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The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.

Isaac Wheeler is the co-head of Sullivan & Cromwell’s Tax group. He represents a wide range of clients, including financial institutions, multinational corporations, asset managers, real estate developers, and private individuals. Mr. Wheeler works on M&A, real estate, joint venture, hedge fund, private equity, and partnership transactions. He also regularly works with S&C’s Estates and Personal group in advising families and individuals in connection with their estate planning transactions and their worldwide investments. Mr. Wheeler received his J.D. from New York University School of Law and graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A.

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

As co-head of S&C’s Tax group, I represent a wide range of clients, from financial institutions to asset managers and real estate developers to private individuals, on M&A, real estate, joint venture, hedge fund, private equity, and partnership transactions. Tax is an integral part of our clients’ transactional work across industries and jurisdictions, so I regularly collaborate with other practice groups and offices across the firm.

What types of clients do you represent?

The clients we represent run the gamut from multinational corporations vying to complete a megadeal to high-net worth individuals making investments worldwide. We work on buyouts, mergers and acquisitions, and joint ventures across various industries, including real estate development, private equity, media, e-sports, and banking and financial services, among others. These clients include AT&T, Blackstone, DM Esports, and Goldman Sachs, among many others across almost every industry.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

We have deep experience negotiating and structuring complex corporate transactions and bringing an innovative approach to challenging tax controversies and disputes. For example, last year I advised on the largest-ever Reverse Morris Trust to achieve a tax-free transaction for AT&T in its $106.5 billion spin-off/merger with WarnerMedia, which was the largest media and entertainment deal of 2021 and negotiated in only 14 days. I also advised Goldman Sachs on the tax aspects of its largest-ever acquisition of a fintech company in its $2.24 billion purchase of GreenSky, and advised Joe Tsai in his acquisition of the Barclays Center and Brooklyn Nets.

How did you choose this practice area?

After my first year of law school, I got the sense that I would enjoy tax, and as a summer associate at S&C, I was given the opportunity to try work across all the different practice groups. In my experience, there’s a bit of tax choosing you—if you like working on really hard and complicated puzzles in a group setting, tax may be for you. I also really enjoy the policy aspects of tax, especially having to apply that type of thinking in a commercial setting.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

I typically break down our tax practice into three categories. First, there is the transactional side, where the work stems from a deal where usually tax is not the primary business driver (even if tax is an instrumental piece). Second, there is the advisory side, where the relationship with the client extends beyond a particular transaction. Lastly, there is controversy—helping clients through audits, including litigation if it comes to that. A typical day involves work on all three types of deals, and in all cases the work involves researching the law, discussing tricky problems with my colleagues, and explaining our conclusions to our clients. There is also negotiating, writing, and reviewing documents.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

I always recommend taking classes and seeking out experiences that you find interesting. I don’t think that there is a single path to tax, so there is no need to focus on anything in particular. That said, I would suggest trying tax classes in law school because I found that tax classes correlate to tax practice much better than other classes correlate to the other practice groups. So, if you like tax classes, there is a good chance you will like being a tax lawyer. As far as outside of law school, I think the same thing applies—if it interests you, you should pursue it.

What do you like best about your practice area?

The best part about being a tax lawyer is the collective problem-solving aspect of our practice. We have the luxury of getting asked a lot of hard questions and working through them with our colleagues. When it comes down to it, what we do is exercise our judgment about areas of the law where the answer is usually not perfectly clear. And that is an activity where the client benefits from multiple perspectives and open discussion, which ultimately leads to the best possible outcome for them.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

There’s quite a few. One misconception is that the practice is dry—in my experience, tax law is extremely dynamic, and we deal with changes in law more frequently than in most other practices. Two is that it’s math driven. Tax is actually mostly about problem solving—if you can multiply, you can be a tax lawyer, no advanced math is required or utilized. And three is that tax lawyers themselves are dry—though we are OK indulging this one. It makes it easier to pleasantly surprise people.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

Our junior associates are performing all of the same tasks that the senior lawyers do—researching the law, coming to a conclusion, and explaining that conclusion in ways that the audience can understand. Being able to understand something complex and explain it in simple, understandable terms is always the goal. From the moment you start at S&C, you’ll be put directly in front of clients, sometimes on your own. Developing one’s own voice in terms of speaking with clients is an important part of growing as a lawyer, which is why we believe that this should start at the very beginning of your career with us.

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?

There is no substitute for experience. At S&C, we believe in the generalist approach, which means that we make sure all of our associates are getting a wide range of deals, different types of matters, and exposure to different areas of the Tax Code. After a few years, it’s really amazing how much you will have seen and learned, that it all sort of comes together. There’s no shortcut, and there is definitely something to gain from each assignment.