Burness Paull managing partner Tamar Tammes’ leadership strategy is to unlock talent to achieve business success leading to more work. A similar virtuous circle has allowed her own career to thrive.

Since the turn of the millennium, the painful consolidation of many revered names in Scotland’s legal sector has resulted in the loss of distinguished brass nameplates on doors in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. While the major multinational legal companies have generally been welcomed there has been a lament at the loss of the independent and distinctive Scottish law firm. 

Burness Paull stands proudly as one of those remaining Scotland-headquartered independent law firms, with offices in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. It is the sole Scottish representative in the highly vaunted Lex Mundi network of the world’s independent law firms and hosted Lex Mundi’s first post-Covid international gathering in Edinburgh in 2022.

The company’s Scottish roots remain important to this modern and thriving law firm. And meeting Tamar Tammes, the managing partner, there is little doubt that in the continuing battle to attract both new talent and lateral hires, there is a tangible benefit of working in a firm where partnership decisions are made closer to the seats of work.

She is one of a growing band of female lawyers at the top of their game in a profession that in the UK now boasts an overall gender balance in favour of women after decades of domination by male figureheads.  In truth, a great law firm can only be the sum of its people; the combined wisdom and brainpower of a group of high-achieving human beings is what gels any culture. And with any high performing groups, such as lawyers and their support teams, leadership and direction are the emblems of sustainable success.

“Our predecessors going back some way are responsible for the core of the culture of the firm, which is carried along in the firm’s DNA which in turn produces the next generation of lawyers,” says Tammes. “We look for those who carry that DNA, that same independence of spirit and a talent-first, high-performing approach.”

It is a testament to the culture of Burness Paull that Tammes, as the managing partner, has been able to spend the lion’s share of her career with a single firm, rising to become its elected leader in 2018 working alongside chairman Peter Lawson.

“I’ve never questioned or thought about going anywhere else. This working relationship works both ways. It has been a symbiotic relationship for me at Burness Paull because the opportunities have always been there for me to progress and for the firm to develop into new areas of legal expertise and practice,” she explains, sitting in the firm’s Edinburgh office, which has views of the Usher Hall and Edinburgh Castle.

Perhaps it is good fortune or perhaps sound career planning, but Tammes found a legal niche early in her career. She worked with David Reid, the head of commercial property, who was a doyen of the real estate industry in Scotland.

“I happened to land in property and real estate to start with, which was partly due to the role models at the time, including David Reid, who was also senior partner at the firm and was absolutely amazing and inspirational.”

The early-to-mid 1990s was a time of expansion, when new structures of real estate and construction finance were helping to fund much-needed infrastructure for the public sector including hospitals, schools and major roads and bridges. Some were controversial and contentious with PPP [Public and Private Partnership] and PFI [Private Finance Initiatives] projects but each was a Gordian knot of legal contract and financial arrangement. 

Tammes qualified as a solicitor while working in ‘comm prop’ and was elevated to partner in 2003. However, it was the arrival of onshore wind turbines which led Burness’ real estate team into uncharted and lucrative waters. The early renewables energy industry was led by property developers and landed entrepreneurs before the major energy companies woke up to the need for stronger green credentials.

Tamar Tammes was in on the ground floor of this UK renewables boom, learning about the dense fields of regulation and electricity contracts, joining teams of multi-disciplinary lawyers to tackle the complicated issues of tariffs and grid connectivity. During this time, a secondment with Bank of Scotland helped her understand more complex financial instruments where she undertook the review of banking securities.

For a young woman with Dutch heritage, who was environmentally conscious and understood the global dangers of climate change, the green agenda has resonated strongly throughout her professional life.

“Not long after my spell at Bank of Scotland, I was drawn into onshore wind deals, supporting clients moving into this sphere. I was part of this team, then building and leading the team [as head of property and infrastructure] in the firm and proud to be part of an industry where Scotland leads the way. This has been very exciting, all the way through the onshore wind boom, and now increasingly offshore wind with the big oil and gas energy players in transition to new greener technologies,” she says.

In 2012, the then chairman Philip Rodney masterminded a merger with Aberdeen-based Paull & Williamson, which strengthened its important north-east oil and gas connections. At that time, Burness’ turnover was £37 million. Ten years later, in 2022, the turnover was £78.6 million, with profits of £35.7 million. The firm now has 650 people including 85 partners. By any measurement, this is a supercharged Scottish business success story.

