Corporate tax

Corporate tax

Lizzie James

Burges Salmon LLP

University: University College London
Degree: History

Virtually all commercial transactions have tax implications. Corporate tax is thus an important practice area for any major law firm. Working in corporate tax involves advising on the most tax-efficient means of acquiring, selling or restructuring assets, negotiating and documenting the transaction, and ensuring the smooth completion of the deal. On the contentious side, corporate tax lawyers advise on all aspects of tax litigation and investigations, including negotiating with tax authorities.


Lizzie James’ expertise as a lawyer channels the same skills she honed sifting through sources and fine details during her history degree at University College London. Painstaking analysis and problem solving are just as important as advocacy and making arguments, and her aptitude in the former helped to decide her path into the solicitors’ profession. She explains: “I’ve always enjoyed working behind the scenes more than public speaking and the whole performative aspect of law.”

After converting to law, Lizzie trained at Burges Salmon, where she is now an associate. Her training contract was “a really positive experience – there was a wider variety of work than at other firms due to Burges Salmon’s six-seat programme.” And the breadth of experience provided by the firm’s six-seat system was what first introduced her to her eventual specialism, corporate tax law. “It was not something that I had any knowledge of before I became a solicitor,” she explains. “But it felt like a good match because I have an eye for detail and have always been interested in the technical side of how things work. As well as history, I enjoyed studying economics and maths at A level, and if I hadn’t become a lawyer I may well have been an accountant – it’s fair to say that I enjoy problem solving! That said, a career in corporate tax does not actually involve any number crunching – it is all about technical detail and analysis.”

Thinking on your feet

Her work covers all aspects of UK tax law – corporate, VAT, property, stamp – and a wide range of tax issues. “My time is split evenly between transactional work – corporate tax support roles for large M&A deals – and advising individual clients,” she elaborates. “On the transactional side, I support the corporate department with M&A transactions, which involves negotiating tax warranties and covenants with solicitors for the other side. This is really interesting because it involves negotiation skills, complex drafting and thinking on your feet, as no two deals are ever the same.”

Meanwhile, the advisory work “spans from answering technical queries that require interpreting legislation and reporting your conclusions, to much larger projects where I am advising clients on their tax structuring and putting together detailed technical documents.”

“It is fast-paced, and the law is always changing and being interpreted differently – often just when you become familiar with something”

Variety is the spice of life

Tax is a challenging area to work in, as Lizzie explains: “It is fast-paced, and the law is always changing and being interpreted differently – often just when you become familiar with something. There are two sides to this – on one hand you can feel that you’re never quite on top of the law, but it also ensures that the work is constantly interesting and varied. One of the most enjoyable aspects of my role is that no two days are the same. I could be working on my own on a small technical tax issue one moment and a large, multi-team project the next. On the other side, one frustration is the negative perception that people sometimes have about the tax profession, as the reality is completely different.”

Brexit

Lizzie highlights two key issues that readers interested in commercial law, or tax more specifically, should look out for: “Brexit is certainly one issue that tax lawyers are watching closely, along with much of the rest of the profession, as it could have a significant effect on European legislation generally. There is also increased scrutiny from HMRC on the profession itself to ensure that it is above board, which is driven by political pressure. Tax is an issue that gets more attention in the media than used to be the case.”

She also offers the following advice for those considering a career in this area: “A successful tax solicitor need an eye for detail and to be analytical, but also able to get to the heart of complex issues quickly. It is also important to be flexible about the specialisms you explore within your practice area. Go into it without preconceptions and don’t rule anything out or maintain a fixed idea of what you want to specialise in, as the reality of actually practising an area of law is so different studying it at university. I had never considered corporate tax as a student but it fits me perfectly! Having an open mind is so important.”

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