The Legal 500

United States > Tax > Tax controversy

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Editorial

Index of tables

  1. Tax controversy
  2. Leading lawyers

Leading lawyers

  1. 1

Baker & McKenzie LLP represents clients in all phases of tax dispute resolution, drawing on its considerable bench strength – over 50 lawyers across its nine North American offices and with additional support from its global network. The practice is especially praised for its expertise in transfer pricing matters. In an ongoing matter, Dallas-based practice head Robert Albaral is representing a world-leading airline in a dispute regarding the applicability of US taxation laws to its non-US resident flight attendants; the IRS has assessed the tax payable by the client to be in excess of $4.8m. In another significant matter, the firm is acting for Illinois Tool Works in its challenge to the IRS’ attempt to recategorize an intercompany loan as a dividend distribution, where the claim value is in excess of £350m. Chicago-based Thomas Linguanti, and Duane Webber in Washington DC are also recommended.

Caplin & Drysdale, Chartered is the ‘crème de la crème of US tax controversy’, with ‘extremely client-friendly’ lawyers who have ‘very technical and specialist knowledge in the international tax arena’. Its expertise includes voluntary disclosures, IRS investigation procedures and off-shore-related matters. The ‘very talented team’ is co-headed by Scott Michel in Washington DC and the ‘smart’ Mark Allison in New York. In an ongoing matter the firm is advising six separate Swiss financial institutions as US lead counsel on the DOJ’s program for Swiss banks, which requires participating Swiss banks to provide detailed information about their business practices, US-related accounts and related matters to the DOJ Tax Division, within the framework of negotiations for a non-prosecution agreement. Mark Matthews, Charles Ruchelman and Christopher Rizek are also recommended. Additional client names on its roster are AIG, the Estate of Eleanor Close Barzin, and Hard Rock Café co-founder Peter Morton.

Latham & Watkins LLP’s lawyers are ‘masters of the technical rules but also keen to adopt the best strategy for clients’, ‘provide excellent timely responses across the board and have very good knowledge of clients’ businesses’. The ‘innovativeGerald Kafka in Washington DC, and the ‘wonderful and Miriam Fisher, who is ‘very experienced in government matters’ co-lead the group. The team is widely recognized for its litigation skills but also for its ability to resolve cases short of litigation. It also has a leading reputation for advising on US tax enforcement abroad. The firm successfully represented Shea Homes before the US Tax Court in its application of the completed contract method of accounting for residential housing developments (which allows deferred payment of income until completion of the development); the IRS has recently filed a notice of appeal. In an ongoing matter, it is acting on behalf of Wells Fargo before the US Court of Federal Claims, in a case testing the IRS’ position, with the aim of recovering $350m of interest-netting relating to six major bank mergers over a ten-year period; the overall value of the claim is $400m. The ‘knowledgeable and responsiveBrian McManus is another name to note.

Mayer Brown is ‘excellent at tax controversy’ work – its large team (including 18 partners) ‘is among the best’. The team is led by the ‘skillfulJoel Williamson and includes former IRS commissioner Larry Langdon, who has a great reputation in the market. It is particularly noted for its ability to handle large and high-profile US transfer pricing cases, and is representing Eaton Corporation in litigation challenging tax deficiencies for 2005/06 claimed by the IRS relating to its transfer pricing products manufactured in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republican and sold to its US subsidiaries. The group is also acting for Tyco (and associated corporations) with respect to the deductibility of interest paid by Tyco entities in the US to a related finance company in Switzerland. Thomas Durham and Charles Triplett in Washington DC are also noted.

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, LLP’s tax controversy practice has hit global powerhouse status in this area following the incorporation of 13 tax planning and controversy partners from Bingham McCutchen LLP to what was already a ‘responsive and excellent team’. John Magee, Sanford Stark, Robert Kirschenbaum bring expertise in transfer pricing-related matters. William Nelson and David Curtin together with Magee have represented a variety of corporations in IRS examinations. Nelson, Curtin and James Bridgeman focus on the complex procedural rules applicable to partnership audits and litigation (TEFRA). All lawyers mentioned are based in Washington DC.

