By Ms. JD Staff • April 06, 2010•Firms and the Private Sector
This is the second post in a series called "My First Year...," which features interviews of women as they begin putting their JDs to work in a variety of fields all over the country. Each interviewee answers a standard set of questions about her first year to give law students and new attorneys a realistic picture about what life is like during the junior years of a legal career.
Today we bring you the interview of a first-year associate specializing in tax law at a large law firm in Boston.
How did you decide to pursue this position--was this something you envisioned yourself doing when you applied to law school, or was this something you learned about in school or during your summer? Tax law was not something I ever really envisioned myself doing, even throughout the summer leading up to my decision. While I was a Summer Associate before my 3L year, I was fairly convinced that I was going to go into litigation. But, I really enjoyed a few of my tax assignments since they incorporated the research and strategizing aspects of litigation with a statutory base. I also wanted to specialize in an area of law. So, I made the decision to go for it.
Describe a typical day on the job... The best part about being a tax attorney is that my day-to-day is never the same. On most days, I will have 2-3 research assignments where I am looking through the Code, the Regulations, case law, tax treaties, and treatises trying to find a concrete answer to my client's question. I will also be reviewing tax provisions of partnership agreements in order to determine whether they beneficial to my client or will be assisting in drafting the tax provisions of a partnership agreement for a client. I also am helping client fill out a variety of IRS tax forms and am drafting memos for clients on a variety of tax laws and federal & international tax topics so that they can better understand a particular aspect of an investment. Lastly, almost daily, I participate on a variety of conference calls with opposing counsel, tax accountants, clients, etc.
What is the most disappointing thing about your job so far? I have been most frustrated with the first year associate/law firm culture. From my perspective, the notion that the partners can and will treat you like you are disposable, unimportant, or sub-human, simply because that's what they went through, to me makes no sense. For me it doesn't motivate me to work harder, but rather saps my desire to grow as an associate and advance within the firm.
What is the most rewarding thing about your job so far? There are 2 rewarding things about my job. One, the paycheck. Second, the experience and the learning. I did not come in with much understanding of partnership or corporate tax law or federal or international tax law. The learning curve was steep, but, I have learned so much since my first day and I have retained that knowledge since I apply the rules every day, unlike the learning that I did for say the Bar Exam or law school which after the exam I completely lost. As a tax attorney you are not doing any busy work, like due diligence or doc review. You are doing substantive tax work on day one, which is difficult, but very rewarding.
Is there anything you could have done in law school (or the summers between law school) that would have better prepared you for your position? Probably not. I knew what to expect since I summered here. I worked at a different and smaller law firm the summer prior. I was able to see the differences in the firm cultures (as well as the quality of life of the attorneys), the type of work, the treatment of associates, as well as the salary. I would have liked to have taken a position outside of a law firm, such as government, to see if that career choice would have been an avenue more suitable.
What advice would you give to someone looking find a position like yours and succeed in it? First, you do not need to know everything about tax before you become a tax attorney. You learn very quickly on the job. But, I suppose the best advice I can give is to set your expectations in such a way that you're not setting yourself up to be disappointed. How one is treated as a summer associate is not a fair basis for how one can expect to be treated as a first year associate, and unlike the actual work for the summer program, there is a huge amount of variance in the quality & quantity of work as a first year. Your ability to rely on your "inexperience" will fade and within a few months you will be expected to perform at a level that you never expected to be able to within such a short time. Your superiors will not always be able to (or want to) mentor you (they want the answers) and so you must be able to rely on yourself. Also, you should always consult your fellow first years for advice. Lastly, I think the only way to be successful is to go into the role expecting to be treated poorly and to see these types of swings, so that when these things do inevitably occur it doesn't catch you off guard. Never take anything personal.
Like this post? Check out past posts in this series, My First Year as...a Federal Court of Appeals Law Clerk and My First as…an Associate at a Small Law Firm.