The interviewee (“Anonymous”) works in a fast-paced niche of professional tax services. Working in mergers and acquisitions due diligence allows him to work with tons of clients and highly knowledgeable tax professionals. “Anonymous” went to law school and has his Tax LLM. He shared valuable insights about his time in law school and gives several items to consider if you have an interest in attending law school.
Date of Interview:June 26, 2021
Answer: “Big 4” accounting firm [Big 4 accounting firms include Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PwC]
Industry you work in
Answer: Professional Services –Finance/Accounting
City you work in
[Compensation data was not provided by the interviewee. The below compensation information was retrieved from Glassdoor.com data. These averages come from compensation data that is self-reported by employees of the company.]
$89,344 is the average base salary and $3,894 is the average bonus (i.e. annual bonus) for a Senior Tax Associate working at “Big 4” accounting firm. However, working within the Mergers & Acquisitions area of a Big 4 firm often translates into higher salaries than other areas of tax.
Years at your current job
Answer: 2 years
Years working in your field, including time at previous employers
Answer: 5 years
Where did you work before your current job?
Answer: Different employer (another “Big 4” firm) in a related role.
Did you go to college or pursue any other secondary education? If yes, was it required for your job?
What was your college major?
Answer: Bachelor of Science in Economics & Business Management (double major) – Illinois State University
What college did you go to?
Answer: Master of Science in Economics – Illinois State University
Juris Doctor [JD] – Chicago Kent College of Law
Master of Law [LL.M.] in Taxation – New York University
Do you have any other professional licenses or certifications?
Answer: Illinois State BAR member
Do you work in your field of study?
Answer: Directly Related
What is the minimum required schooling or training for your job?
Answer: Only need a Bachelor degree in relevant field, but would be best to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and have a Masters in Taxation (MST). There is no direct campus hiring into M&A Tax, except for students from law schools. If you are not a lawyer, then you need to work in another related accounting group and then apply internally to a position within M&A Tax.
Do you feel that your school’s reputation had a significant impact on getting a job in your field?
Answer: Yes, NYU is the number one school for Tax LLMs. It’s probably 90% of the reason I received my offer from a Big 4 Firm. My JD school was not highly regarded [didn’t have an impact].
Advice and Observations on Education
Preparing for law school
I always wanted to go to law school, as it’s a well-regarded profession and you can make a good living. So, I started with all the economics schooling, which is more math/statistics focused, since I was interested in business. I got to law school and thought it was the end of the math. In law school, I didn’t like any of the litigation stuff. It felt like a lot of people dragging their feet. As a lawyer, you’re a professional writer. I didn’t love writing, despite developing the skill. The feeling of writing a term paper all day/everyday is not what I wanted to do. That’s why a lot of people in law school are typically English majors. This is one of the reason why the market [i.e. law field] is overcrowded.
Finding a niche
Unlike people with a writing background, I still enjoyed numbers and wasn’t afraid of numbers, like many law students. I wanted to do something transactional. I took my first tax law course after the second year in law school. It was just enough math to scare others away, but I enjoyed it. Tax is where the rubber hits the road for economic theories. It’s where the government and society work to create incentives with money/tax credits/deductions that are beneficial for society. E.g. to own a home, save for retirement, pay for school, have a job, donate to charities, etc. This clicked with me. You can’t outright legislate to make people do these things, but the government dangles these carrots in front of people and and companies with tax law. It’s sort of the Adam Smith Invisible Hand idea.
Specializing with an Tax LLM to get employers’ attention
I didn’t have a job lined up by my third year of law school. Student debt was accumulating. I had been interviewing all three years of law school. There were random internships I had, that looked good on my resume. However, each contributed to a process of elimination to find out what I didn’t want to do. The internships helped narrow my focus.
During my last year of law school I had a professor help me arrive at the decision that tax was the most enjoyable. I had interviewed with Big 4 firms but wasn’t getting call backs. Consequently, I applied to the NYU Tax LLM program to show my seriousness to employers. After two months in LLM the program I got a tax job at a Big 4 firm.
Master of Law [LLMs]
The LLM [Master of Law] in Taxation was to specialize in tax law. In my opinion, the LLM in Taxation is the only LLM that’s worthwhile. There are LLMs in a lot of different topics, but tax is the most employable. The LLM in Taxation provides much greater job opportunities. Most students that go to law school do not pursue the tax LLM, as most shy away from the transactional/financial aspect of this specialization.
The Law field is more snobby than others. Major law firms won’t even look at students that did not attend a top 14 law school. It’s often not worth the investment if you’re hoping to do litigation, but didn’t go to one of the top 14 schools. For those interested in IP [Intellectual Property], it doesn’t matter as much. Also, for the tax area, it doesn’t matter as much, but you need to get your foot in the door, which is tough. Getting my LLM helped overcome the snobbishness.
Lessons learned about IP [Intellectual Property] law
In law school I had also developed an interest in IP law. I worked at an IP law firm as an intern. Unfortunately, in order to practice IP law, you need an engineering degree.
