The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Catherine (“Cate”) Battin and Andrew (“Andy”) Roberson, Partners—Tax
Catherine (“Cate”) Battin represents clients in state and local tax controversies at the audit, administrative, and judicial levels in numerous jurisdictions. She provides national state tax strategies for clients on a full range of state tax issues, including income tax apportionment, nexus, combination, and sales tax characterization of products and services. She has defended numerous internet sellers in cases brought under the Illinois False Claims Act alleging fraudulent failures to collect and remit use tax.
Andrew (“Andy”) Roberson focuses his practice on tax controversy and litigation matters. He represents clients before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Examination Division and Appeals Office and has been involved in more than 60 matters at all levels of the federal court system, including the U.S. Tax Court, several U.S. Courts of Appeal, and the Supreme Court. Andy has experience settling tax disputes through alternative dispute resolution procedures, including Fast Track Settlement and Post-Appeals Mediation, and in representing clients in Compliance Assurance Process (CAP) audits. He also represents, on a pro bono basis, low-income taxpayers in their disputes with the IRS.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
McDermott’s U.S. and International Tax practice group consists of tax advisors who assist clients at both the federal and state levels with complex tax planning and defending against tax audits. We value long-term relationships and view our role as being a trusted advisor to our clients.
In the tax controversy area, we represent a broad range of clients—from individuals to multinational corporations—from the early audit stages through litigation, including all the way to the Supreme Court. We interact with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and state tax agencies to try and resolve disputes, but if resolution is not possible, we represent our clients in court.
What types of clients do you represent?
Our tax practice group advises some of the world’s most successful companies, including more than 60 percent of the Fortune 100.
In tax controversy, we represent both individuals and companies in complex, high-stakes disputes and litigation. We are adept at handling any type of issue, from section 183 hobby loss cases to international transfer pricing disputes.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Our tax attorneys offer the most practical and strategic advice on virtually every aspect of tax law, counseling clients on everything from high-profile tax controversies to complex planning and transfer pricing.
The types of tax controversy cases we work on vary tremendously, from state qui tam lawsuits to large international tax disputes with the IRS and in the Tax Court. Each case comes with its own unique set of issues, both substantive and procedural, and we must be aware of the constantly changing legal landscape and the intersection of tax law with other areas of the law.
How did you choose this practice area?
Tax considerations are a part of every major transaction and must be considered along with the business reasons for each transaction. We chose tax law, and particularly tax controversy, because of the opportunity not only to be subject-matter experts, but also to act as advocates for our clients and to represent their interests administratively and in court.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
There is no “typical day” in tax, as our roles are dictated by the necessary roles we must fulfill for our clients. However, a typical scenario may involve interacting with clients on tax planning ideas and offering solutions or ideas to meet business needs, advocating for our clients with state or federal agencies, and performing research and writing tax opinions or legal filings.
Additionally, our tax group spends a significant amount of time providing pro bono services to low-income individuals and nonprofit entities. We regularly represent low-income taxpayers in Tax Court and have been successful in establishing taxpayer-favorable precedent in the innocent spouse and penalty areas. We believe that we have a personal and professional responsibility to give back through pro bono legal services, volunteerism, and charitable giving.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Those interested in practicing in the tax area should take full advantage of the tax classes offered by their law schools to gain a broad base of tax knowledge. Constitutional law courses are also very helpful for those interested in state tax, where we often make constitutional arguments in the course of litigation. Many of our attorneys also pursue LL.M. degrees in tax, either while working at a firm or before entering practice. Clerkships can also be beneficial, particularly for those interested in tax controversy.
We have also benefitted greatly from participating in networking groups, whether through a local bar association or our firm. It is very helpful to network with other practitioners to learn about new developments and common issues clients are facing and to develop solid working relationships with government attorneys.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
One of the most challenging aspects of practicing in the tax area is that the law is always evolving. Our practice is often affected by major legislative and regulatory changes, as well as case law developments. For example, most of our colleagues have been deeply immersed in the Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA) enacted at the end of 2017. It can be very challenging to wade through these extensive new rules to help clients understand their implications.
What do you like best about your practice area?
Traditional tax lawyers typically enjoy the intellectual challenge of learning a very complex area of the law and providing advice that can help clients structure transactions or investments in a tax-efficient way or avoid costly mistakes. As lawyers in the controversy area, we love crafting legal arguments in briefs and advocating for our clients in court.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
McDermott Will & Emery’s tax practice is unique in both size and scope. McDermott initially began as a tax firm in 1934, and tax remains one of our premiere practice areas. Many other large firms have tax practices that merely support their corporate or transactional groups. At McDermott, tax is at the forefront of our firm, and we pride ourselves in being one of the top tax practices in the U.S. and abroad.
What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?
A typical career path for tax lawyers varies. Some start out in public service, either working for the IRS, DOJ Tax Division, or state governments or clerking at the Tax Court. Working for the IRS or state governments can be a satisfying lifelong career without some of the pressures of law firm life. It can also be a stepping stone to a career at a law or accounting firm. For those that start out in a tax practice at a large firm like McDermott, some move on to smaller firms, accounting firms, or in-house positions after gaining a few years of experience.