There are two certainties in life, death and taxes...
Tax law is an important ingredient of literally every commercial, corporate or personal transaction. Every facet of life today involves tax in some respect. It’s a big source of revenue for authorities and its subject-matter is voluminous and complex.
There are lots of stereotypes surrounding tax. It sounds very boring, but then again so are lots of things that are difficult to understand. To be clear, this area of law is often reserved for the most analytical of aspiring lawyers.
What does tax law involve?
Tax law involves contentious and non-contentious work and is a crossover service, which is associated with almost all other areas of law practice. Much of a tax solicitor’s work today covers what used to be the domain of accounting firms. More and more clients are looking for professionals who combine legal and accounting expertise to ensure the uniformity and quality of advice that they receive.
Tax lawyers are required in both private and public domains. A private sector tax practitioner’s workload will cover various core areas; normally this involves focusing on the best way to structure assets, assisting with documentation, negotiating transactions and jockeying the deal to completion. They will advise clients on the implications of tax during transactions, especially when structuring financial and administrative frameworks in different markets.
Tax lawyers in the public sector will work for governmental tax and revenue departments, tax statutory bodies and panels. Their work will include investigating tax evasions, auditing the tax accounts of companies, prosecuting tax offenders, assisting in interpretation of tax rules and regulations and defending public authorities against private sector claims.
Tax law is a particularly lucrative area for solicitors, as good advice can often result in clients saving literally millions of pounds.
What makes a good tax lawyer?
Clients now often expect their law firms to act as their accountants too. As such, many departments at law firms are now looking to bolster their accounting credentials by way of boosting their client rosters.
Tax law can be very complex and confusing; hence a strong background in academic excellence is a must. Tax solicitors require exceptional skills in analysis, communication and negotiation. They scrutinize and study business structures and constitutions to provide clients with the best possible advice. Furthermore, the job involves plenty of study and research and tax solicitors need to have a close eye for detail.
Extra qualifications in accounting will be an added advantage. Clients will be very interested in getting all their business advice in one shop. Tax is an integral part of every business transaction and therefore, it makes sense to have a good, solid all-round knowledge.
Sarah Priestley, Partner at Sherman & Sterling.
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
I get a cup of tea and check the news (and celebrity gossip!) before checking my diary to see what the day holds for me. Days at Shearman are never dull and will vary hugely depending on the work the team has on. In Tax we do a mix of transactional work for the corporate team as well as our own standalone tax advice. I focus on Private Equity deals which are fast-paced and demanding, so my days often consist of calls or meetings with clients, overseeing the associates working on transactions and collaborating on pitches for future deals.
My days are also filled with other responsibilities as I’m on the BVCA Tax Committee and Women in Law Empowerment Forum’s Board, as well as being a Graduate Recruitment Partner and a Diversity Champion for Women’s Initiatives in the London office. These roles mean my days often also include committee meetings, lean-in lunches and interviews to mix things up!
This variety and the adrenaline of getting deals done, means I am certainly never bored.
How do you handle and organise / prioritise your workload?
Private Equity deals have short timeframes and are usually completed in a matter of weeks (compared to more traditional M&A deals which tend to be longer). This means that when a deal gets going you can’t help but prioritise the most important thing!
Despite being in Tax, which is often seen as a more relaxed advisory team, PE deals can keep us up all night during signings and closings. In those times, the team around you and the fascinating work we do is what keeps you going.
With experience I’ve learnt to better manage my time, and as a mother of two young children, I always do my best to get home for bath-time and bed-time. Thanks to technology, I can always get back online afterwards if necessary.
What sort of daily responsibilities does a partner have in tax law? How does it differ from an associate role?
As the head of the London Tax group, I’m a relationship manager for many of our key PE clients. This means lots of business development and socialising to build relationships; as well as providing training, writing publications and attending events.
The partners are also responsible for ensuring our associates and trainees are busy, being properly supervised and receiving the experience they need to become experts in their field. My door is always open for questions and we often end up giving Tax advice to the firm’s other practice groups and offices.
Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day?
PE houses get involved in all sorts of industries meaning a wide range of transactions and a similarly vast array of issues to navigate. We’ve recently advised on Investcorp’s sale of Tyrrells Crisps and Bridgepoint’s investment in Deliveroo. Working with such well-known brands really gives you a boost as it’s exciting to see your hard-work coming to fruition in the business press.
Alongside transactions, we also have to work hard to keep up with the changing background of Tax law. As trusted advisors to our clients, it’s vital that we keep up with the legal landscape, such as recent changes to anti-avoidance provisions.
What sort of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?
Unusually for PE teams, we work with both PE houses and company’s management teams. So clients are varied and require tailored advice depending on their current circumstances. Shearman & Sterling boosted its Private Equity presence with a dedicated team back in 2013, meaning we travelled the globe getting to know our network of international offices as well as many existing and prospective clients. Our focus is on the mid-market PE houses, so clients include Investcorp, Bridgepoint, CPPIB, Vitruvian, Electra and Hg Capital.
Michael Taylor, a Trainee at Hogan Lovells
1) In just a few words, could you explain the sort of work you do in tax law?
There is a great mix of work for trainees in the department. Whilst there are a lot of discrete, research-oriented tasks, there is also the opportunity to draft and review the tax sections of prospectuses and agreements, take part in contentious matters to be involved in transfer pricing and assist in the coordination of international tax advice for clients.
2) What kind of projects have you been working on so far? Do you tend to take on short-term tasks or work on longer-term projects?
There is a mix of both types although the majority are short-term tasks which involve one off pieces of research or administration, such as arranging for the payment of Stamp Duty. There are longer-term tasks, however. For example, I have been fortunate enough to assist in coordinating the European transfer tax advice for one of the biggest deals ever done by Hogan Lovells.
3) Does your work put you in direct contact with clients?
The nature of the work undertaken by the department means that trainees do not have a huge amount of direct contact with clients although when the opportunity arises, members of the department will generally invite you to client meetings. There is also occasionally the opportunity to have direct client contact by email.
4) Which area of tax law are you most interested in?
For me, it would have to be Stamp Duty Land Tax. It is an extremely complicated and challenging area of tax law but this is what also makes it very rewarding!
5) How do you keep your head up when you’re dealing with potentially sensitive matters?
The members of the tax department at Hogan Lovells are very helpful in this regard. There is a very calm and professional environment which means that all work is treated with the same professionalism and there is never a sense of extreme stress or anxiety about a particular piece of work.
6) How does this seat compare with others you have completed?
This is my second seat and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the department. From a trainee perspective, there is a steady stream of work (unlike in my previous seat which was transactional) which is all extremely interesting. The complexity of tax law added to the ever changing legal framework and increasing media scrutiny means that you will always be challenged intellectually, which is something I really enjoy.