When it comes to practicing tax law in the UK, the good news and the bad news is the same, depending on your point of view – the UK maintains some of the most complex and rapidly-changing tax laws in the world. From a taxpayer’s point of view, this represents a headache. From the point of view of an ambitious tax lawyer, however, it represents opportunity.
What kinds of clients will I be dealing with?
Obviously, nearly any adult is a potential tax law client, since few are immune from taxation. The most numerous and lucrative clients, however, are to be found among two groups – corporations, who seeks tax advice on transactional and regulatory matters; and high net worth individuals, who seek tax advice on wealth management.
What kind of work will I do, specifically?
Tax law clients seek creative solutions to complex problems:
• Keeping abreast of current changes and trends in tax law;
• Searching for tax breaks and loopholes;
• Perform tax planning for clients and advising them of the tax consequences of proposed actions;
• Advising on the structuring of corporate portfolios in the most tax-friendly manner;
• Advising lawyers and corporations tax advice on structuring transactions such as M&A and share acquisitions; and
• Responding to investigations and litigation initiated by HMRC.
The foregoing is only a sample of some of the tasks you’re likely to be entrusted with as a tax lawyer.
What does a typical day look like?
Early in your career, you will be spending much of your day reading tax publications relevant to the cases you’ve been assigned. You will also spend a lot of time researching discrete issues. Later in your career, you will spend more time meeting with clients, researching broad issues, such as overall tax structuring, and planning strategy. Most of your time will be spent in the office.
What qualities make a good tax lawyer?
Tax law, more than most areas of practice, requires a first-class intellect and an academic orientation. In addition, you should be proficient in mathematics and you should maintain a continuing interest in accountancy. An academic or professional background in either discipline, although not necessary, would be quite helpful.
The practice of tax law requires no small amount of creativity, which renders the work a source of great satisfaction to many practitioners. There’s a high likelihood that you will spend much of your time advising companies on how to avoid tax without breaking the law, which can work something like solving a Rubik’s Cube.
How should I tailor my commercial awareness?
Commercial awareness is critically important in tax law to a much greater extent than it is in some areas of practice. Not only is it important to keep up with the latest developments (a part-time job in itself), you will need an understanding of the general business environment that drives the need for taxation advice. A daily reading of the Financial Times is a good starting point for developing commercial awareness. You might also seek to qualify as a Chartered Tax Adviser at some point.
Some of the current “hot issues” in tax law at the moment include:
• The Panama Papers and the pressure to crack down on tax avoidance by multinational corporations and offshore tax havens used by companies and individuals.
• The effect of the UK’s exit from the EU. At present this is a continuously developing topic that you will need to keep abreast of until the ultimate implications become clear.
• The proposed “Amazon tax”, a retail tax that would be applied to online retailers.
The hot issues in tax law are ever-changing, and you will need to keep ahead of the curve throughout your career so as to compete effectively with your peers.
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