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Ten years ago, Tanisha M. Little was taking orders for Egg McMuffins and Quarter Pounders at the drive-in window of her hometown McDonald’s. Last year, she shaved her head. Last month, she went skiing for the first time. This week she celebrated her 27th birthday. And soon, a nifty Lucite “tombstone” and a fat, leather “deal binder” will land in Little’s office at New York-based Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, mementos of work that absorbed the lion’s share of her energies in January. Little, a second-year corporate associate, served as lead attorney in a $928 million public offering of capital securities for an internationally known bank — a first in her short career. (Stroock granted access to the associate but declined to release the client’s name, at the client’s request.) Little’s opportunity does not commonly come to second-year associates. True, her contributions to choice but lesser deals had caught the eye of a well-placed partner. But there appears to be an economic reason for the client bank’s bashfulness, which to some extent was a stroke of luck for an ambitious ex-hamburger emporium worker. In some cases, a client may want a break on the legal tab and thus may ask the outside law firm to assign a young hotshot with a lower billing rate to do the heavy lifting, according to an officer and lawyer for a competitor bank. “In today’s market, every client is challenging us to lower the cost of our transactions while continuing with high-quality work,” said the rival banker, who likewise asked to remain nameless. “I’m won’t say ‘cheap’, but we sure have to do things more efficiently. We’re all doing it lately, and nobody wants their name used.” A frugal client, in other words, can mean opportunity with a capital “O” for young associates in a big hurry. “The most important thing in a securities transaction is, are you going to get everything done Oh-Tiffany,” said the rival banker/lawyer, employing the catchy Wall Street acronym OTIFNE — for On Time-In Full-No Errors. “The risk is timing. The question is, ‘Can you get it done fast enough?’ “Partners are slow. They spend their time doing customer management and customer satisfaction, whereas a good associate gets to shut the door and get down to work,” he said. Little found herself at the portal of Opportunity in early January, when a young partner, Anna T. Pinedo, 32, tapped her for front-line duty. “I immediately said yes,” Little recollected. “Then I asked myself, ‘ What have I gotten into?’ “ The feeling was similar to what she felt on her vacation skiing for the first time after successfully closing the deal on Jan. 31: “There I was at the top of this hill with these things on my feet, looking way, way down and asking myself, ‘What am I doing here?’ “ To be sure, a young lawyer’s big break comes with no small amount of trepidation. As a Stroock colleague of Little’s put it, “God forbid if you screw up an ace partner’s ace client.” One notable family member, however, had no doubts as to Little’s legal prowess. “We’ve all been impressed with her academic achievements, and I always enjoy hearing about Tanisha’s professional accomplishments,” said Kurt L. Schmoke, the former mayor of Baltimore who is now a partner at Washington, D.C.’s Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering. “I’m at a point now where I’m not quite as amazed by my cousin. She’s such a high-powered performer. “I do recall the haircut,” he added, referring to Little’s recent bald period. “But we adjusted, and we all think she’s beautiful.” Voluntary hairlessness is perhaps an example of Little’s taking to heart what her father Richard said was advice liberally offered to all three of his daughters: “Never be afraid of being an independent thinker.” As for herself, said Little, a graduate of New York University School of Law, “I just don’t like fussing with my hair. Besides, nobody at the office looked twice.” She dislikes fussing in general, preferring instead to get cracking on the business at hand. “I know myself. I’m a worrier. If I sit down and think about some really big thing that comes up, I can drive myself crazy,” said Little. “So I like to just jump right in.” In the bank deal, that first meant drafting and assembling some 50 hefty documents: an underwriting agreement, opinions of counsel, prospectus supplement, subscription agreement, note purchase agreement, two guarantee agreements, a supplemental indenture, registrations with the Securities and Exchange Commission and closing certificates. “I didn’t have to do any all-nighters,” said Little. “But it was definitely stay later, work harder. I saw a lot of midnights.” But at the beginning, was she conscious of the dollars involved? Nearly a cool billion? “You have to pretend you don’t see all those zeroes. You just have to start by talking to all the people you need to make it go. “I definitely had my moments, though. I’d have to stop and catch my breath and say, ‘It’s going to be OK.’ But the thing is, I always had support. I could always go see Chris [senior associate Christopher J. Doyle] or Anna.” Anna Pinedo had high praise for her hand-picked associate. Most importantly, Pinedo said of Little, “She knows exactly what she doesn’t know. She knows when to come back to me, or to Chris. She’ll ask questions, and we’ll work through whatever it is. Then Tanisha goes and moves the ball along.” As it happened, Little had done a good deal of the runup work to January’s assignment to take over as lead attorney. “She’d worked with Chris and me in putting up shelf registration statements in November and December,” said Pinedo. “The deal was done as a take-down off that shelf.” Proceeds from the securities sale, said Little, were used to to buy 7 percent junior subordinated notes in time to benefit the client in two ways: a tier-one capital ranking, and a handsome tax advantage. “She was very excited in getting the assignment,” Pinedo said of Little. “These transactions involve lots and lots of documents, and the closing is fairly elaborate.” To accomplish such results, said Pinedo, requires a lawyer with a good sense of timing and judgment. “If you spend any time with Tanisha at all,” said Pinedo, “you know that she has maturity beyond her experience.” Boyd C. Campbell Jr., a partner with the Charlotte, N.C., firm Smith Helms Mullis & Moore who acted as counsel for the issuer of the securities, agreed with Pinedo’s assessment. For years, said Campbell, his firm has worked with Stroock in securities matters. Little, he said, “fit right into the process from Day One. “She’s a very pleasant young woman and very organized,” he added. “She’s quite obviously very interested in her client, in Stroock, and in her career. We always had a good working relationship with her.” Richard Little, who still calls his daughter “Boo,” credits Tanisha Little’s lawyerly acumen to experiences back home in Springfield, Mass. She was class president each year of her high school career; she served on the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Task Force, and managed to persuade her elders to establish midnight basketball and sex education programs for teen-agers; and she negotiated her way into a job at McDonald’s at the age of 15 by pointing out that her paychecks would commence at 16, the legal hiring age. “You have to be fearless,” Little said, speaking of acting as lead counsel in a $928 million deal, although she might have been speaking of a high-schooler negotiating with the mayor or a prospective employer. “And you have to learn that doing this work is a real balancing act. “People are throwing things at you left and right, and you have to know what’s the most pressing matter. That’s been the big lesson here. “You have to be confident enough to both ask questions and make judgments at the same time.” That, and minding the sensibilities of her clients. In Little’s case, it means clients who are mostly a full generation older. Never, for instance, will a client hear Little use locutions typical of many in her generation, or pepper her sentences with “like.” As a lawyer, she said, “I want to be perceived as mature and capable. You must be aware of this. I think about my voice, I think about word choice, and I think about diction. “That all comes from working at McDonald’s. You have to enunciate. How else would you be understood by a guy outside in his car when your voice is coming out of Ronald McDonald’s head? “As Dad would say, that prepared me for the future.”

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