The Legal 500

United States

United States > Tax > Tax controversy

Editorial

Index of tables

  1. Tax controversy
  2. Leading lawyers

Leading lawyers

Baker & McKenzie LLP’s market-leading practice is widely recognized for its litigation capabilities and formidable strength in transfer pricing matters. The firm’s dedicated tax controversy team has considerable bench strength, with over 50 lawyers, including 15 partners, spread across the firm’s nine North American offices. The ‘extremely dedicated’ Thomas Linguanti heads the team from Chicago, and other key names include Mark Oates and Washington DC-based Duane Webber. Work highlights included the successful representation of professional golfer Sergio Garcia in Sergio Garcia v Commissioner of Internal Revenue, in relation to the characterization and taxability of endorsement income, resulting in the US Tax Court granting Garcia a 65%/35% split between royalty and service income. Jenny Austin was promoted to the partnership in 2013.

The ‘excellent’ tax controversy practice at Bingham McCutchen LLP is noted for its cross-border expertise and experience in partnership work. Washington DC-based John Magee heads the practice and is very highly regarded in the market. Clients include foreign financial institutions and high-profile domestic companies, which the firm assists in major disputes with the IRS. Raj Madan and David Curtin, also in Washington DC, are other names to note. The firm’s considerable depth extends across the country, with key partners including Donald Abrams in Boston and Robert Kirschenbaum in Silicon Valley. Susan Seabrook joined the Washington DC office in July 2013 from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, and focuses on tax disputes relating to insurance companies, financial products, insurance products and financial institutions.

Mayer Brown is ‘among the best’ and fields a large team (including 18 partners) dedicated exclusively to tax controversy and transfer pricing. The firm’s extensive experience spans the full gamut of controversy work, from administrative appeals to litigation in the trial court and at appellate court level. The practice is co-headed by Joel Williamson in Chicago and Larry Langdon in Palo Alto. Williamson is a ‘skilled trial lawyer’ praised for his ‘great judgment’, and Langdon is much admired in the market. The firm is representing Exelon in its high-profile case challenging nearly $500m in tax deficiencies claimed by the IRS. Washington DC-based Charles Triplett is a ‘very skilled negotiator’, and Tom Durham in Chicago is also recommended. Other clients include Boston Scientific, Altera, Tyco and Flextronics International.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP’s ‘excellent’ team assists an impressive client portfolio in the resolution of high-stakes, complex tax controversies, acting for corporations, partnerships, estates and government entities. Washington DC-based Fred Goldberg Jr has extensive experience, and Kenneth Gideon is well regarded for his tax controversy work. The ‘excellent’ B John Williams Jr is a former chief counsel for the IRS, and has a very good reputation. The firm has developed a notable presence on the West Coast, with Julia Kazaks and Emily Lam in Palo Alto the names to note; it advises a number of technology clients in Silicon Valley on controversy and transfer pricing matters.

The ‘outstandingCaplin & Drysdale, Chartered is ‘among the best in the country’; with a deep bench of experienced lawyers in Washington DC and New York, it is ‘very responsive’, ‘pleasant to deal with’ and ‘value for money’, and represents high-profile clients across the spectrum of tax controversy matters. The ‘technically strong’ Scott Michel leads the practice, and other key partners include the ‘personable’ Mark Matthews and ‘very smart’ Mark Allison. Charles Ruchelman is leading the firm’s representation of American International Group in litigation in the US Court of Federal Claims, relating to payment of over $30m in interest derived from a tax overpayment for the 1991 tax year. The firm also continues to assist numerous US citizens and residents across the world in compliance issues arising from failures to report foreign bank accounts, foreign trusts, and foreign businesses.

Chamberlain, Hrdlicka, White, Williams & Aughtry, headquartered in Texas, has long had an excellent tax practice, fielding a deep bench dedicated to controversy and litigation matters. George Connelly, in Houston, heads the tax controversy practice, which remains a core area for the firm. The firm is acting as lead trial counsel to Wells Fargo in a claim for a $423m capital loss from the sale of stock in a contingent liability lease management subsidiary; Philip Karter is the key partner for this matter. The firm has also assisted numerous clients in making voluntary disclosures to the IRS of previously undisclosed foreign income, bank accounts and trusts; Houston-based Larry Campagna is the name to note in this area.

