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 the 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-around knowledge.
A day in the life of... Gabrielle Galdino - Associate, Baker McKenzie
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
My day always starts with coffee from our on-site canteen, a "good morning" to the team and then a check of any emails that have come through overnight.
How do you handle and prioritise your workload?
After reading my emails, I organise my tasks by deadline or degree of difficulty. I would normally work on smaller and easier tasks early in the morning and focus on lengthy and more complicated tasks later. This approach works well for me but I know other individuals prioritise their tasks in different ways. I have found that people have their own preferred methods but it’s always crucial to focus on client deadlines first.
What sort of daily responsibilities does an associate have in tax law? How does it differ from a trainee role?
It depends on the level of the associate, but the trainees and junior associates will likely have responsibility for technical research and the first draft of advice, while the more senior associates will have a delegation, leading and reviewing work. It is expected that the more senior you get, the more ownership you should take for the workflow and client’s relationship management.
Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day? Which aspect of tax law is dealt with most frequently by Baker McKenzie?
We work on a range of different projects, some examples being management of audits and provision of information to HMRC. We also work on a transaction basis—assisting when one company purchases another—as well as conducting full business reviews, which involve the review of extensive documentation and interviews to understand the client’s business and assess tax-related risks.
What kind of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?
We work with a range of different types of business but with a bigger focus on financial services and technology companies.
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.