedented deals, even venturing into startup operations from time to time. Expanding on the concept of exploration, I would add: Never be afraid to leap into uncharted territory.
CB: How do you deal with stress whether personal or professional?
TB: I read an article recently about the power of touch. Scientists have apparently discovered a pathway that delivers affirming messages from the skin to the brain when an individual or an animal is stroked or touched in a calm and tender way. Ever wonder why dogs and cats like to be petted, or why monkeys spend a great deal of time grooming each other? According to this research, it’s a stress-reducing activity. (What does a monkey have to be stressed about?) So I guess that’s a long way of saying that somehow I’ve always known that big hugs from my family or my friends have the ability to reduce or eliminate my stress, and I can never have too many of them.
CB: Are there tools or techniques that have made you more productive?
TB: Yoga. I try to see my yoga instructor three or four times a week, and those sessions both clear my head and re-energise my body. Even when I’m travelling, I try to always find time for my practice; if I skip too many days, I know that my productivity will suffer.
CB: What is the biggest challenge facing lawyers in the next 5 years?
TB: I believe the legal profession is about to undergo a transformation, and the coming five years will reveal what that change is going to look like. Technology, innovation, diversity, and equality will all contribute to a different way of doing business in a world whose business itself is excitingly unknown today. For example, we need to think about the concept of partnership and what it means to millennials. We certainly need to keep reviewing the facility (or the limitations, more likely) of the billable hour, a bedrock for lawyers of bygone eras. What about offices – what is their purpose for us now? Are we ready to move to more permanent remote working with its wonderful possibilities for greater pools of talent? How can we be more efficient with work allocation to get the best out of our people? Most importantly, can the old guard step back and let new ideas flourish?
CB: What is one growth area/rising trend in the legal profession and why?
TB: If you had asked me that question five years ago, I would have said technology. But today the integration of technology into business operations and the rise in technology clients and matters seem like old news; we’ve been reaping the benefits of both for quite some time. The year 2020 has shocked us into a new realisation about our lives that technology can’t answer, and that is where I cast my vote for the rising trend in the legal profession. The issue, of course, is ethics. We see it in the BLM movement; we see it in identity politics; we see it in wealth inequality; we see it in the environmental crisis; we see it in the disparate treatment of populations and individuals during the pandemic. As a result, many of our colleagues and clients have decided that operating legally and/or profitably cannot be enough; we want to operate ethically as well. To that end all of us are refocusing our priorities and rethinking our business practices to be more humane, more empathetic, more equitable-- in short, more ethical in every way. Transcending revenues, profits, market position, and stock price, this revamped value system should create plenty of interesting and rewarding work for all of us.
CB: Diversity and inclusion are both topics which I know you care about enormously – how can we ensure that change happens both in the legal profession and more widely?
TB: I could talk about this topic for hours, as you know! But let me boil it down to one seemingly simple solution: role models. We’ve long said that “you can’t be what you can’t see,” meaning that we must have people in leadership who represent the entire population if we expect to inspire our workforce to see their potential in our organisations. If your child grows up seeing nothing but white men in Managing Partner or CEO positions, then as an adult that person struggles to think that a leader could look like anything other than a white man. Numerous experiments have shown us that from age six, children are conditioned to believe that certain roles are gendered—the man is a doctor, the woman is a nurse—and these unconscious biases persist into adulthood. The way to break the perpetuation of these biases is to make sure that role models of all types are seen by every child, every worker, every member of our community. We have to recognise that the myth of meritocracy is holding back progress in creating diverse workplaces. I will put this succinctly: in order to GET more diversity in leadership, you have to PUT more diversity into leadership. Quit pretending this is about merit and start seeding the leadership ranks with qualified, talented, capable, and deserving people who represent the diversity of our world. They are here among us, and they are ready to lead. You just have to see them.
CB: And finally, what is the best inspirational quote you’ve ever heard?
TB: That one is easy. It’s Madeleine Albright’s statement, “There’s a special place in hell for women who won’t help other women,” although I have modified it for my own use by turning the stick into a carrot: “There’s a special place for women who help other women.” That place is in leadership, and all who aspire to be there can succeed if we help each other.
CB: Tamara, thank you very much for your time today, it has been great talking to you.