The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Laura Gavioli, Partner, and Steven Hadjilogiou, Partner — U.S. & International Tax
Laura Gavioli defends individuals and corporations in white collar prosecutions, civil tax cases, U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) controversies, and complex financial litigation.
Steven Hadjilogiou focuses his practice on tax optimization of business operations and investments, with a specific emphasis in the areas of international tax and real estate. Steven provides advice on international inbound and outbound tax planning for multinational companies, family offices, private equity, and ultra-high-net-worth individuals.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
Laura: I represent all types of people and entities in disputes with the IRS. This can be civil audits, voluntary disclosures, and criminal investigations. I also do internal investigations, handle whistleblower claims, and advise institutions regarding their tax compliance policies.
Steven: I represent taxpayers with cross-border and domestic tax planning. This is generally in the context of an M&A transaction, a global tax optimization restructuring, an individual relocating to the United States, or in the acquisition of real property.
What types of clients do you represent?
Laura: I represent pretty much anyone with an IRS dispute, but I tend to focus on high-net-worth individuals and closely held businesses, all of whom tend to have assets and holdings in the U.S. and overseas.
Steven: I represent public and privately held companies, family offices, private equity, and individuals.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Laura: Major audits, investigations, and litigation with the IRS and Department of Justice Tax Division.
Steven: Generally cross-border transactional work. I also assist clients with opportunity zone tax benefits.
How did you choose this practice area?
Laura: I came out of law school and a federal clerkship with a strong interest in federal litigation and criminal defense. I started as a junior associate at a criminal tax defense firm, and my career developed from there.
Steven: I have always had an interest in cross-border transactions. Essentially, the job involves solving complex problems. I enjoy crafting creative solutions to complex problems.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Laura: Taking depositions and interviews of key witnesses; reviewing and drafting briefs and other pleadings; drafting written responses to the IRS and DOJ in audits, investigations, and litigation; and participating in calls with clients and key stakeholders regarding important strategic decisions.
Steven: Phone, email, and in-person meetings with clients and colleagues.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Laura: Both a strong background in technical tax and actual experience in litigation are crucial. Hands-on experience can be hard to come by at early stages, but it is important to fight for it and get creative about how to get it (pro bono, etc.).
Steven: I think a Tax LL.M. is very beneficial as a starting point. Once in practice, it is important to constantly read and learn about the law and changes to the law.
What do you like best about your practice area?
Steven: I enjoy working with clients of all different types and industries. Thus, I have insight into public companies, private equity, family offices, and individuals. I also have worked with companies operating in almost every type of industry I could imagine.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
Laura: I think the same type of misconceptions that exist for criminal defense lawyers apply to tax controversy lawyers—i.e., that the lawyers help their clients “put one over on” the government. The truth is that the government makes mistakes, often quite serious ones, and we provide an important service in arriving at the right—and fair—result.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Laura: I think the depth of the “bench” of McDermott’s tax group is remarkable. We have a strong team, and it’s easy to find someone who is a true expert on very arcane and sophisticated questions when needed.
Steven: McDermott Will & Emery has a deep bench and has strong practice groups in complementary areas. Thus, we are able to assist clients not only with tax, where we have practitioners who focus on very specialized tax areas, but we also are strong in other areas, such as trusts and estates, real estate, immigration, fund formation, employment, health care, and M&A.
As a junior attorney, how did you learn the ins-and-outs of the tax code so that you could hit the ground running on your clients’ complex issues?
Laura: Despite the many demands on a young lawyer’s time, I think it’s key to take the time—even when it is not billable to a client or business development—to learn and understand the legal and regulatory framework that applies to your clients and their businesses. Also, speaking opportunities are a great way to learn a topic in depth as a junior lawyer: Being prepared to answer any question on a subject and having to think on your feet—instead of preparing someone else to do this—is invaluable experience.