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The Legal 500 Hall of Fame highlights individuals who have received constant praise by their clients for continued excellence. The Hall of Fame highlights, to clients, the law firm partners who are at the pinnacle of the profession. Starting with the United States, the criteria for entry is to have been recognised by The Legal 500 as one of the elite leading lawyers for six consecutive years. Fewer than 500 partners across the entire United States have made it into the inaugural list. These partners are highlighted below and throughout the editorial.

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United States > Tax > Overview > Law firm and leading lawyer rankings

Editorial

It was a particularly fruitful year for tax practices nationwide for a number of reasons. Low interest rates mean cheap borrowing, which has been a boon to the M&A market. The record-breaking values of deals - and the overall volume - has made headlines, with Anheuser-Busch InBev’s $107.7bn acquisition of SABMiller and Heinz and 3G’s $60bn acquisition of Kraft Foods just two of the many eye-catching examples. This of course has meant a lot of work for tax teams. The pharmaceutical and healthcare industries have been particularly big drivers of work, as has the technology sector.

The energy sector has also been key source of business for tax teams, but for less happy reasons: the turbulence in the market due to the continued fall in oil prices and a slowdown in Chinese demand has created the need for tax advice in relation to bankruptcies and restructurings. The knock-on effect of this, of course, is more opportunities for buyers seeking value in distressed assets, including private equity and other investment vehicles.

Inversions, spin-offs and split-offs continue to be popular, although the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)’s continued focus on taking away the tax benefits of some of these structures may have an impact on this. All this, though, is good news for tax attorneys, who will continue to be relied upon to find new ways to structure tax efficiently.

While the IRS seems to spend fewer resources on domestic tax, there is an overall trend of ongoing enforcement activity around tax payers who do business in more than one jurisdiction. The OECD’s so-called BEPS (Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) initiative is an increased area of focus of the authorities. The program allows governments to close the gaps in existing international rules that allow corporate profits to ‘disappear’ or be artificially shifted to low or no tax environments. Revenue losses from BEPS are estimated at $100-$240bn per year. There was also an uptick in transfer pricing disputes, with the IRS focusing its attention to challenge intercompany arrangements.

As public opinion on corporate tax continues to harden, and with politicians talking tough on closing loopholes, international tax is an increasing area of concern for transnational and multinational companies. As a result, firms operating in this area continue to be very active. The globalization of the deal market, the spike in global M&A, and the use of a range of structures and creative techniques for cross-border transactions have all contributed to a high demand for international tax services. In this space, international law firms benefit from their broad networks and collaboration between offices, while more domestic practices often rely on established associations with law firms across the world to service the increasingly global needs of their clients. It will also be interesting to see what impact the Panama Papers will have in relation to international tax practices.

The financial products sector remained active. Law firms continued the trend towards new esoteric asset transactions while also staying busy with distressed debt and recapitalization matters. There is also a notable demand from clients for advice on new legislation seeking to regulate the sector more tightly, and an interest in knowing the potential impact/consequences of US corporations seeking to merge with foreign entities with the aim to re-enter the US market (and vice-versa). Transfer pricing and real estate investment trusts (REITs) continue to be popular strategies to lower tax rates.

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