The predominantly Washington DC-based team at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP acts for clients in all types of high-stake complex tax controversies at every level. Its client roster is made up of corporations, partnerships, estates, individuals and government bodies. A recent work highlight was representing Amazon.com in a transfer pricing dispute with the IRS, in what was the first judicial challenge by the tax authority to the international tax planning of an e-commerce company. The group, under Kenneth Gideon’s leadership, is acting for the estate of businessman William Davidson in one of the largest estate and gift tax disputes, involving approximately $2.8bn in taxes and penalties claimed by the IRS. The ‘experienced’ Fred Goldberg heads the department. The firm recently welcomed the arrival of Raj Madan from Bingham McCutchen LLP. ‘Reputed’ former chief executive for the IRS John Williams is also recommended in the capital, and Julia Kazaks and Emily Lam are noted for their work in Palo Alto.

Chamberlain, Hrdlicka, White, Williams & Aughtry’s team is led by Houston-based George Conelly, who specializes in IRS audits, collection and criminal matters. Philip Karter in Philadelphia has vast experience in complex high-profile matters involving federal income, estate and gift, and excise tax issues. Also in Philadelphia, Herbert Odell has experience in all areas of tax law including planning, controversy and litigation for major US corporations. Larry Campagna (Houston) and David Aughtry (Atlanta) are other names to note. Past instructions have come from Frontier Oil and Wells Fargo.

The ‘outstanding’ group at McDermott Will & Emery LLP provides ‘timely responses and has a clear understanding of business considerations’; its ‘lawyers’ advice on complex matters is always strong and exceeds expectations’. Counsel Philip Morrison joined in September 2014 from Deloitte, bringing many years’ experience in international tax, transfer pricing and controversy. Head of the practice Jean Pawlow attracts praise for her business acumen, deep knowledge and responsiveness. In a recent highlight, the firm successfully represented Securitas Holdings Inc in a claim by the IRS of several million dollars in tax, involving a global captive insurance program; the team successfully argued that the arrangements made by the client constituted insurance for federal tax purposes. ‘Strategic negotiator’ Dwight Measerau has ‘a wonderful demeanor for controversy, he is calm, thoughtful and polite’. Michael Kelleher, Jane May in Chicago, Stephen Kranz, and Diann Smith are also recommended; all aforementioned lawyers are based in Washington DC unless otherwise stated. In 2015, Todd Welty and two other partners joined the Dallas office from Dentons. The group’s list of clients also includes Aetna, American Express, Capital One and MasterCard.

Washington DC-based Miller & Chevalier Chartered is frequently instructed by major multinationals. The firm’s reputation for administrative controversy work is complemented by its strong litigation credentials. It has been retained by Starr International Company to represent it in a refund suit relating to the determination of tax treaty benefits. It has also been instructed by Hewlett-Packard to appeal an adverse US Tax Court decision. The tax team is headed by Patricia Sweeney and includes Tom Zehnle, who has extensive experience in tax, white-collar and civil litigation matters, as well as Rocco Femia and Kevin Kenworthy.

Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP’s controversy team has earned a reputation for being ‘outstanding’, owing to its ‘first-class advice’, ‘fast responses, and deep knowledge of the area’. Work highlights included acting for a major insurance corporation seeking the return of more than £300m in tax, penalties and interest; the matter involved foreign tax credits and several cross-border transactions. Jerome Libin and Mark Smith are key names at the helm of the Washington DC-based practice. Other names to note are Sheldon Kay formerly chief of appeals at the IRS, Jerold Cohen, who has extensive knowledge of tax planning and controversy, and Matthew Gries who ‘understands the nature of clients’ work and is exceedingly knowledgeable’; all are based in Atlanta. Carley Roberts in Sacramento, and Jeffrey Friedman in Washington DC, are also noted.