Gerald Kafka and Miriam Fisher co-head a ‘tremendously responsive’ team at Latham & Watkins LLP, and have a wealth of expertise in tax matters covering pre-litigation settlements as well as litigation. The team, which includes the highly regarded Brian McManus, sees a steady flow of work from the firm’s impressive corporate practice, as well as handling standalone work. Cavanagh joined Kafka in acting for Wells Fargo in an action in the US Court of Federal Claims to recover more than $350m of interest-netting claims across six major bank mergers spanning more than a decade. The attorneys named are all based in Washington DC.

The controversy practice at ‘top-notch’ firm McDermott Will & Emery LLP is led by Jean Pawlow from Washington DC. The ‘knowledgeable’ and ‘responsive’ team has ‘good judgment’ and is praised for its depth, business acumen, and practical advice on complex matters. Also recommended in Washington DC are Dwight Measereau, Michael Kelleher and ‘rising star’ Elizabeth Erickson. In Chicago, Jane May heads the SALT practice and is a noted figure in the market. Work highlights included successfully representing Sunbelt Beverage in the District of Colombia Court of Appeals in a case regarding a proposed assessment issued by the Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR), in which it claimed that Sunbelt owed franchise tax for 2002-2004; Stephen Kranz and counsel Diann Smith were the key lawyers involved.

Miller & Chevalier Chartered has a solid background in administrative controversy work, and this is complemented by the firm’s growing trial litigation practice. The ‘highly regarded’ Patricia Sweeney chairs the tax department in Washington DC, and focuses on federal income taxation and related disputes. Tom Zehnle is another name to note and led the successful defense and acquittal of Jon Flask in United States v Jon Flask, et al, a multimillion-dollar tax shelter prosecution case. Rocco Femia and Kevin Kenworthy are also recommended.

The broad team at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP has an excellent track record in tax controversy, and maintains a strong reputation in the market. The highly regarded Jerome Libin chairs the department from Washington DC, and W Mark Smith is another name to note. In Atlanta, N Jerold Cohen has a wealth of experience in tax planning and controversy; and Sheldon Kay returned to the firm in September 2013 from his role as IRS Chief of Appeals. Work highlights included representing Comcast before the Los Angeles Superior Court in relation to an action seeking a $27m refund of California franchise tax; Jeffrey Friedman, in Washington DC, was a key partner in the matter, along with Sacramento-based Carley Roberts. Roberts is recognized for her considerable expertise in California and multi-state tax matters. Other clients of the practice include FedEx, General Motors and Microsoft.

Fenwick & West LLP provides ‘outstanding service’ and ‘thorough’ advice, assisting its large corporate client base in tax controversy matters and offering notable strength in transfer pricing. Based on the West Coast, the firm acts for a number of technology and life sciences companies. David Forst leads the practice, and the ‘very creative’ Jim Fuller has a formidable reputation in the market. The ‘diligent’ and ‘responsiveKenneth Clark is also recommended. Clients include Xilinx, Sanofi and Analog Devices.

Kirkland & Ellis LLP’s Chicago-based tax controversy team works closely with the firm’s general litigation practice, representing companies and investors in administrative controversies with the federal and state tax authorities. The firm has considerable experience acting for airlines such as United, American and Delta, handling both federal and SALT tax matters. Transfer pricing is another key strength, and the firm has experience in a number of other key industries, including the automotive, pharmaceutical, and consumer electronics sectors. Todd Maynes and Natalie Hoyer Keller are representing GFGI Liquidation Trust in seeking a $275m tax refund from the IRS.

Craig Fields and Thomas Humphreys, in New York, co-head the tax practice at Morrison & Foerster LLP, which is widely acknowledged as a leading firm for SALT work, although it also has considerable experience at the federal level. It handles SALT controversy work for a portfolio of high-profile clients nationwide, with partners based in offices across the US. Among its highlights, it successfully represented Lorillard Licensing Company in the New Jersey Tax Court in a tax dispute relating to the application of dual nexus standards for throw-out purposes; Mitchell Newmark and Fields acted in this matter. Other names to note include senior counsel Paul Frankel, a key figure with a very strong reputation in the market, and Hollis Hyans, who is also recommended for her SALT work. In Sacramento, Eric Coffill heads the SALT practice group and has a wealth of experience. Washington DC-based Edward Froelich is the name to note for federal tax matters.

