October 29, 2012 2:14 PM
PHILIPSBURG - As a little girl, her mother would hide her under her robe and smuggle her into the courtroom so she could listen to her grandfather’s fiery pleadings. Now she heads a team of six lawyers at VanEps Kunneman VanDoorne in St. Maarten.
While Kamla Besançon grew up in a family of exceptional (criminal) lawyers and legal strategists, her maternal grandmother, who was not allowed to go to high school, is her greatest inspiration. Portrait of a passionate lawyer and her love for law and family!
Just like the melting pot that is the Caribbean, Besançon personifies many continents and cultures. Her name, charm and no-nonsense attitude stem from her father’s side of the family; aristocratic Huguenots who fled to the Netherlands. Her limitless energy and enthusiasm are qualities she inherited from her hardworking Surinamese maternal ancestors. Besançon: “One of my grandmother’s greatest frustrations is that her parents did not allow her to go to high school. Being the eldest girl, she had to stay home to help in the household. She made it her mission to ensure that all her daughters were given the opportunity to go to university. My mother went to law school and very successfully expanded my grandfather’s law firm, while at the same time raising eight children on her own. I learned at a very young age that surrendering to setbacks is not an option and that every obstacle can be overcome. But it was not until recently that I realized the extent of my grandmother’s and mother’s struggles and sacrifices for something I took for granted. I am extremely grateful for what they have unselfishly given me.”
It was obvious that Besançon would choose to study law, but she never felt pressure to perform. Her maternal grandfather was a famous criminal defense attorney; one of the very first to travel to St. Maarten. Her mother, who as a child prodigy finished primary school in four years, is a phenomenal legal strategist who practiced in Curacao and St. Maarten (she is in the process of retiring). After finishing law school in Leiden, Besançon returned to St. Maarten and Curacao, to join the family law firm. Besançon: “It was an incredible learning experience, but also quite tough at times, because you are basically on duty 24/7, as (grand)daughter, sister, office manager and lawyer.” When Besançon ultimately left the warm but hectic family nest to join larger firms such as Lexwell in St. Maarten and Houthoff Buruma in Amsterdam, she discovered her passion for corporate law.
The Best You Can Be
The ambitious lawyer likes to be challenged intellectually and she assisted in, among other things, complex (public) mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, corporate (re)structuring and securities transactions. In addition to her law degree from Leiden University, she obtained an LL.M. degree at the prestigious Columbia University in New York, where she is also admitted to the New York Bar. Besançon: “If you ever get the opportunity, go for it, I highly recommend it! In the Dutch academic environment you have a tremendous amount of freedom, and you learn to think analytically and liberally. At the competitive American ivy-league universities, performing at the top of your ability is everything, and that pushes you to be the absolute best you can be. That combination of freedom and focus is absolutely ideal.” With her background and experience, Besançon could have chosen for a partnership in a cosmopolitan city. Nevertheless, she ultimately decided to make a more personal choice.
Besançon: “A large part of my family lives in the Dutch Caribbean and I really wanted to be closer to them. Of course large cities offer the opportunity to work on large, complex and dynamic transactions, but in the end family is much more important. And while the scope and size of transactions might be somewhat different in the Dutch Caribbean, the working environment is equally dynamic and interesting. So when VanEps Kunneman VanDoorne, the largest and one of the oldest and most prestigious law firms in the Dutch Caribbean, approached me to lead their branch in St. Maarten, I enthusiastically accepted the challenge. Our branch in St. Maarten is young and eager and serves clients in a wide range of business related matters, be it general corporate law, mergers and acquisitions, commercial contracts, financing structures or employment issues. We have the expertise and capacity to serve both the private and public sectors 24/7 with the highest professional standards. As a lawyer I do not bury myself in theory. I much rather spend my time brainstorming to find practical and creative solutions. There is nothing more exciting than tackling super complex issues and coming up with an idea or solution that really works for the client.”
Back to the nest
Besançon is excited about her new challenge and has ambitious plans for VanEps Kunneman VanDoorne in St. Maarten. Yet something has changed inside her. Besançon: “Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but this time I deliberately did not choose for a high-flying career in New York or Amsterdam. While the work would be extremely exciting, I would be too far away from the ones I love. My profession really is my passion and life, but without my family it means nothing.”
(Source: Local newspaper The Daily Herald St.Maarten)