The only things certain in life are death, taxes, and opinions on how the tax code could be changed for the better. All Rise surveyed 10 alumni whose practices focus on taxation for insights into the current debates and future for this specialized area of law.
Shilpa Gupta ’08
Assistant Vice President, Wealth Strategies Analyst, U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management
How I got this job: After law school I obtained a tax LL.M. to better position myself for a career in estate planning or administration. I applied for trust position at U.S. Trust, and a recruiter called me about a wealth strategies position instead. I chose to go into wealth strategies and focus my career on planning.
If I were in Congress and could reform one area of the tax code: I would repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). Inspired by 154 affluent taxpayers who paid no federal tax in 1966, the AMT was designed to overlay the traditional personal income tax system and ensure that very wealthy individuals were not escaping the bulk of their tax liability by use of various deductions and credits. Today, the AMT applies to more than 4 million taxpayers, including middle-class families earning their income rather than collecting investment income.
Where I see tax practice headed in the next 10 years: The rapid growth of wealth for top earners in the U.S. shows no signs of subsiding. As a result, tax practice focused on high net worth individuals and families will continue to grow. The biggest challenge will be further Congressional action to limit the effectiveness of tax avoidance strategies.
Jeffrey Endress ’04
International Tax Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP
How I got this job: I was recruited to work at PwC by another fellow Ohio State undergraduate and Moritz College of Law alumnus, Michael Urse ’84. Mike is the co-leader of PwC’s international tax practice in the U.S.
If I were in Congress and could reform one area of the tax code: Editor’s note: PwC does not permit its professionals to comment on policy matters.
Where I see tax practice headed in the next 10 years: As we look into the future, there will be a shift in the global economic balance from the developed to developing countries, impacting where U.S.-based multinational companies will pursue future growth and investment. Investments in these countries will bring numerous complex issues and a significant need for trusted tax advisors.
Patricia A. Shlonsky ’84
Partner/Chair Tax Practice Group and Employee Benefits Group, Ulmer & Berne LLP
How I got this job: I was working in the tax department of an accounting firm when a friend told me that Ulmer & Berne was looking to hire an ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) associate. I had no idea what ERISA was, but I interviewed and got the job.
If I were in Congress and could reform one area of the tax code: I would reform the Section 416 “Top Heavy” rules applicable to qualified retirement plans. Qualified plans are subject to a wide range of Internal Revenue Code rules and restrictions, which ensure that nonhighly compensated employees (NHCEs) receive nondiscriminatory benefits. The top-heavy rules are no longer necessary to protect NHCEs and add an unnecessary layer of complexity to the already complex administration of retirement plans. The rules also stifle small businesses from establishing and maintaining qualified plans.
Where I see tax practice headed in the next 10 years: The tax practice will continue to grow in the employee benefits field due to the tax-favored treatment of employee benefits, which consume a lot of potential tax revenue. There will be much activity related to the Affordable Care Act, which has many evolving tax provisions affecting virtually every taxpayer.
Wayne F. Miller ‘07
Tax Associate, Ernst & Young LLP
How I got this job: I practiced finance and restructuring at a bank, and in 2012, got an LL.M. in tax from New York University. I landed at EY after that.
If I were in Congress and could reform one area of the tax code: Moving the U.S. from a worldwide taxation system to a territorial taxation system. There would be winners and losers – as there usually is! – but it does put the U.S. in greater harmony with other developed nations. It will still be important to have effective transfer pricing rules, so that area will not be going anywhere.
Where I see tax practice headed in the next 10 years: I personally just started as a tax practitioner from another field, but there are some parallels. One ongoing trend is having trained attorneys, such as myself, practice tax in accounting firms versus tax departments at law firms. How governments and tax authorities choose to address their budget deficits also will drive certain types of deal structures.
Tom Sykes ‘79
Partner, Gould & Ratner LLP
How I got this job: In 1984, after serving as a federal prosecutor in Madison, Wis., I started litigating civil tax cases for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Tax Division in Washington, D.C. and went on from there to become a partner or shareholder at law firms in D.C. and Chicago.
If I were in Congress and could reform one area of the tax code: There are many areas that should be cleaned up or overhauled. At the moment, I’d probably suggest enactment of a provision that gives treasury regulations less
deference under the judge-made Chevron doctrine than those regulations receive today under Supreme Court precedent. My worries about excessive deference include the worries that Chief Justice Roberts, joined by justices
Kennedy and Alito, outlined recently in a dissent in the City of Arlington case.
Where I see tax practice headed in the next 10 years: I don’t expect there to be any sweeping simplification of the Internal Revenue Code, even though there’s much discussion of that. The complexity of the code is organic and pervasive, stemming from the way that Washington works and the demands of both the broad public and special interest groups. That complexity will continue to drive market demand for tax professionals, including lawyers and accountants.
Richelle Thoburn ‘10
Attorney Examiner, State of Ohio Board of Tax Appeals
How I got this job: I saw an opening at the Board of Tax Appeals on the state’s job search website, applied, and have been working my way up.
