The right choice: Tali Lee

First-year associate Tali Lee talks about her early experiences living across cultures. She weighed her options carefully and did a bit of soul searching before deciding on a career in Clifford Chance’s Tax group.

Photo credit: Thomas Donley, New York

So far, I’ve lived more than half of my life in the United States and the rest in South Korea. I was born in Seoul and came to the US for the first time as a kindergartener, when my father took a job as an expat working in New York. We stayed for a few years before returning to Korea, and later, I came back to the States on my own to attend boarding school.

Leaving my family, friends and the life I knew back home at quite a young age was one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced. But on the flip side, I was exposed to different cultures, ethnicities, values and backgrounds, which broadened my perspective. I still enjoy traveling and learning about new people and cultures, so those experiences have truly shaped who I am.

After college, I went back to Seoul to be close to my family. I wasn’t settled on the idea of a legal career, but I did take a gap year to study for and take the LSAT. I still wasn’t sure about taking on the commitment of law school, so I decided against it and started working at a marketing and PR firm. The thing was: I had always thought of myself as “curious,” in the sense that a specialized career might not be for me. But when I thought about my mother, who worked in a specialized field while raising a family, I could also see that her choice has never held her back – and I came back to the idea of being a lawyer.

“The law is analytical by nature, and that really appeals to me.”

The law is analytical by nature, and that really appeals to me. I like to be able to see all the steps in a process and make sense of it that way. In law school, I decided to specialize in tax and went on to get my LLM. Tax is a great area for me because it requires you to be rigorous and methodical, but also creative in finding solutions for your clients.

When I started looking at firms, mine stood out because of its vast international reach, with a network of offices all over the world, including Seoul. It was exciting to think about working in the middle of that, and I got an offer to come straight into the tax practice.

Role models have been so important since coming here. My partners are teaching me to think, write and speak like a tax lawyer, and they care about helping junior team members become well-rounded. For my part, if there’s something that I don’t know, or an area that I’m not confident in, I won’t hesitate to go to their offices and ask questions. I think that showing this kind of curiosity demonstrates a genuine interest in the work of your senior colleagues, and that helps you build stronger relationships. I like that we have that openness.