Fenwick & West LLP’s sizeable corporate tax controversy practice is particularly noted for transfer pricing advice. Although based on the West Coast, it acts for clients across the country and internationally. David Forst is the practice leader, and the ‘creative and reputable’ James Fuller is also a leading practitioner. A list of clients includes CBS, Sanofi Aventis and Analog Devices.

Kirkland & Ellis LLP’s Chicago-based tax controversy team leverages the firm’s considerable overall litigation prowess to act for a range of companies and investors in administrative procedures before the federal and state tax authorities. In particular, it has extensive experience acting for clients from the aviation, automotive, pharmaceutical and medical device and insurance spaces. In a recent work highlight Todd Maynes and Natalie Keller led advice to GFGI Liquidation Trust on a tax refund claim from the IRS with a value of $275m, related to the receivership of Guaranty Bank. Maynes also acted for Corus Bankshares (formerly the bank holding company of Corus Bank) in a dispute with the FDIC regarding a tax refund claim of approximately $265m.

Morrison & Foerster LLP has a solid reputation for SALT work but also vast experience at the federal level, and it often acts for high-profile corporate clients in all types of tax controversy matters. Craig Fields, Thomas Humphreys and Denver-based David Strong co-head the team. In an ongoing mandate, it is representing an affiliate of a global communications and technology corporation before the Supreme Court, in a case with wide implications for the telecommunications industry. Mitchell Newmark and Fields acted for Lorillard Licensing Company before the New Jersey Tax Court in a controversy relating to the application of dual nexus standards for throw-out purposes. Hollis Hyans focuses on tax litigation planning and is experienced in commercial litigation. In Washington DC, of counsel Edward Froelich advises corporations, partnerships, estates, trusts and individuals on the administrative aspects of federal tax controversy and represents them before the Federal court. Paul Frankel is also noted. Lawyers mentioned are based in New York unless otherwise stated.

Steptoe & Johnson LLP’s controversy team, which is based in Washington DC, is praised for ‘the quality of its advice and value-for-money service’. The group includes litigators with experience serving as DOJ trial and appellate lawyers, Treasury and Congressional officials. It deals with state, federal and international matters in all phases of tax planning and controversy both in the US and abroad. Philip West leads the practice and the ‘experienced’ Mark Silverman, the ‘skillful’ Walker Johnson, Arthur Bailey and Amanda Varma are also recommended.

The ‘huge and deep team’ at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP’s team has some of the very best lawyers in the world’ and attracts strong reviews for its ‘extremely good response times, deep technical knowledge and world-class subject matter expertise’. The group is involved in all levels of tax controversy, from audit level and IRS appeals to court disputes, and its litigators work closely with the firm’s experts in substantive tax law. Donald Korb leads the team from Washington DC – a former chief counsel of the IRS, he is well respected in the area. Korb and Andrew Solomon assisted a European corporation with an IRS audit involving transfer pricing with emphasis on a cost sharing agreement, and, following the successful resolution of the audit, advised the client on its request for an Advance Pricing Agreement from four different jurisdictions. In another work highlight Andrew Mason (together with Korb) are acting for several corporates and individual taxpayers in IRS investigations and other interactions relating to transfer pricing, section 861 allocations, FRIPTA issues, REMIC issues, interest suspension issues and other related matters on ongoing cases.

The ‘excellent’ tax controversy team at Thompson & Knight LLPhas good industry knowledge’ and a ‘strong reputation for its service’. The Texas-based firm works for private and public corporations and partnerships, tax-exempt entities and individuals. It has particular emphasis on the energy sector. One of its strengths is representing clients facing criminal investigations and prosecutions for tax offenses. Mary McNulty is an expert in federal tax procedures and partnership tax matters in the private equity sphere, and Emily Parker is an experienced litigator who represents clients in IRS audits and appeal proceedings, federal and state tax refunds and deficiency litigation.

