Winter 2008
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Composing a symphony 

The law waaaaay east of the Pecos

By Bronson C. Davis

It was not easy finding Philip Kimbrough '77.

The tiny address on the side of the door of the Boulevard Saint Germain building simply listed 'Advocats.' A press of the buzzer yielded no results, a door knob nowhere to be found. Finally, I asked a waiter in a next-door restaurant about Monsieur Kimbrough. "Ahh, yes," he replied, realizing my French was less than primitive. He walked to the door, and pulled down the little bar over the addresses. Voila, the door released.

Up two flights of stairs -- my wife Cathy and I decided to avoid the claustrophobic elevator -- and again, no sign on the blank white door. We knocked and entered a bustling, nondescript office absent the wainscoting and marble characteristic of most American law offices, particularly those dealing in international law. Philip Kimbrough appeared with a welcoming smile and a hearty handshake.

I asked about the CIA-quality of his offices. "Lawyers in France are much more understated than those in the United States," he said, laughing. "And, we don't get any walk-in clients. But, if it makes you feel better, we will be moving our offices later in the year to across from the Elysee Palace. That's not for prestige reasons; we simply needed twice the space."

Kimbrough & Associes is a 10-person law firm that specializes in cross-border investments, international arbitration, joint venture agreements, and mergers and acquisition issues. Their clients include IBM, Alcatel, and the government of Zimbabwe, among many others. Philip has spoken at legal conferences in such exotic locales as Singapore, Jakarta, Almaty, Kazakhstan and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. His business card states that he belongs to both the Paris Bar and the Texas Bar. How did a boy who grew up on a dairy farm in Mansfield, Texas, come to be an international lawyer in Paris?

"My mother is French," Philip explained. "She and my father met and married at the end of the Second World War. He had graduated from Texas A& M and returned to Texas with his new wife to build a dairy business. By the time I went to TCU, I had been to France 19 times to visit my mom's family. In fact, my French grandmother came to live with us for five years.

"With some other Mansfield High School students, I petitioned to the school to offer French, which they did."

At TCU, Philip studied French and International Relations and spent his second year at the Sorbonne. He had so many advanced credits that he was able to graduate from TCU in three years. This he now considers a mistake. "I wasn't able to take advantage of many of the extracurricular activities that TCU offered. There was no reason to hurry."

Nevertheless, he started Harvard Law School in the fall of 1977, and continuing his interest in language he started a French conversational group among the students.

When he graduated in 1980, he decided to accept an offer from an international law firm, Coudert Brothers, to practice in Paris. He planned to stay two years and then return to the United States. What he didn't count on was the same fate that had befallen his father. He met and married Claire Goure, a French accountant.

Two years stretched to eight, and then the couple accepted an assignment with the Coudert Brothers in Singapore. This enabled them to travel all over the Far East. At the end of the two years, they were asked to extend for another tour, but Claire was growing uneasy at being away from two aging grandmothers. She proposed they return to Paris to start their own firm.

This gave Philip some pause. "It would be one thing to lose the business, but what if in the process of that I lost my wife, who was to be the firm's financial officer." He overcame his concerns and Kimbrough & Associes began in 1988. In fact, Philip credits Claire's money management skills with saving the firm during their most difficult days surrounding the Gulf War in 1991. International business dried up, and many people avoided Paris.

It's all been expansive growth for Kimbrough since that year, and for the Kimbrough family as well. Philip and Claire renovated a home outside Paris in Voisins Mouroux that has been in his family since 1528, saving the original tiles and beams. Their daughter Olivia arrived in April 1993, and son Jerome a year later in the same month.

Philip's passion for languages informs his parenting. Claire speaks French to the children, and he speaks in English. He marvels at how they move effortlessly from one language to the other. Philip also continues the tradition of nurturing family roots across two continents. Every Christmas the Kimbroughs are in North Texas, and Philip's parents spend up to four months a year in France.

Now it's up to Jerome and Olivia to find spouses in Texas to keep this Franco-Texas connection rolling into the next generation.

Bronson Davis is TCU's vice chancellor for university advancement.