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  1. US taxes: contentious
  2. Leading lawyers

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With around 60 specialists, Baker McKenzie LLP’s tax litigation team has one of the deepest benches around, and assists clients in the full range of contentious tax matters. Dallas-based practice head Robert Albaral took the lead in the successful representation of Pilgrim’s Pride at the Fifth Circuit in a dispute involving nearly $100m. A team from the Chicago office secured certainty on behalf of Starbucks after the coffee giant entered into a ten-year bilateral advance pricing agreement (APA) with the IRS and the Canada Revenue Agency. Chicago-based Mark Oates has a high standing in the market and Duane Webber in Washington DC can ‘distil technical arguments into a few meaningful concepts’. Clients include American Airlines, Dresser-Rand and Guardian Industries and also Medtronic, which the team has a longstanding relationship with and currently represents in all aspects of its administrative tax disputes and tax litigation. Mark Roche in San Francisco and Susan Ryba in the Chicago office were made partners.

Excellent firmCaplin & Drysdale, Chartered provides a ‘first-class’ service in all matters, from voluntary disclosures and IRS investigations to offshore-related matters. The 13 partners are led by the ‘practical and hands-on’ Mark Allison in New York and Washington DC-based Scott Michel, who ‘brings years of industry experience and knowledge to bear on client issues’. Christopher Rizek, also in Washington DC, is highly regarded in the field. The team represented the co-founder and owner of the Hard Rock Cafe in a Court of Federal Claims suit against the IRS seeking a tax refund of approximately $10m. In another Court of Federal Claims suit, it is acting for insurance company AIG in a dispute with the United States regarding a payment of $30m in interest derived from a tax overpayment for the 1991 tax year. Dianne Mehany was promoted to member, while transactional tax and private client specialist Jonathan Brenner joined from Feingold & Alpert, LLP. Peter Lowy went to Chamberlain, Hrdlicka, White, Williams & Aughtry.

Latham & Watkins LLP’s six-lawyer team provides ‘superb value for money’ and has vast tax litigation experience in the US Tax Court, Court of Federal Claims, district courts, courts of appeals and the Supreme Court, and is also well versed in finding resolutions during the administrative process. The ‘strategic, articulate and confident’ global chair Miriam Fisher (Gerald Kafka moved to of counsel status) provides advice that is ‘practical, pragmatic, tactically astute and legally impeccable’. Fisher is assisting blender manufacturer Vitamix determine its tax liability in Michigan in tax refund litigation involving the use of a favorable income apportionment method. ‘Excellent adviserBrian McManus, who puts clients ‘in stressful tax controversy situations at ease’, represented Guidant Financial and several of its clients in connection with numerous IRS examinations, appeals and Tax Court cases. Other notable clients are Carlson Capital and Palace Exploration.

Mayer Brown’s 17-partner practice is led by Joel Williamson and Thomas Kittle-Kamp in Chicago and Brian Kittle in New York. The team is particularly well versed in disputes before the Tax Court; in a follow on to the Xilinx litigation, it is acting as co-counsel to Altera in a challenge to the IRS’s regulations, which demand that amounts attributable to equity compensation have to be included in the pool of costs following a cost-sharing arrangement. A team including Williamson and Kittle-Kamp is representing Boston Scientific and its subsidiaries in the ‘Guidant’ case, a large transfer pricing dispute in the Tax Court. In another case before the Tax Court, a team is advising Tyco International on the deductibility of interest paid by Tyco’s US entities to a related finance company in Switzerland. Tom Durham from the Chicago office retired, while Kristin Mikolaitis and Erin Gladney, both in the New York office, were promoted to partner. Palo Alto-based Larry Langdon is another important member of the team.

Barton Bassett and Joshua Brady lead Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP’s tax group, which has 15 tax controversy partners based across its offices in Silicon Valley and Washington DC. As a consequence of the firm’s merger with Bingham McCutchen, the practice gained considerable strength; among the seven new recruits specializing in tax disputes are David Curtin and Beth Williams. The team is particularly well versed in transfer pricing matters, and recently represented Amazon in a $3.4bn income adjustment transfer pricing case. In another matter, the team is acting for Google in an income tax deduction case relating to its transfer of a stock warrant to AOL. In a case involving the application of employment and income tax to foreign flight attendants, the team acted as tax counsel to American Airlines, which ended in favorable terms for the client. John Magee in the Washington DC office is considered a renowned practitioner in the market. Sheri Dillon joined the office from Vinson & Elkins LLP.

Kenneth Gideon leads Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP’s tax group, which is adept at tax litigation and experienced in controversy resolution at both the examination and appeals levels. Raj Madan continued to act for Amazon in the IRS’s challenge of its transfer pricing position and successfully argued Amazon’s motion to quash the IRS trial subpoena for Mr. Bezos’ testimony. In the first-ever case to be tried implicating the IRS’s cancellation of an APA, the team represented industrial manufacturer Eaton Corporation, and it is currently overseeing the drafting of the extensive post-trial briefs. In another case before the Tax Court, the team is representing pharmaceutical company Mylan in relation to the tax characterization of the disposition of an interest in certain intellectual property. A team including John Williams is acting for Ingersoll Rand before the Tax Court regarding an IRS challenge to treaty benefits claimed to reduce withholding tax on intercompany interest payments. Washington DC-based Fred Goldberg is another key figure.

