Thursday, 04 September 2014

"It's always a good time to be a tax lawyer"

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"It's always a good time to be a tax lawyer"

CMS Tax partner Aaron Fairhurst speaks with us about the early stages of his career, offers a glimpse into the life of a tax lawyer, and ends by sharing some advice for prospective trainees.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I went to the University of Manchester, where I did a degree in Accounting and Law – really exciting stuff. It became apparent early on that law was the more interesting part, though some might say the bar was set low in that regard! But I enjoyed it. I genuinely enjoyed it. I completed vacation schemes with Dentons and Eversheds in Manchester before commencing a training contract with CMS in 2002, and I’ve been here ever since.

Why CMS?

I wanted to come to London, and it was an international law firm. You can make a lot of checklists and tick the things that matter to you, but in the end it comes down to the human angle. From the job interviews, experiencing the culture, and meeting the people here, I chose based on the atmosphere. And I chose well.

Why tax law?

It sounds quite geeky – I like it. It's intellectually stimulating and there aren't as many processes to go through compared with other practice areas. Also, in tax law you begin running your own transactions from a more junior level

What’s it like working in tax law?

There's inevitably a crossover between the work accountants do and the work lawyers do and, in certain areas, accountants are taking over. Now, more than ever, lawyers need to advise their clients, not simply regurgitate the law.

How would you describe international tax work?

It's good, really good. It can be challenging. You have to check more work, check more translations, make sure the instructions you're given are what the client wants and needs, and you have to adapt to local law and cultures. When you have your UK clients, you're used to advising them directly.

What’s an average working day like?

You normally have a list of things you want to do. I spend most of my time with the corporate guys, supporting them. I spend a lot of time having to react to people. Even when you're not in the office, you have to be 'on', you have to have a response.

Doesn’t that open you up to the risk of burning out?

So far, no! It hasn't. But people have often told me there's a risk of that. I'm hoping not.

Isn’t tax work slightly antisocial?

Because of my relationship with [the] corporate [department], I get to sit down with clients. I get that contact.

What kind of person do you think would suit tax work?

You need to be fairly analytical, fairly composed. And you need to be able to sit down with a problem and have a pretty cool head to come up with a solution. You will have to do a lot of lateral thinking.

How has working in tax law changed over the years?

We need to be more mindful now. People are much more nervous. They're careful with what they do with their taxes and with what they're seen to be doing. For instance aggressive tax planning is [now] unacceptable. The more debate we have publicly about these issues, the more people become educated.

Is now a good time to be a tax lawyer?

It's always a good time to be a tax lawyer.

Finally, any advice for would-be lawyers?

There are two things: firstly, go somewhere where you're happy with the people you work with. That's a difficult thing to see at first. You don't get to really know them until you're in law school, until you're there [with the firm]. But be in a culture where you're happy. Secondly, there are a lot of stages: law school, interviews, training. Keep a cool head. Don't panic. It'll all click.


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