Baker Botts L.L.P.’s knowledgeable team members’ provide ‘an excellent level of service’ with ‘fast responses’. The Texas-based practice often deals in international tax matters, and many of its clients are high-profile oil and gas companies embroiled in complex matters. Head of the practice Richard Husseinihas strong technical and procedural skills and is also a strong communicator and collaborator’. Don Lonczak, who divides his practice between Washington DC and New York, is another notable name. The group’s list of clients includes Halliburton, CenterPoint Energy and GDF Suez.

Cooley LLP’s earned reputation for handling federal, state and international controversies has led to an increase in mandates from high-profile clients. Stephen Gardner, who chairs the practice, and ‘experienced litigator’ Kathleen Pakerham led advice to ConocoPhillips on its refund action before the District and the Appeals Court for the dismantling, removal and restoration of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. Other clients include Newmont Mining Corporation, NYSE Euronext and Shell.

Covington & Burling LLP’s ‘top-notch practice always provides the best service’. ‘Its lawyers are extremely knowledgeable and provide expert advice while remaining practical’. The team is co-headed by Daniel Luchsinger and Reeves Westbrook from Washington DC, which includes Emin Toro and which recently welcomed the return of Samuel Maruca after a three-year spell heading the transfer pricing practice at the IRS. Work highlights included successfully representing a corporation in reversing, at administrative appeal, proposed adjustments of $300m relating to amortization and acquisition cost and contingent payments. For another client, it persuaded the IRS to drop examination of certain transfer pricing payments for use of intangibles involving millions of dollars in payments. Bacardi, Bristol-Myers Squibb and IBM are key client names.

DLA Piper regularly handles some of the most sophisticated and complex controversy cases. It has a strong track record of dealing with federal audits and appeals, SALT audits, international tax controversies, transfer pricing auditing, voluntary disclosures and criminal tax controversies. Tamara Shepard in Boston is leading advice to 29 hotels (including Hilton, Hyatt, Intercontinental Group, Marriott and others) in a dispute with the City of San Francisco relating to occupancy taxes involving online travel companies. Ellis Reemer chairs the practice from New York, which also includes Boston-based Michael Hardgrove.

Dentons handles complex and diverse controversies at all levels on behalf of high-net-worth individuals, small and mid-size businesses, foreign and domestic taxpayers and large estates and partnerships. In a recent work highlight it advised Southgate Master Fund on a successful claim for a government refund which eventually was settled, with the IRS agreeing that no penalties were applicable and all open examinations would be closed. In 2015, former practice head Todd Welty and two other partners left to join McDermott Will & Emery LLP in Dallas.

Norton Rose Fulbright’s tax controversy team ‘puts solution before fees’. The Houston-based group is led by the ‘highly respectedJohn Allender who is noted for his experience in federal matters relating to corporate taxation, reorganizations, incorporations and consolidated tax returns. Clients include Newfield Exploration Company, Prospector Offshore Drilling, AT&T and Shell. Robert Morris, Jasper Taylor and Charles Hall are also recommended.

Reed Smith LLP has a large group that handles complex, high-stake deals across all states; this includes controversies at all levels, and it has particular emphasis on income/franchise, sales/use, personal property and gross receipts taxes. Work highlights included acting on behalf of a manufacturing company to analyse opportunities, and the tax consequences of, restructuring its international operations and ownership. New York-based James Tandler chairs the team from New York, where David Hryck is also based, and Jeffrey Korenblatt in Washington DC is also recommended.

The ‘excellent’ lawyers at Sidley Austin LLP are ‘very responsive’, ‘thoroughly think through options’, have ‘good contacts with the IRS they can reach out to’ and ‘are extremely honest’. The team is co-headed by Jay Zimbler in Chicago and Matthew Lerner in Washington DC, and includes Laura Barzilai in New York. Work highlights included representing a Fortune100 company in a multi-issue case before the IRS involving, among other things, capital/expense interpretations, applicable accounting methods and charitable contributions. Lerner led advice to a major high-tech corporation on its research credit tax position. Clients include ABA Retirement Funds, AIG, Marvel Entertainment and Zurich.

