How do you describe your practice to non-attorneys?
I would describe my practice as a business and estate practice with an emphasis on taxation. How you deal with tax liability is a paramount consideration when structuring business and estate plans. I always say that the Internal Revenue Service is your silent partner in all endeavors, even though they are not at the deal-making table. They own a piece of your business and a portion of your assets so my job is to maximize my client’s share.
How did you decide on your practice area?
The power to tax is the power to regulate, and politicians use tax rules to incentivize people and corporations to follow an agenda. Therefore, I knew this field would always be changing and I would always be challenged. I think change is important - it requires you to stay on top of your game. I often say my education has been repealed 15 times over.
What is one of your favorite parts of your job?
I view corporate and taxation law as a long-term, relationship-based practice that encompasses the business, the family, and the individual. As my individual client’s assets grow, we set up trusts, pensions, and/or 401(k) plans. When they are ready to retire, I help them navigate the distribution of their accumulated retirement account by providing legal guidance to protect and preserve their assets. This may involve estate, gift, and generation-skipping planning for tax deferral and asset growth for the benefit of their family members or charities.
As the Corporate & Tax Practice Group Leader, what do you consider the most interesting aspects of your practice area?
As a commercial and private client firm, we serve clients at many stages of their lives and in both business and personal matters. I become involved in many unexpected and interesting issues because colleagues often ask me to assist with their client matters from a tax perspective. The issues could range from real estate, estate planning, or corporate mergers and acquisitions. In fact, Jones Foster encourages cross-practice collaboration. As a mid-size firm, our attorneys have the ability to learn about their colleagues’ areas of specialty in depth and, as a practice group leader, I have a unique insight into how closely and effectively our attorneys collaborate across various practice groups to benefit our clients.
What are some important issues for your clients?
Often, business owners don’t realize the amount of assets that can be preserved through a variety of legal actions. For example, when selling their business, allocating the purchase price among various assets allows taxes to be minimized potentially without adversely affecting the acquiring entity. In addition, we have helped shareholders with disputes separate their businesses with no adverse tax consequences through the use of a tax-free reorganization.
In addition, the amount of property that can be passed on to heirs with no tax implications has increased significantly over the past few years. If people have not updated their documents recently it is likely that they are not the most tax efficient. We can structure documents so the children or grandchildren will pay little or no estate tax when they inherit the estate.
You have been an Attorney at Jones Foster for 15 years, and prior to that, the Firm was your client for nearly 20 years. What unique aspects of the Jones Foster culture attract and keep so many preeminent attorneys?
My background with Jones Foster is unique, as they were a client of mine for 20 years prior to my joining the Firm in 2003. Over the years, I worked with nearly every attorney on a variety of corporate and tax matters.
I can say from both my external and internal perspectives that professional rapport and personal respect is deeply rooted in the Firm’s culture. The simple fact is attorneys stay because we like each other. There is an open sharing of information, open discussions, and collaboration. Everyone is in the loop and understands what is going on so miscommunications are minimal.
In addition, the attorneys here are afforded the freedom and latitude to pursue their professional and leadership goals and they receive encouragement, mentoring, and financial support. We have a high percentage of preeminent attorneys here as a result, but it is also an ideal environment for young attorneys because we are wired to help them succeed in their practice.
What do you consider your key differentiators?
I think that my early family life helped me develop communication skills and empathy for others. I built upon this throughout my schooling, and I incorporate it into my everyday practice.
One of my mentors helped solidify the importance of communication by telling me something that I will never forget. He had me write a memo to a client and gave it back to me with red marks all over it. He said, “This is a memo for the client. The client doesn’t want you to tell them how to build a watch. They want you to tell them the time. If you can communicate complex tax issues so they understand, they will know you are smart. You don’t have to cite the law and regulations to tell them you are smart.”
I think excellence in this field requires a combination of professional knowledge and humanity. Whether a family business, an estate, or a corporation, you have to understand the layers in the situation and the priorities of the parties involved. It’s interesting that lawyers are also referred to as “counselors” because it is true that we need to draw out personal information which can have a significant impact on what legal recommendations you make. It is each attorney’s responsibility to create the opportunity for trust to develop.
The relationships that I have built over the years let me know that I am on the right track. I always ask clients, “How are WE going to handle this?” My client and I are a team. Empathy, understanding, and communication make the difference between a lawyer and a trusted legal advisor.
You have cultivated a long history of excellence and leadership throughout your career. What advice would give aspiring lawyers looking to establish themselves in the legal industry and in the community?
- No matter how small or large the task, always do the best work that you can.
- Do what others don’t want to do. During my education in law school and graduate tax program, I kept my eyes open to practice areas that many others did not want to pursue. It allowed me to find a necessary niche and excel in it.
- Community involvement should be about passion, not just about social networking. In my life, music is a passion and I have been fortunate to share it with my community for the past 30 years as a church Choir Director. You best serve others when you enjoy what you are doing and in turn, it provides you with a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.
- Follow the Golden Rule. My father was a minister of education who studied the world’s great religions. I was sitting in his classroom one day and noticed that written around the ceiling border was each major religion’s version of the Golden Rule. It struck me that the maxim was universal and could serve everyone on his or her personal journey.