University: Royal Holloway, University of London
Degree: Music with French
Tax work for private clients typically involves advising ultra-high net worth individuals, families and financial institutions on managing their assets in a tax-efficient way. There is often an international element, while work may also involve complex trusts, wills, succession planning and immigration matters.
From training as an opera singer to working in the tax and private client team at independent UK law firm Burges Salmon, it’s fair to say that Myra Leung’s journey into law has been anything but traditional. Enrolling onto the GDL with no pre-existing experience or knowledge of law, it was her several years’ work in arts administration that established her interest in private client law. “I was involved with a number of charitable trusts and worked with several high net worth individuals – that was how my career in law came about,” she explains.
Odd though it might sound, the worlds of music and tax law aren’t too far apart in Myra’s experience. “Attention to detail is definitely something I have carried across from my previous career,” she says. “To be a musician you must be really precise and thoroughly prepared. You’ve got to practise and have dedication and perseverance. Working in the arts, you have to do a lot of networking and get to know new people at events. Plus, you must ensure that you manage your time efficiently.
All of these things were surprisingly helpful when transferring to a legal career.” Burges Salmon’s six-seat training contract structure enabled Myra to experience a variety of different departments, something that she found particularly advantageous as a non-law graduate. “I knew that I wanted to do private client work,” she says. “But I also knew that I wanted to get experience in other departments, such as real estate and dispute resolution, and so that training contract structure was very helpful for me to expand my legal knowledge.”
What does the work of a tax lawyer actually involve? Working in the tax and private client team at Burges Salmon, Myra advises on complex and cross-border issues relating to tax, trusts, wills, succession planning and immigration. “Most of my clients are international. In terms of tax planning, I work for ultra-high net worth individuals, families and financial institutions, often with multijurisdictional elements,” she explains.
A changing environment
You don’t necessarily have to be good at maths to work in tax law, but you do have to be prepared to deal with numbers. “Of course, there are accountants who do the complicated calculations, but there are definitely times when you have to do the sums yourself,” Myra says. She explains how the work can be very technical and the fact that the law surrounding tax is constantly changing only adds to the complexity of this dynamic area.
Tax law is very susceptible to the changes of a fluctuating political environment, both domestically and internationally
“Tax law is very susceptible to the changes of a fluctuating political environment, both domestically and internationally,” Myra comments. This means that those working within this area must keep up to speed and pre-empt any changes to the law – including when the party in government is going to be replaced, or when there are developments across the globe. “Every time the government introduces a new Finance Act, it means a few hours of reading for us! That means that a lot of my job is not just planning for what’s happening now – it’s considering what might happen in five or 10 years’ time,” she adds.
There’s also the public perception of tax issues to grapple with. Students wanting to become a tax lawyer will undoubtedly need to have a solid interest and understanding of the changing environment.
Work experience is key
Having completed mini-pupillages at top criminal barristers’ chambers, Myra is adamant that it was this experience that demonstrated she would be more suited to work as a solicitor. “You don’t really know until you try and I found that I enjoyed my work experience placements at law firms much more. This meant that when I was asked at interview why I wanted to become a solicitor, I could use concrete examples to illustrate how I had come to my decision.”
Myra also advocates getting work experience across a variety of areas for those interested in pursuing tax law. She describes the experience of working at an investment firm: “Tax was a big part of the driver for the investment, but I was actually in the sales team learning how to sell the product. It was really interesting to see it from the other side, rather than from the point of view of the tax adviser.”
Considering who you might work alongside in the future could also be a useful way of finding places to gain insight and experience. “I deal with a lot of accountants, bankers and trustees so it would definitely be worth securing work experience placements in those areas and learning about the different skills required from the other side of the transaction,” she suggests.
With her favourite part of the job being meeting new people and learning about her clients, networking is a crucial skill Myra advises all junior lawyers to develop. She recommends that trainees and newly qualified solicitors build up their personal networks and attend events to meet people from different areas.
“I continue to expand my network of financial advisers, trustees and accountants so that when my clients need advice, I know who would be best for them to go to. Some people leave that too late – the sooner you build up your network, the better.”