Business Editor Bernard Ginns meets the Yorkshire expat dealing with the rich and famous in Los Angeles.
IT is 7.15am on a cool, clear morning in Los Angeles.
Attorney Paul Wright is driving along the Pacific Coast Highway from his home in Malibu to a trial at the Los Angeles Superior Court in downtown LA.
The Yorkshire expat is representing a wealthy lady against her husband, who, it is alleged, tried to kill her by poisoning her food.
Wright, 57, handles quite a few high-profile cases in the entertainment capital of the world. In another, he is close to settling the estate of Etta James, the late rhythm and blues singer, and is representing her sons who are in dispute with her husband, their stepfather.
“Los Angeles is quite an amazing place in the diversity of cases you will handle over here, cases that would not necessarily happen elsewhere,” he says.
Paul J Wright and Associates, based in Malibu, specialises in domestic and international commercial litigation.
Wright is also a prominent member of the expat establishment and is serving his second term as president of the British American Business Council Los Angeles.
In the New Year honours list, he was named an OBE in recognition of his services to British business interests in the United States.
Wright arrived in LA at the end of the 80s after qualifying as a barrister in the UK.
His late father Verna, an eminent professor of rheumatology at Leeds University, had a great love of America and saw it as the land of opportunity. That perspective seems to have rubbed off on his son, who resolved to make it in California as an international attorney.
Wright had no contacts stateside and started again from scratch. He found work at a medium-sized law firm, gained his qualifications and set up on his own with one client, then another and a hard-fought win at a contentious trial.
He got noticed and started getting some very good cases, one involving a well-known real estate developer in Southern California. Wright won the case and a new client – the developer. He was on his way.
“This is the most openly networked city in the world,” says Wright. “People are very positive about promoting other people and introducing them into your network. If you work hard and do a good job and achieve some success, people are delighted to promote you.”
LA divides opinion like few other places, but Wright is a staunch defender of the City of Angels, his home for the last quarter of a century.
To its critics, the city embodies superficiality; its denizens smile in your face and stab you in the back. “Some people say that but I have never experienced it,” says Wright. “Yes, people are very nice and friendly and everything but some people mistake that, that people aren’t genuine.
“I have to say that for business reasons, and other reasons, LA is a great city and it’s been good to me. People have been very good.
“It’s not a city where things fall in your lap. You have to create your own reality. People work as hard here as they do in New York, possibly even harder.
“The person who arrives on the next plane is just as important as the person who has been here a long time. That’s been my experience.”
Wright reels off some stats about Los Angeles County: its $500bn annual output places it among the world’s largest economies.
The Anschutz group, which owns the O2 Arena in London, has redeveloped the once-dangerous downtown area.
He is seeing signs that the Californian economy is improving, particularly in the real estate market. The special relationship between Britain and the US still exists, says Wright, who points out that Britain is still the largest single investor in California.
“There’s a feeling of affinity for Britain generally,” he says.
“I think it’s something that has to be fostered and worked on, but there’s a residual respect for the institutions of Britain, the British role in the history of the US and the legal system.
“There’s a sensitivity as to who supports America with regards to its policies over the years and the stance it has taken.
“It’s generally perceived that in the end Britain supports the US.”
Furthermore, Americans love Downton Abbey, the ITV costume drama, says Wright. The London Olympics also proved popular, more so than the Beijing Games of 2008, because of a natural affinity towards Britain, he adds.
But British companies should not expect easy wins. Indeed, many have tried and failed over the years.
In a sign of the times, California looks out over the Pacific towards Asia for the fast-growing countries it wants to do business with.
Despite that, there are many opportunities for UK firms in this diverse economy so long as they are prepared to adapt and do things the American way, says Wright.
This is where the British American Business Council comes in. The organisation can help with introductions and networking and also provide access to advice in forming companies, tax arrangements and the law, says Wright.
The council has “a symbiotic relationship” with UK Trade and Investment, he adds.
The expat community is filled with successful Britons who have good stories to tell about their experience and they retain strong links with Britain.
“There’s a great referral network for businesses coming in,” says Wright. Of which he is part.
Work takes him home, from the City of Angels to God’s Own Country.
“I was not actually born in Yorkshire, but I have always considered myself a Yorkshireman,” says Wright, whose first family home was a hundred yards from Headingley.
The family later moved out to West Park and then Harrogate. Dr Verna Wright passed away in 1998.
“I’m very proud to be from Yorkshire,” says his son. “I like the people. It’s very down to earth. I like the dry Yorkshire humour.
“It’s the unspoilt part of England, the Yorkshire Dales, Bronte Country. I feel at home.
“I do a lot of work in the UK and have represented a lot of UK people over the years in the US, particularly business people.
“When I come back to England I fly into London and do a couple of days on business and am always very pleased to go up to Harrogate.”
Two of his sisters are married to farmers in North Yorkshire, while his mother Esther still lives in the spa town.
“I feel like I can breathe up there,” he adds.