Steptoe & Johnson LLP is noted for its ‘high-quality service’, ‘excellent response times’ and ‘value for money’. Philip West heads the practice, which covers the full spectrum of tax controversy matters at both domestic and international level. Names to note include the ‘experienced and effective’ Mark Silverman; J Walker Johnson, who has ‘tremendous skill and knowledge’; and Arthur Bailey, who is a ‘superb strategist’ and an ‘excellent litigator’. Recent work includes acting for Honeywell International in eight property tax appeals in Arizona. Amanda Varma is also recommended. Matthew Lerner left the firm in January 2014 to co-head Sidley Austin LLP’s tax controversy practice. The attorneys named are all based in Washington DC.

Sullivan & Cromwell LLP combines a solid litigation capability with a broad tax practice to assist its corporate client base in contentious tax matters. A former Chief Counsel of the IRS, Donald Korb is well respected in the market and heads the team, working across Washington DC and New York. The firm covers the full range of controversy work, from the audit level and IRS appeals to litigation. Recent work includes assisting an individual at IRS examination level regarding a proposed multimillion-dollar adjustment on sold shares in a publicly traded company. Andrew Solomon is very highly regarded, and Andrew Mason is also recommended.

Sharon Fountain heads Thompson & Knight LLP’s ‘excellent’ ‘knowledgeable’ and ‘responsive’ team, which continues to build a very strong reputation for tax controversy work. The controversy team is based across the firm’s Texas offices and assists public and private corporations and partnerships, tax-exempt entities, and individuals in contentious tax matters, with notable expertise in the energy sector. Key partners include Mary McNulty, who specializes in federal tax procedures and partnership tax issues relating to private equity, oil and gas, wind energy, real estate and exempt organizations. The ‘terrific’ Emily Parker, a key litigator and the firm’s managing partner, is highly recommended by clients and peers alike.

Baker Botts L.L.P.’s ‘excellent’ tax practice has extensive experience in tax controversy work, particularly representing high-profile clients in the energy and technology sectors. Practice head Richard Husseini has a wealth of experience and his practice covers the spectrum of federal tax controversy and planning work. The practice is concentrated in the firm’s Houston office, but its strength in Washington DC and New York was bolstered by the addition of Don Lonczak in May 2013 from Shearman & Sterling LLP. The firm assisted Exterran Holdings Property in filing approximately 150 lawsuits in a property tax dispute in relation to the classification of natural gas compressors; Renn Neilson is leading in the matter.

New York-based Stephen Gardner heads the ‘very good’ practice at Cooley LLP, which handles federal, state and international tax controversies at all levels, and has gained recognition in recent years from some high-profile instructions. It acted for ConocoPhillips in a refund action in the US District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma and the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit relating to the tax treatment of $175m liability for the dismantling, removal and restoration of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System; Gardner acted alongside highly regarded litigator Kathleen Pakenham in the case. Other clients of the practice include Entergy, Newmont Mining and American Express.

Covington & Burling LLP is an ‘outstanding firm’ with an ‘excellent’ tax team in Washington DC. Daniel Luchsinger and Reeves Westbrook head the group, and Emin Toro is also a key partner. The firm advises an impressive corporate client portfolio, including major multinational companies, on a range of matters, and also has niche expertise advising sports leagues and sports teams and their owners. Jeremy Spector is recommended for sports-related work, while Dirk Suringa focuses on international tax matters, both contentious and non-contentious. Clients include Bristol-Myers Squibb, Bacardi and Fenway Sports Group.

Dentons was formed in March 2013 by the combination of international law firms Salans LLP and SNR Denton, and Canadian firm Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP. Dallas-based Todd Welty heads the tax controversy practice, and the team includes attorneys in the firm’s New York and Washington DC offices. Recent work includes successfully representing Rawls Trading in US Tax Court litigation against the IRS’ assertion of penalties relating to $400m of losses arising out of a listed tax shelter.

