Marice Richter Special to the Business Press
Husband and wife attorneys Eric and Karla Camp are about to embark on an adventure that is almost too good to be true, combining an exotic location with the opportunity to do meaningful work and continue practicing law. The young couple with Fort Worth ties leave in July for Nairobi, Kenya, where Karla, 32, begins her duties as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Meanwhile, Eric, 32, will continue working from Kenya as an oil and gas attorney with the Decker, Jones, McMackin, McClane, Hall & Bates law firm in Fort Worth. “We’re really excited about it,” Eric said. “It will be an adventure, and we’re pleased that it will work out so well for both of us.” It has been nearly a lifelong dream of Karla’s to live and work overseas doing meaningful community service work.
But it was her work several years ago with Somali refugees in Dallas through AmeriCorps, the federal government program that supports intensive community service work, which convinced her to seek international public service work. The path to her dream came with several stops along the way. The Camps met while both were in college. Eric, who grew up in Austin, attended Centenary College of Louisiana in Shreveport, Karla’s hometown. However, Karla was attending George Washington University in Washington, D.C., majoring in international business. After graduating, they both moved to Dallas. Eric attended law school at Southern Methodist University. Besides her work with AmeriCorps, Karla worked as a legal assistant in real estate for the international law firm Jones Day in Dallas. She also attended law school at Southern Methodist University while continuing her work at Jones Day.
Ten years after first getting together, they married in 2009, the same year Karla finished at law school. Meanwhile, Eric started his career as an oil and gas attorney with the Fort Worth firm of Whitaker, Chalk, Swindle and Sawyer. For Karla, finding a job in Fort Worth wasn’t easy, but she landed a position as in-house attorney at Pier 1 Imports in 2011. It was a perfect fit for a lawyer with an undergraduate degree in international business. She was also perfectly positioned when her dream job came calling.
“I always knew I was going to go try it,” she said of an international job. Karla was only at Pier 1 for a year when she learned of opportunities with the Foreign Service. At the time, budget cuts and retirement of longtime officers had depleted the agency’s ranks, she said. Still, getting hired was no easy feat. “Less than 1 percent of the people who apply are hired,” Eric said. Karla attributes her success in part to timing. “Some of it is luck,” she said. “The stars have to align.” But she acknowledges that her work with Pier 1 was a huge advantage in landing the job. Foreign Service Officers need to bring specific expertise to their diplomatic work, she said. Teachers, lawyers, people with economic development and business backgrounds are among the professionals who are chosen for the Foreign Service, which helps developing countries build sustainable economies.
“The Foreign Service is trying to develop more public-private partnerships so they are looking for people with corporate experience,” Eric said. “They were attracted to her experience with Pier 1.” Karla said her work will involve reviewing contracts to make sure that all contracts between the government of Kenya and American interests, including nonprofit organizations, conform to U.S. law. The contracts can be anything from a new school to a factory, she said.
In many ways, her work will be similar to what she was doing at Pier 1, she said. Eric will continue to work with many of his clients at Decker Jones, which he joined in September 2012. He can also provide on-site counsel to American companies such as ExxonMobil that need helping executing a contract for a pipeline in Kenya. “Fortunately, most of my work is transactional and I don’t need to be in court,” Eric said. “Mostly I work by phone and email with my clients so I can do that from anywhere.” Chuck Milliken, managing shareholder at Decker Jones, said he is confident that the arrangement with Eric will be successful. “We’re very excited about Eric’s new office in Kenya,” Milliken said. “We’re confident that he will expand his oil and gas practice to an international level with clients in Kenya and other parts of Africa.”
Karla was hired by the Foreign Service in February 2012 and has spent almost one and a half years in training in Washington, D.C. The two have been commuting back and forth to see each other. “That gets old,” he said.
The move will allow them to live together again and perhaps begin another exciting phase of their lives: starting a family. After two years in Kenya, the Camps expect to be reassigned to another developing country for four years, possibly in Africa, Asia or South America, Eric said. But for the time being they are excited about the posting in Nairobi and new cultural opportunities to explore. “It’s a big and important city for the region,” Eric said. “A lot of diplomats from around the world are stationed there.” Although the Camps have no plans to return to the United States anytime soon, they expect that they will return some day. “We both love Fort Worth and we can see coming back here eventually,” he said.