Today, Burness Paull’s renewables team numbers more than 40 lawyers and operates UK-wide, with the ability to pull in specialists on taxation and construction or knowledge from the offshore oil and gas industry, which is increasingly part of the Scotland and the UK’s transition to net-zero carbon.

Tammes and Lawson were recently re-elected by their partners for another three-year term; their strategic leadership focus is now on developing the business which, in essence, means the talent.

“I like to think that my job now is to continue these opportunities for other people in our firm,” she says. “In my view, leadership and management is about being able to unlock more success through others – more than by focusing on your own career progression.”

Here there is a seminal point about the constantly evolving requirement of the legal profession as it navigates through fresh areas of business. While Tammes was been able to ride the roller-coaster of the renewables technology, the next generation of legal minds must display the same flexibility, resilience and high performance to undertake legal challenges that remain unknown and in the future.

“There is a metamorphosis of legal work which is led by client demand.  My mantra to myself, of why I work as a lawyer, is to facilitate success for others. That is a virtuous circle: operating as a leader to unlock talent and maximise the potential of every single person in the firm, which in turn allows more success for our business, leading to more work in supporting our clients.”

Since the pandemic, Burness Paull has moved towards blended office and home working, encouraging a “very flexible working policy” while the ‘E’ from ESG [Environment, Social and Governance] is plotted heavily on the firm’s use of any form of transport. So, while not completely replacing in-person gatherings, Microsoft Teams has become the de facto form of communication for both client and internal meetings. “I’m green through and through and this sits well with me, but clients are expecting us to be absolutely answerable for our own ESG agenda.”

This also extends to the welfare and wellbeing of the legal teams and their support workers. Tamar Tammes is proud that Burness Paull was the first Scottish law firm to sign the Mindful Business Charter in 2019, and has enhanced family policy for paid pregnancy, and maternity and paternity entitlements for all employees, and the first accredited menopause-friendly employer in Scotland.

“We are a very human firm and so we will support each other to provide that leading-edge of quality service for our clients. We think that those we hire are drawn to the success of the firm and our human qualities and culture,” she states.

A major aspect of good governance is information security and ensuring the safe transmission of confidential documentation.  “We want to be role models and thought leaders in every part of ESG.”

For Tamar Tammes, the important aspect of Burness Paull remains the opportunity for the next generation of lawyers to prove their capabilities and build the firm. “When I joined the firm, I didn’t know I was going to be a commercial property lawyer or go into property finance and then the renewables sphere. I didn’t know I would become the managing partner of a leading independent Scottish law firm. This whole world which opened and was a virtuous circle allowing me to grow and thrive, must be open to the emerging generation of legal talent in Scotland,” she says. That remains her mission for Burness Paull.

The roots of a European Scot 

As a female corporate lawyer, Tamar Tammes is imbued with an intrinsic European moral sense of liberty, equality and justice. While she was born in London her connection with Edinburgh was woven by her father. Bruin Tammes was a brave young Dutch student who escaped to England from occupied Netherlands by sailboat in August 1940.

He was an ‘Engelandvaarder’, a term for those making the dangerous crossing over the North Sea during the Second World War. Only one in ten were successful, and many who were caught by the Nazis were either shot or sent to concentration camps.  Bruin joined the RAF and was assigned to Coastal Command. After the war, he studied medicine at Edinburgh University, graduating in 1957. While he retained his Dutch nationality, he became a respected psychoanalyst in Britain and married Verona Hockaday, Tamar’s mother.

Tamar Tammes followed in her father’s footsteps to Edinburgh University. “I started doing a four-year history degree and was pretty sure that I wanted to study law after this, although not sure what jurisdiction that would be in.”

She recalls ‘inspirational’ tutorials on the George Square lawns with the irrepressible Irish historian Owen Dudley Edwards. She undertook her law conversion course in Edinburgh and was an Erasmus exchange student studying in Paris at Université Paris XIII, now Université Sorbonne Paris Nord.

“There were six places and not enough undergraduates wanted to go, so three of the two-year post-grads went on the exchange and I was one of them. It was very good and very testing.” She was allowed to extend her stay in France to complete an Honours degree there.

She returned to Scotland and joined what was then W&J Burness WS as a trainee solicitor, partly because the Edinburgh law firm was the only firm scouting for young lawyers on campus and she was offered a traineeship. She was interviewed by a Burness Partner and head of human resources and was offered a place which she accepted – and has remained with the firm since then.