At Winston & Strawn LLP James Lynch and Lou Weber, both based in Chicago, lead the federal tax controversy practice. The firm recently acted for the owner of a global fast food operator in several tax-related cases, including one related to the appropriate buy-in payment connected to a cost sharing arrangement for intangible property. It also acts for a well-known hedge fund in a tax controversy matter with an estimated value of $8bn, with Edmund Cohen leading on the matter. Charles Moll is also noted.

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP has a broad practice, covering both domestic and international tax disputes. Areas of expertise include partnership taxation, debt/equity issues, international taxation, transfer pricing, interest capitalization and allocation, accounting for bad debts and foreign tax credits. Mario Verdolini heads the team from the New York office and has experience in litigation, administrative proceedings, alternative dispute resolution and risk management. Clients of the group include PepsiCo, NatWest and AmBase.

Greenberg Traurig LLP’s ‘effective and highly professional’ tax controversy group covers the whole gamut of SALT and federal tax disputes. Clients include national and foreign companies, partnerships and individuals. New York-based co-chair of the global tax group Barbara Kaplan has advised clients in federal tax examinations prompted by treaty disclosures of offshore activities, and has represented numerous clients in federal tax audits, IRS appeals and trust fund recovery penalty cases. Michelle Ferreira and Bradley Marsh, both in San Francisco, are other key names to note. David Bunning has left the firm to become an administrative law judge at the New York City Tax Appeals Tribunal.

Hogan Lovells continues to receive a healthy flow of work in this space from institutional clients. The ‘well-regardedTodd Miller who is active across multiple areas of tax law, from planning to contentious matters, is leading advice to a well-known money transfer company on the extent to which write-offs (calculated at $1.2bn) may be treated as ordinary losses for tax purposes. Scott Friedman is also a key name.

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, LLP’s tax practice handles various domestic, international, SALT matters for a broad range of clients. Several of the team’s lawyers bring to bear valuable experience gained within government. Annie Huang successfully represented a high-net-worth individual in a claim that resulted in 90% reduction of a $37m tax bill. Previous highlights for the group successfully represented the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco in a tax dispute with the City and County of San Francisco. The team is led from New York by James Chudy, and San Francisco-based SALT practice leader Jeffrey Vesely is also recommended, as is William Bonano who is an expert in international and controversy tax matters.

At Shearman & Sterling LLP, Lawrence Hill and Laurence Bambino are among the key names; the New York-based pair are representing Liberty Global in an IRS audit of its $23.3bn acquisition of Virgin Media (an inversion transaction). The team also advised UBS on an IRS audit of equity swap transactions which were the subject of a Senate Permanent Subcommittee investigation. Michael Shulman and Robert Rudnick are names to note in Washington DC.

Vinson & Elkins LLP has a proven track record in contentious tax proceedings, and the ‘knowledgeable and responsive group’ is led by ‘professional and pragmatic negotiatorGeorge Gerachis in Houston, and Ryan Carney is based in the same office. The arrival of Gary Huffman and Joe Garcia from Bingham McCutchen LLP has given it an additional boost in Washington DC. The firm is representing BMC Software in litigation relating to foreign earning repatriation. Other clients include Gastar Exploration, Spectra Energy Partners, Halliburton and The Consolidated FGH Liquidating Trust.

White & Case LLP’s ‘experienced team’ represents clients in top-end matters, usually relating to the multi-jurisdictional operations of large corporations, (especially in their dealing with governments), or transfer pricing disputes or advice on international tax treaties. Kim Boylan is a ‘talented and respected lawyer with top credentials’ in the controversy arena. The ‘knowledgeable and client-focusedBrian Gleicher has extensive knowledge of transfer pricing. It recently acted for a Swiss bank in relation to a DOJ program designed to target taxpayers who have failed to report foreign bank accounts held in Swiss banks. It has also been advising a large private equity firm on tax controversies arising from investments in Asia.

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