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While the amount that tax corporates are paying in the UK may be dominating the headlines at the moment, what is the outlook like for lawyers working in the tax sector?
“Although in mainstream corporate tax and tax litigation most teams are authorised to hire associates, if it’s to replace an employee it’s in private client tax teams that we’ve seen real growth,” comments Catherine Nash, associate director at Brewer Morris.
“With high-net-worth individuals being many law firms’ favourite clients at the moment, practices are looking for ways they can service their tax requirements in-firm, leading to teams expanding,” says Nash.
Although tax, like many other areas, has taken a knock in the downturn, there is still a considerable amount of work, according to Kelly Stiff of Garfield Robbins.
“There are not many big finance or corporate transactions taking place and this has had a knock-on effect on tax departments,” says Stiff. “However, there’s quite a lot of funds work as well as restructuring deals, so there’s tax work in these areas.”
Most firms are looking for lawyers with a few years’ PQE, adds Stiff.
“Firms usually want lawyers at mid-level PQE as they have enough expertise to work independently and help partners but are not yet looking to be on track for partnership - although there’s some flexibility and as long as lawyers have the right kind of experience firms will look at more junior and more senior lawyers,” says Stiff.
While junior roles are less in demand there are some openings.
“Newly qualified positions are extremely scarce in the tax sector as it’s not an area in which trainees are taken on in volume - and when opportunities do arise firms understandably tend to prioritise their own trainees,” notes Nash. “That said, many firms are
in competition for the best candidates at the two to four years’ PQE level so partners are having to move quickly to avoid candidates pulling out of the process for swifter offers.”
In-house roles in the taxation sector may be scarce, but it’s worth looking into, particularly if you want to go down the financial services route, adds Nash.
“The main demand for hiring tax lawyers into in-house teams has been historically in financial services, specifically in banking,” she says. “We’ve also seen a handful of hires into the investment management sphere as well as one or two straight into front-office tax structured finance teams, for exceptional candidates.”
As Stiff notes, however, tax expertise can set up lawyers to work in a number of areas.
“While tax lawyers can be specialists they are usually involved in a broad variety of corporate and commercial matters - experience that suits a broader commercial in-house position,” Stiff comments. “Tax lawyers can sometimes move into roles where tax forms part of what they do.
“They can also move into private client roles where, in addition to tax work, they will gain exposure to trusts, estate management and investments.”