The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Michael J. Bruno, Partner—U.S. & International Tax; Katie Quinn, Partner—State and Local Tax
Michael Bruno focuses his practice on domestic and international tax planning for multinational companies, funds, and entrepreneurial families. He regularly advises corporate clients and funds on mergers, acquisitions, restructurings, and divestitures in a variety of business contexts. He has assisted companies with a number of international tax issues, including intellectual property migrations; BEAT, Subpart F, GILTI, and FDII planning; foreign tax credit planning; treaty planning; tax-efficient cash repatriation strategies; and post-acquisition integration and implementation. Michael also has advised on complex cross-border tax matters and regularly advises entrepreneurial families on strategies for minimizing U.S. income taxation. Michael founded the Transactional Equal Justice Program with Legal Services of Greater Miami, which offers free legal advice to nonprofits and low-to-moderate income small business owners.
Kathleen (“Katie”) Quinn is a partner at McDermott Will & Emery. Katie focuses her practice on state and local tax matters, particularly in state controversies. She represents business and individual taxpayers at all stages of state and local tax controversies throughout the country, including the audit, administrative, and judicial levels. Katie also works with business organizations and her clients to help address larger policy issues in state legislatures. Previously, Katie worked at a Big Four accounting firm, where her practice focused on state and local tax. Katie received her LL.M. from New York University School of Law and her J.D. from St. John’s School of Law. She earned her B.A. in Business Administration from Hofstra University
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
Michael: I represent taxpayers on cross-border and domestic tax planning. This can entail structuring business deals, improving supply chains, and helping businesses expand efficiently from a tax perspective.
Katie: My practice area is primarily focused on state and local controversy work. Typically, a client brings me and my colleagues in to settle a contentious audit or when an audit cannot be resolved through settlement and has proceeded to litigation. I handle controversies in many states across the country for all different tax types. I also monitor new state tax legislation and work with clients and business coalitions to help prevent—or at least manage—unfavorable tax laws. This will be a big part of my practice in 2021 as states are looking to businesses and high-net-worth individuals to raise revenue, hoping to address budget deficits created by the pandemic. I also routinely advise on New York State residency issues, another area that I expect to be a hot topic in 2021.
What types of clients do you represent?
Michael: I represent multinationals, funds, and entrepreneurial families. Over the past few years, I’ve worked more closely with companies involved in technology, digital offerings, and consumer goods.
Katie: I represent multijurisdictional businesses across many industries, including financial services, consumer products, media and entertainment, and health care. Many of my clients are Fortune 500 companies, but others are family owned (such as art galleries). I also represent individual taxpayers regarding personal income tax and sales tax issues.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Michael: Most of my matters involve aspects of international and corporate tax planning.
Katie: I represent taxpayers in tax controversies across the country. My adversary is always the state government, whether it be the tax department, the tax appeals tribunal, or the attorney general. Often my cases start in state tax tribunals and then proceed to state court. However, I also represent taxpayers and industry organizations in declaratory judgement actions that are brought directly in state court. The declaratory judgement action model is a creative, efficient, and effective way to get a tax dispute resolved favorably.
How did you choose this practice area?
Michael: I was fortunate to work in-house early in my career. I had the opportunity to interact with both tax accountants and lawyers and saw how their practices intersected and involved solving complex problems. From there, I chose to attend a law school with a top tax law program.
Katie: To be candid, I graduated law school in 2011 when the job market for lawyers was still fairly tough. I knew I wanted to practice tax law, got a job at EY in the State and Local Tax group, and the rest was history. I absolutely love controversy work and there is a ton of controversy work in state and local tax practices, so I think I lucked out when I stumbled upon state and local tax.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Michael: A typical day includes meetings with clients and colleagues, as well as technical analysis.
Katie: My job entails a lot of research and writing. I write a ton, whether it be a brief, settlement letter, client memo, opinion, or just an email. When I am not working on a writing project, I am taking client calls, discussing issues with colleagues, etc. Before the pandemic, I was also traveling a lot for speaking events and to visit clients. I still do a lot of speaking events, but obviously those are now virtual.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Michael: It is helpful to obtain a strong education in tax law. It also prudent to stay well informed on the latest updates by reviewing tax news publications on a daily basis.
Katie: Definitely take a legal writing course (they are offered at many firms). In law school, it is helpful to take as many tax courses as you can. You will not remember everything, but it is helpful to at least have heard of provisions that will come up when speaking to a client. I focus my practice on state and local tax, but those in the tax departments of my clients also do federal tax work, so it is helpful to have a high-level understanding of federal income tax rules.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
Michael: Some clients assume that because you are a tax attorney, it means you understand all aspects of U.S. tax law. Obviously, this is not the case. I find it useful to specialize in a few subchapters of the Code and work with colleagues that are specialists in other areas.
Katie: People think tax lawyers are good at math. (When I go out to dinner with friends, they always ask me to calculate the tip!) I am not great at math, and it is not a skill that is required in my practice. I do not prepare or review tax returns. My job mostly entails arguing that a tax law is being applied in a way that is not allowed by state statute, federal law, or the U.S. Constitution.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Michael: I am one of the few tax attorneys in the state of Florida that routinely works with large multinational clients on a daily basis.
How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?
Katie: State tax is going to be a very hot topic in the next few years because states are increasing taxes in one way or another to raise revenue. States are coming up with new taxes—digital advertising taxes and financial transactions taxes—and looking to broaden business income tax bases. Every week, I deal with a new tax proposal. State and local tax regimes are moving away from the traditional income/sales/employment tax model towards a model that also includes gross receipts taxes and industry-targeted taxes. The pandemic and telecommuting also raise complex personal income tax, withholding, and employment taxes issues—something we haven’t seen often in the past. It’s definitely an exciting time to be a state and local tax lawyer.