When Jenny Doak began running, she set an ambitious goal: Her first race would be the London Marathon. Like other marathons, the race isn’t considered ideal for beginners, but Doak was undeterred. After six months of training, she joined some 38,000 fellow runners in April 2015 to make the 26.2-mile trek around the River Thames. She completed the course with a respectable time of 4 hours and 35 minutes and ran it again the following year.
“I basically decided that if I was going to be able to stick at running, then I needed to set myself a difficult goal. And I managed to achieve it,” Doak said.
Embracing big challenges is par for the course for Doak. When she isn’t running on pavement, she’s running V&E London’s office tax practice, a group that’s become a rising star in the city’s legal circles. Earlier this year the practice was ranked by the Legal 500, a publication that “highlights practice area teams who are providing the most cutting-edge and innovative advice to corporate counsel.” Doak herself received praise for her “technical tax excellence” and “deep practical experience.”
The practice area’s ascent is notable because it’s only eight years old … and Doak was there to help build it nearly from the beginning. V&E established its London office in 1971 to serve energy firms developing operations in North Sea oil and gas fields. But, driven by client demand and opportunities, the office expanded into additional practice areas, including tax.
“It’s a really good moment when that piece of work that you’ve been chasing finally comes in the door and we get the opportunity to do a great job for the client.”
V&E former partner Michael Thompson, who retired last year, founded the London tax practice in 2010. The following year, he hired Doak, who left one of the United Kingdom’s “magic circle” firms — the five best known firms in the U.K. — to join V&E.
Doak joined V&E as an associate but knew that with Thompson eyeing retirement, the opportunity to lead the fledgling practice was in her future. As with her marathon runs, she savored what she saw as an exciting challenge. Unlike law firms with decades-old tax groups, V&E’s tax practice had little in the way of established clients. V&E tax attorneys collaborated with the firm’s other practices to provide tax advisory services to existing clients while also seeking out and developing relationships with new clients.
Winning additional business is about “persistence, doing a great job and making sure that you stay on top of developments in your industry,” Doak said. “It’s a really good moment when that piece of work that you’ve been chasing finally comes in the door and we get the opportunity to do a great job for the client.”
Also key to the practice’s growth was recruiting a talented group of associates, including attorneys originally from New Zealand and India.
“I’m proud that we have a tax team from around the world,” Doak said. “As most of our deals have an international dimension, it is also valuable in being able to see things from different perspectives”.
Together, the group has performed tax advisory work on such notable matters as the initial public offering of Vivo Energy, the largest U.K.-listed African IPO in recent years. In that deal, the tax practice supported the London office’s private equity and capital markets teams. Those teams, like the tax practice, have also expanded in recent years, creating new avenues for collaboration. “Servicing the tax advisory needs of key strategic areas like private equity and capital markets results in exciting opportunities for our practice,” Doak said. “We’re joining with talented people, both our colleagues and our clients, to find solutions that work from a legal, business and tax perspective. The work isn’t just important — it’s rewarding.”
Whether the tax practice is partnering with other teams or pursuing new tax advisory business, Doak said that the approach to client service remains consistent.
“I find that, if we are responsive, constructive and thoughtful in our advice, that helps to foster a good working relationship with clients where they feel they can trust and open up to us,” she said. “That in turn enables us to understand what drives their business, which helps us to do a better job of providing relevant and insightful advice.”
As Doak looks back at the practice’s evolution, she’s quick to note she didn’t manage it alone.
She credits Thompson for his leadership of the team and his mentorship. Doak was promoted to partner in 2014 and became official head of the department when Thompson stood down as a partner in 2016. “Michael took the time to build me into his relationships with clients, and was also really helpful in supporting me as I learned management skills.”
Another valued mentor lives across the pond: V&E’s worldwide tax group head, George Gerachis. “Even though he is based in Houston, we are in constant contact,” Doak said. “He is always very thoughtful about integrating the London practice, both on client matters and also playing a role in firm management and strategy.”
Just as Doak benefited from strong mentors at the firm, she hopes to set an example and inspire other current and would-be attorneys, particularly women and members of the LGBTQ community. She co-chairs V&E’s London Women’s Initiative, a program that provides career development, and is involved with diversity-focused legal organizations outside V&E as well. “I think it’s important to see people who aren’t just straight, white men in leadership roles at law firms,” she said.
But Doak also remains laser-focused on her own leadership role, which includes planning for the tax practice’s future. As word continues to spread about the practice, she believes more and more tax matters will head the firm’s way. The tax group’s head count, she predicted, will also grow as talented tax attorneys continue to gravitate toward the evolving practice. “They’ll want to work for one of the best firms and one of the best teams,” Doak said. Making this vision a reality is her new top goal, she says, and she’s racing toward it like a runner along the River Thames.