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, LLP’s ‘responsive’ team provides ‘excellent advice’ and ‘takes the time to consider its real-world application’. It focuses on assisting the firm’s corporate clients on tax planning and controversy matters in relation to their activities in the US and internationally. Barton Bassett heads the team from Palo Alto, where ‘strong negotiatorWilliam Colgin provides ‘practical advice’. In Washington DC, Mary Hevener is a key partner and has an excellent reputation. Robert Martinelli focuses on contentious tax work for large US corporates and was promoted to partner in 2013. The firm is representing BNSF Railway in a case involving the taxation of stock options and relocation benefits.

Norton Rose Fulbright’s Houston-based practice provides a ‘top-notch’ service. The highly regarded John Allender heads the tax practice and has a wealth of experience in federal tax matters involving corporate taxation, reorganizations, incorporations and consolidated tax returns. The team includes a number of lawyers exclusively dedicated to contentious tax matters, and covers all aspects of tax controversy. ‘Technically excellent’ senior associate Robert Morris is praised for his ‘common-sense approach’ and is well respected in the market. Clients of the practice include AT&T, Petrosantander and Newfield Exploration Company. Partner and certified public accountant Jasper Taylor and of counsel Charles Hall are also recommended.

Reed Smith LLP has one of the largest state tax groups in the country; led by Philadelphia-based Lee Zoeller, it has more than 30 lawyers dedicated to state tax work located across seven offices. The firm’s controversy work encompasses all states and taxes, with an emphasis on income/franchise tax, sales/use tax, personal property tax and gross receipts tax. The firm represents clients in disputes at the audit and administrative level, and in federal and state courts. Mardiros Dakessian is another key partner, based in Los Angeles, with extensive experience in SALT controversy matters; his recent work includes the highly publicized Cutler v Franchise Tax Board case, which resulted in the nullifying of discriminatory elements of a state tax statute on commerce clause grounds.

Sidley Austin LLP provides an ‘outstanding level of service’. Chicago-based Jay Zimbler heads the practice and is recommended, along with Kevin Pryor, for federal tax work. Scott Heyman is noted for SALT work. The trio have ‘superior knowledge’ of tax law, ‘great business acumen’ and ‘the know-how to resolve the toughest issues’. The team has considerable experience in tax controversy, with particular strength in the banking, hedge fund, insurance, telecoms, transport, utilities and food industries. New York-based Laura Barzilai is also recommended, and led advice to Alaska Communications Systems in connection with an IRS audit and appeals in connection with its acquisition of Crest Communications in 2008. Matthew Lerner joined the firm’s Washington DC office in January 2014 from Steptoe & Johnson LLP, and co-heads the firm’s global tax controversy practice.

The ‘excellentWinston & Strawn LLP provides a ‘top-notch service’, representing a broad base of clients, including major financial institutions and public accounting firms, before the IRS. The ‘client-focusedDaniel Dumezich is a ‘terrific adviser’ with ‘deep technical tax knowledge’, and heads the firm’s federal tax controversy practice from Chicago. Jim Lynch and Louis Weber chair the firm’s general tax practice, and have considerable controversy expertise. Associate Daniel Cook is a ‘great tax adviser’, and Dean Burau is also recommended. Charles Moll leads the firm’s nationwide SALT practice.

DLA Piper’s ‘impressive’ team has ‘evident expertise’ in tax controversy, with partners based across the firm’s North American offices and supported by the firm’s global network. New York-based Ellis Reemer heads the team, and Tamara Shepard in San Francisco is an ‘excellent communicator’. Its focus is on complex federal, state and international tax controversy matters, including tax audits, administrative appeals and civil tax litigation as well as criminal tax matters. The firm secured a significant, fiscally favourable result for a global toy and game company after a long-running defense of its international business operating structure against IRS challenges; Michael Hardgrove, in Boston, was the key partner involved.

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP has a broad tax practice encompassing domestic and international contentious matters. New York-based Mario Verdolini is the key contact for tax controversy and tax risk management, and has extensive experience. Harry Ballan, also in New York, is another name to note; his practice includes tax litigation, in particular transfer pricing disputes and other tax controversies, for multinational clients in the pharmaceutical and technology industries. The team successfully represented PepsiCo in a case regarding the appropriate tax treatment of inter-company financial instruments created in the 1990s to facilitate the company’s international growth; the IRS attempted to characterize them as debt instruments under US law.