There are two areas related to IP law – IP litigation and IP prosecution. Prosecution is applying for and writing patents to get them approved. Litigation is after a patent is in place. E.g. if someone infringed and litigation occurs as a result. For IP litigation, you don’t have to be an engineer. For prosecution, you have to be an engineer and a lawyer. A lot of IP lawyers are prior engineers or people that weren’t highly ranked in their engineering program but can still use the skills. These law students were some of the first to be employed due to the limited pool of qualified individuals. There is a Patent BAR exam which is a distinct requirement. To sit for this exam you have to have certain number of hard science credits. Some law students went back for additional courses to be eligible to pursue this path.
Job Demand & Stability
How long did it take to land your first job in your field after graduating?
Answer: The JD took three years of interviewing without successfully landing a full time job. Upon starting the Tax LLM, I had an offer within a couple months. This would have been different if I attended a higher ranked law school.
Did you have any internships?
Answer: Department of Justice Immigration Court
Securities and Exchange Commission
Private equity fund
Illinois State Licensing Board
Intellectual Property (IP) law firm
All my internships were unpaid except at the private equity firm. This is common for law internships. In a sense, I paid to do these internships, since I had to pay for a corresponding course to get credit [towards my degree].
If you lost your job tomorrow, would it be difficult to get a similar or better job?
Answer: It would not be difficult.
Advice For Success
What advice would you provide to someone on how to get a job at Google or become a software engineer?
Answer: You have to write well and communicate well. It’s all about communicating to your client. You’ll be communicating financial and legal information to someone at a private equity fund who doesn’t know much about tax and doesn’t want to get into the weeds. They’re quickly trying to make a decision on whether tax exposure exists in a company they’re trying to buy. You need to communicate complex information quickly and without too much detail. It’s important to keep in perspective an executive of a company, as the audience, so brevity and effectiveness are very important We often rewrite findings over and over. Every word matters.
Nature of Job and Schedule
Describe what you do
Answer: Basically, before someone buys a company, we go through the target company’s tax returns, contracts, etc. We also interview the management of the target company.
Then we work to prepare a high level dollar amount and brief explanation of any tax liabilities over the next 3-5 years, which includes how much potential tax liability might pop up unexpectedly. One of the primary goals is to uncover any surprise impending tax bills.
This could be compared to a home inspection, when you want to purchase a house. You want to know exactly what issues are out there. The tax findings very rarely prevent the acquisition from happening. Nine out of ten times, the findings will lead to a purchase price adjustment. For instance, if you have $2 million related to a known tax issue, then the purchase price could be reduced by $2 million.
Describe your daily and weekly schedule
Answer: It’s sporadic, but usually at least 7-8 hours a day (Monday-Friday), but there can be 12-13 some days.
What parts of your job are repetitive?
Answer: The process that’s taken to perform due diligence on the target company can be repetitive. The target company posts all their documents in a virtual data room. We then check those files against an information request list to ensure we have what we need to perform an effective review.
Some of the key activities include summarizing their tax returns, communicating with the target’s management team regarding documents we have/don’t have; requesting follow up information; reading through everything, and putting together an agenda for a call with the target’s management to go through any questions about the documents provided. We then synthesize their responses with the information we reviewed into a summary for our client.
What parts of your job require learning or performing new duties/responsibilities?
Answer: Constantly learning about companies in new industries.
Describe the setting you work in most
Answer: At home, due to COVID-19.
Describe the nature and frequency of working with other people while doing your job
Answer: Managing other people and timelines to make sure deliverables are completed on a timely basis. Sometimes this involves managing people below me and sometimes people on other teams, or even other countries, that are helping us out. We try to keep constant communication with those helping us out to avoid any surprises. We also regularly communicate with the target and their bankers.
Does your job require travel?
Answer: Not any my level, with the exception of periodic trainings I attend (outside of pandemic).
What is the most enjoyable or rewarding part of your job?
Answer: Learning about and being involved in large value deals. I get to dig into different companies and industries. Each deal is a new experience where you learn something new. I do not get bored. New laws also come out all the time and I have to learn about them.
What is the most challenging or stressful part of your job?
Answer: The project timelines, due to how quickly clients want the deals to progress. We have to balance thoroughness with efficiency and stay within our budget.
Also, working at the mercy of the client. If the client decides they want things done faster or want something in the middle of the night, then it needs to be done.
Does your job provide work/life balance?
Answer: The work/life balance is not good . The firm tries to help with many different events/initiatives. E.g. we get a week off after July 4th, but ultimately everything is tentative based on client demands. The client has the final say so if they are working or need something done, then we must meet such demand. Often our clients are paying for exclusivity periods [a period time where the target company cannot deal with any other buyer], so timing is critical.
How much time off do you take from work?
Answer: Around two weeks per year.
Any interesting/enjoyable perks of your job?
Answer: We get some company swag (e.g. hoodies); a pension [a cash balance plan funded with retirement contributions made by the firm]. However, you can’t really hold any investments [due to independence issues with clients] which is why the pension fund serves to make up for it. Also, I am not really micromanaged. I’m responsible for managing my workload and trying to stay on top of everything that needs to be done.
Why did you pick your job?
Answer: Stability; good compensation; growth potential
What would you do if you had to change careers?
Answer: I would choose to work on the client side [rather than serving the client]. This could be entail working at a large multi national corporation or a private equity fund. There is a lot of more upside [compensation] potential with receiving RSUs [restricted stock units that could be part of a compensation package elsewhere]. In private equity, if your deal makes a lot of money you can get a huge incentive. Alternatively, I would do computer programming or a be a stock broker.