Exit options for Biglaw Tax associate? (non-Exec Comp)

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Exit options for Biglaw Tax associate? (non-Exec Comp)

Post by Anonymous User » Sat Aug 01, 2020 6:33 pm

Hi all,

I'm a first-year tax associate at a V100 firm's tax practice. I've focused on US federal tax, with a good mix of international and domestic planning and deal work. I don't do executive comp, state and local tax, employee benefits, etc.

However, I'm frustrated/unsatisfied with most of the work I've been doing and am not sure whether I'd like to stay in the tax field. It's hard to say whether my dissatisfaction is due to growing pains that will subside with time or whether I simply don't like doing tax. I expect it's a mixture of both, though I'm unsure.

I'm considering trying to pivot by lateraling to a general corporate position -- and I'm OK with being docked to a first-year -- but part of the issue is that I'm not sure what my exit options look like if I continue with tax. In either case, I'd probably expect to leave biglaw after 3-4 years. Do most ex-biglaw tax associates with general deal/planning experience go in-house and work within tax departments of large corporations? Big4? Open up their own shops? Is it accurate to say that corporate attorneys are generally more likely to work in-house at a company than tax attorneys are (whether the tax attorneys stay in biglaw, boutique law, work at accounting firms, hang up a shingle, etc). And in particular, does anyone have a sense of how the general salaries/marketability for those tax positions compares with general corporate in-house positions? For example, I understand that corporate in-house positions following biglaw can generally range from, say, $150-250k with some predictability, and can often increase from there after working up the ranks at a large company. Does the same hold true for tax associates that go in-house? For example, do tax attorneys typically 'top out' at a lower salary level than most successful corporate attorneys? [For the sake of discussion, I understand that a corporate attorney may be more likely to 'hit big' on the rare very top level GC-type position, but I'm less concerned with 'hitting big' and instead more of the general experience.] Note that I'm mostly concerned with what the experience will be like after leaving biglaw; I know that a biglaw tax associate's day-to-day environment is typically more predictable than a biglaw corporate associate's schedule, but I'm not sure to what extent that difference holds true after either associate goes in-house (or otherwise).

I know the question of whether I should try to pivot should depend on whether "I like tax." But in the absence of being able to confidently say whether I like it or not, it's helpful to get an understand of what the options are if I were to stay in the field.

Thanks all very much for any thoughts or advice. I'm happy to come off anon through PM, if desired.

hulunetflix

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Re: Exit options for Biglaw Tax associate? (non-Exec Comp)

Post by hulunetflix » Sun Aug 02, 2020 2:48 pm

OP - feel free to send me a private message if you want to know more. I think the exit options are bad/almost nonexistent. It's also hard to switch practice after your first year, but I know people who have done it.

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Sackboy

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Re: Exit options for Biglaw Tax associate? (non-Exec Comp)

Post by Sackboy » Sun Aug 02, 2020 5:04 pm

Based on what I've seen from some of my co-workers, U.S./international federal tax planning is highly marketable for in-house tax positions, and in-house tax positions are generally plentiful relative to the size of the tax bar and well-compensated. If you don't like tax, however, none of that really matters. I'd try to switch into general corporate work. On an absolute basis, you'll have more job opportunities (though I doubt it'll be much more on a relative basis). The compensation will largely be similar, but M&A folks are much more likely to climb within an in-house legal department; tax folks generally have a harder time snagging senior corporate legal roles and have a better prospect of trying to land VP of Tax roles, which does not sit in legal and likely directly reports to the CFO and not GC.

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Re: Exit options for Biglaw Tax associate? (non-Exec Comp)

Post by hulunetflix » Sun Aug 02, 2020 5:28 pm

Sackboy wrote:
Sun Aug 02, 2020 5:04 pm
Based on what I've seen from some of my co-workers, U.S./international federal tax planning is highly marketable for in-house tax positions, and in-house tax positions are generally plentiful relative to the size of the tax bar and well-compensated. If you don't like tax, however, none of that really matters. I'd try to switch into general corporate work. On an absolute basis, you'll have more job opportunities (though I doubt it'll be much more on a relative basis). The compensation will largely be similar, but M&A folks are much more likely to climb within an in-house legal department; tax folks generally have a harder time snagging senior corporate legal roles and have a better prospect of trying to land VP of Tax roles, which does not sit in legal and likely directly reports to the CFO and not GC.
Mind sharing how do most folks land their in-house tax positions? Maybe I wasn't looking at the right place, but I haven't seen any in-house tax positions posted in the past year or so (besides a couple of ERISA positions). Thanks!

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Sackboy

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Re: Exit options for Biglaw Tax associate? (non-Exec Comp)

Post by Sackboy » Sun Aug 02, 2020 7:46 pm

hulunetflix wrote:
Sun Aug 02, 2020 5:28 pm

Mind sharing how do most folks land their in-house tax positions? Maybe I wasn't looking at the right place, but I haven't seen any in-house tax positions posted in the past year or so (besides a couple of ERISA positions). Thanks!
I can't speak for my co-workers, because I never asked.

When I'm considering the leap in-house (about every other day, I normally have success finding gigs in my niche on GoInhouse (note: I am in no way affiliated with the company and have no actual experience applying through their website). Here is a query for "Tax" positions. There seems to be a decent number of opportunities on the first page. Beyond that, they look more like general corporate gigs. I know just typing in "tax counsel jobs" in Google showed a few more (at least in my major metro). I think you just need to shop around the various job boards. I know I've seen some listings on LinkedIn too.

If you have a good relationship with your partners and are competent, there is also the option of asking them to keep a lookout for client opportunities. A good partner will try to help you find a landing spot. It's in their best interest after all.

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nealric

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Re: Exit options for Biglaw Tax associate? (non-Exec Comp)

Post by nealric » Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:47 am

I'm in-house tax and happy to answer specific questions.

As you already intimated, the real question shouldn't be "exit options", but whether you really want to do tax or not. You've said you are "frustrated' by the work. What is frustrating to you? Is there something inherent about tax, or do you simply not like junior work?

But to answer your exit option question: I think in-house is probably easier to get as a tax person compared to general corporate. There are far fewer in-house tax positions numerically, but also far fewer qualified applicants. It helps if you have an accounting background/CPA designation on top of your tax legal background (full disclosure: I did not), as in-house tax tends to be closer to the numbers than biglaw tax. Upside potential is probably similar. Perhaps slightly less chance of becoming GC (you'd need to transition out of tax to get there), but you also have the VP/head of Tax role to work up to. Comp should be about the same as corporate (at least on initial hire).

One issue to be cognizant of is that in-house tax law is a bit of a "go big or go home" situation. Only very large companies have in-house tax lawyers, but a lot of middle market companies have in-house corporate. Tax planning/controversy work can be outsourced more easily than the compliance function. Only the very largest have in-house tax law departments willing and able to train someone relatively new.

Best way to get hired is to know someone at the company. Doesn't need to be your best buddy- even a friend of a friend can do. Clients are a good way to get to know someone at the company.

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