Greenberg Traurig LLP has a ‘very effective’ and ‘efficient’ tax practice, with a ‘responsive’ and ‘highly professional’ team covering the spectrum of SALT and federal tax matters. Recent work includes representing a client in the US Tax Court in proceedings relating to the issue of capital gains versus guaranteed payments. The ‘very knowledgeable’ Barbara Kaplan, in New York, has an excellent reputation and is particularly noted for her work on voluntary disclosure matters. Also recommended are Scott Fink, who specializes in civil and criminal federal tax controversies and litigation; and San Francisco-based G Michelle Ferreira, a former tax litigator for the IRS who acts for clients in disputes with the IRS and state and local tax agencies such as the California Franchise Tax Board.

Hogan Lovells’ substantial, broad-based tax team receives a consistent flow of work from the firm’s longstanding corporate clients, and includes a number of lawyers focusing primarily on controversy matters, in Washington DC and New York. The well-regarded Todd Miller in Washington DC has built a good reputation and has been active representing domestic and international clients in tax audits and appeals before the IRS, in both mediation and litigation. Cristina Arumi left the firm in July 2013 for Ernst & Young. Melvin Lefkowitz recently retired.

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP’s team includes a number of partners with governmental experience, adding to its depth of understanding of tax authorities and the industry. New York-based James Chudy heads the firm’s nationwide tax practice, which includes tax controversy partners based in New York and California, with the SALT team working out of San Francisco. Jeffrey Vesely heads the SALT team, and worked alongside Annie Huang in the successful representation of a high-net-worth individual in a tax dispute relating to residency, resulting in a 90% reduction of a $37m tax bill. Also in San Francisco, William Bonano focuses on international tax matters and has extensive controversy experience, and Kerne Matsubara is developing a very strong SALT controversy practice.

Shearman & Sterling LLP’s controversy practice continues to go from strength to strength, with Lawrence Hill at the helm in New York. Hill has extensive experience, with particular strength in litigation, IRS controversy and white-collar investigations. The firm had an active year assisting an impressive client list on matters including the tax treatment of financial institutions and products, cross-border financings and transfer pricing. Highlights included representing Ambac Financial Group in the successful settlement of litigation relating to an $807m IRS tax claim seeking repayment of a tax refund paid to Ambac prior to its bankruptcy; New York-based counsel Richard Nessler acted alongside Hill in the matter. Washington DC-based Kristen Garry and Robert Rudnick are also recommended, and are currently representing Freddie Mac in a case involving a $2.5bn dispute with the IRS involving the tax treatment of derivatives used to hedge financial risk.

Vinson & Elkins LLP has significant experience assisting clients throughout contentious tax proceedings, from examination to trial and appellate review, and works with clients across a range of industries; it has notable strength in the energy, technology, and healthcare sectors as well as in advising government entities and nonprofit organizations. ‘Very good’ practice head George Gerachis is based in Houston. Gary Huffman and Joe Garcia joined the firm’s Washington DC office in January 2013 from Bingham McCutchen LLP, significantly boosting the firm’s strength in the capital. In Houston, Ryan Carney was promoted to the partnership in January 2014, and focuses on the energy sector. The firm represented BMC Software before the US Tax Court in a matter relating to the repatriation of foreign cash under section 965 of the Homeland Investment Act.

The ‘very experienced’ team at White & Case LLP is ‘adept at handling multi-faceted, complex situations and issues’, and has eight lawyers fully dedicated to tax controversy. International work is a key strength for the team; it has extensive experience advising in relation to the global operations of multinational clients, in particular their interaction with government, and regularly acts in transfer pricing controversies and matters governed by international tax treaties. Washington DC-based Brian Gleicher is a ‘fantastic’, ‘client-focused’ lawyer with ‘in-depth knowledge’. Also in Washington DC, Kim Boylan is well respected in the market, and recently successfully represented Cigna, the US-based global health insurance company, in a dispute before the US Tax Court.

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