If I were in Congress and could reform one area of the tax code: While I work solely in state tax law, a theme I hear often that translates to the federal level is: Simplify! When taxpayers must navigate through this complicated set of laws, frustration and distrust of the government increases. Additionally, unnecessary hours spent preparing tax returns and extra personnel needed to catch mistakes that will be inevitably made under the current system are resources that can perhaps be better directed elsewhere.
Where I see tax practice headed in the next 10 years: In my experience, the economy greatly impacts the workload in my practice area. Consequently, I think as attorneys, we will always be faced with the challenge of trying to do more with less.
Kevin Tabor ‘11
Associate, Thompson Hine LLP
How I got this job: After law school, as both a CPA and an attorney, I decided to join the international tax group of a “Big 4” accounting firm, where I had an opportunity to consult large, multinational corporations on various international tax matters. My “Big 4” experience and accounting background have proven to be invaluable in my current role at Thompson Hine
If I were in Congress and could reform one area of the tax code: Congress recently enacted the Foreign Account Tax
Compliance Act (FATCA). The policy behind FATCA is to identify U.S. taxpayers who are hiding assets from the U.S. government in accounts held at foreign financial institutions. The statute and associated treasury regulations are written broadly and thus apply FATCA to many organizations that are unlikely to be assisting U.S. taxpayers in hiding assets overseas. As with any new legislation, the “kinks” will hopefully be resolved over time.
Where I see tax practice headed in the next 10 years: Companies are going to continue expanding internationally. However, the tax consequences of international transactions can be quite complex involving U.S. tax laws, local country tax laws, transfer pricing, and tax treaties. As such, tax practitioners are going to need to be prepared to assist businesses of all sizes with their international business activities.
Chris Swift ’80
Partner and Tax, Personal Planning & Employee Benefits Practice Coordinator, Baker Hostetler LLP
How I got this job: I was a summer associate at Baker Hostetler after my second year and immediately accepted their offer at the end of the summer. It has been a great 33 years!
If I were in Congress and could reform one area of the tax code: At the risk of damaging my tax practice, I would simplify the tax code for individuals by broadening the tax base, lowering rates and eliminating many exemptions and deductions. On the corporate side, I would make our tax system competitive with the rest of the industrialized world by lowering the tax rate and eliminating the current rules that create incentives for U.S. companies to move their headquarters abroad.
Where I see tax practice headed in the next 10 years: International taxation will be the hot area. It is a global economy, and the ability to structure companies and transactions to minimize the effective tax rate will be a valuable expertise. The tax practices of law firms and accounting firms will continue to compete for work, causing law firms to focus on tax controversy.
Laura A. Kulwicki ’87
Of Counsel, Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP
How I got this job: I started with Jones Day, and a fabulous mentor, Maryann Gall ’70, got me involved in sales tax litigation for companies that sold nationwide with catalogs or the Internet. I spoke and wrote on a national basis about multi-state tax matters. I joined Vorys in 2011 because of the highly regarded state tax practice here.
If I were in Congress and could reform one area of the tax code: Congress should create an avenue to resolve constitutional challenges to state taxation in federal court. State tax law differs significantly from federal tax practice because the tax codes of each state – and countless cities, counties, etc. – are not uniform. A multistate company may be subject to many kinds of taxes. While the Constitution places certain limits on state authority to tax, the same taxpayer litigating the same question in two different states often gets conflicting results. As the law stands, taxpayers are generally barred from challenging a state tax in federal court, even if the sole basis for the challenge is that it violates the Constitution.
Where I see tax practice headed in the next 10 years: State tax laws are not able to keep up with the current global marketplace, tremendous advances in technology, and shift from a tangible-goods-based economy to a digital-and-services-based economy. Figuring out how to create and apply state tax structures that take the “new economy” into account, are fair and consistent, and meet the fiscal needs of the states is perhaps the biggest challenge ahead.
Matthew Sutherland ’06
Senior Tax Incentives Specialist, Ohio Development Services Agency
How I got this job: I joined the agency through a human resources contact with whom I had worked with regularly at another state agency. I obtained my current position because another Moritz graduate was looking for a lawyer with an accounting background, and I obtained my master’s in accountancy prior to law school.
If I were in Congress and could reform one area of the tax code: I would eliminate most of the personal and some corporate deductions in favor of lower marginal rates while maintaining the general progressivity of the taxing system. I see the cost of compliance as a material drain on economic growth and an area in which Congress can provide a meaningful solution.
Where I see tax practice headed in the next 10 years: I fear we will continue to discuss a national sales tax (VAT) as the country continues to accumulate debt, which will provide plenty of opportunities for tax attorneys. If a tax reform bill emerges that results in a more simple tax environment, sections of the profession will also face pressure to remain relevant.Tags: Chris Swift, Jeffrey Endress, Kevin Tabor, Laura Kulwicki, Matthew Sutherland, Patricia Shlonsky, Richelle Thoburn, Shilpa Gupta, Tom Sykes, Wayne Miller