Chamberlain, Hrdlicka, White, Williams & Aughtry’s ‘excellent’ department is made up of ‘great tax controversy lawyers that, unlike some other firms, will take a case to trial.’ David Aughtry (‘one of the top tax trial lawyers in the US’) and George Connelly lead the team, which includes a number of former tax litigators from the DOJ’s Tax Division and the IRS Office of Chief Counsel. The ‘incredibly smart and analytical’ Larry Campagna represented Discovery Land Company in a Tax Court case of first impression against the IRS. New client gains include Minchem International, which the team successfully represented in a civil fraud penalty case, which relates to the IRS’s assertion - and subsequent 75% penalty - that both Minchem and founder Jerry Sun profited from a money transfer from a China-based investor. UPS and Wells Fargo are longstanding clients. Peter Lowy joined from Caplin & Drysdale, Chartered.

The ‘leading-edge’ tax controversy practice at McDermott Will & Emery LLP is known for ‘timely and thorough responses, and cost-effective, cutting-edge information on tax issues and the industry’. The arrival of Dentons’ three-partner controversy team - former head of tax controversy and litigation Todd Welty along with Mark Thomas and Laura Gavioli - has further strengthened the practice; Welty now co-leads the team with the ‘outstanding’ Jean Pawlow. Pawlow is currently representing Citibank in a case in which the bank is seeking a $400m tax refund, and she continues to advise Siemens in federal, state and local tax controversy matters. The team also handles multiple tax controversy issues on behalf Exxon and Illinois Tool Works. In one of several new cases focusing on whether risk transfer and risk distribution requirements for insurance are met, the team gained a victory in the Tax Court on behalf of Swedish-based security services group Securitas. The impressive client roster includes the likes of Aetna and Caterpillar, as well as new clients Hewlett-Packard and Costco. Transfer pricing practice head Mark Martin in Houston is recommended by clients, and Chicago-based Roger Jones enjoys a high standing in the market.

Washington DC’s Miller & Chevalier Chartered employs a ‘very deep bench with considerable prior government experience’, which ‘gives them a unique perspective in resolving tax disputes.’ Tax department chair George Hani is particularly recommended for IRS audits and appeals, while Kevin Kenworthy is highly regarded in tax litigation. Another name to note is former IRS Commissioner Larry Gibbs, who is ‘one of the leading tax controversy lawyers in the country.’ Kevin Downing has ‘one of the best perspectives of any attorney in private practice on issues relating to foreign accounts.’ Downing is part of a team currently representing Swiss insurance company Starr International in a district court refund suit. Andrew Strelka, a former trial attorney at the DOJ’s Tax Division, joined the group as counsel.

Phenomenal firmSutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP provides ‘concise insights into the potential tax impacts of clientsbusiness decisions’ and is ‘always available to assist and bring a solid team to the table.’ Jerome Libin and Mark Smith lead the Washington DC-based practice, which acts for high-profile clients such as Albemarle, Microsoft and Comcast. Libin represents specialty chemicals manufacturer Albemarle Corporation in a major tax case of first impression, which relates to the effects of an overseas tax contest on the running of the statute of limitations for claiming foreign tax credits. In another important matter, the team overturned a previous adverse ruling and led BASR Partnership to a key victory in the US Court of Appeals. Eric Tresh in the Atlanta office is noted for his ‘great insight into the origination and evolution of tax in various industries and is very good at boiling down complex issues into concise terms.’ Other key figures to note are former IRS chief counsel Jerold Cohen and member of the IRS Advisory Committee Tom Cullinan, both based in Atlanta.

Kenneth Clark is in charge of the California-based tax litigation subgroup at Fenwick & West LLP, which is currently representing a major Silicon Valley player. The team is particularly noted for its expertise in transfer pricing, and is involved in a number of such disputes at audit and appeals levels for clients in industries ranging from hi-tech and pharmaceuticals to retailing and media. Jim Fuller is particularly adept in this area, while Ron Schrotenboer is experienced in state income tax audits as well as appeals; Andy Kim handles a large proportion of the firm’s tax litigation.

Kirkland & Ellis LLP is well versed in tax litigation at all levels, as well as in IRS appeals and audits, and has substantial transfer pricing controversy experience. The team, which is led by Chicago-based Todd Maynes, Natalie Keller and JoAnne Nagjee, continues to handle a substantial number of tax controversy matters within the context of bankruptcies, such as the representation of FirstFed in a tax refund claim on behalf of a failed bank. In another important matter, the team represented EFH before bankruptcy court in relation to a section 505 motion challenging property tax valuations of seven nuclear power plants in Texas. While the practice is active for a wide range of industries, from automotive to consumer electronics, it has extensive experience representing airlines, and has acted recently for airline clients in disputes involving sales and use taxes on jet fuel with the Regional Transportation Authority.

Superior firmMorrison & Foerster LLP has ‘vast knowledge of the tax issues and experience with opposing attorneys’, which provides clients ‘with a very high comfort level on the big-dollar, high-risk issues.’ The sizeable practice, led by Craig Fields and Thomas Humphreys in New York and David Strong in Denver, represents clients in audits, appeals and litigation, and also handles transfer pricing matters, both in a planning capacity and in the controversy context. In a case that attracted wide media coverage, the team successfully represented Netflix after the Kentucky Department of Revenue assessed the client for various utility-type taxes on the basis that the streaming service is a multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD); following a persuasive representation, the Kentucky Board of Tax Appeals held that Netflix does not qualify as an MVPD. Senior counsel Paul Frankel in the New York office is very experienced.

The 30 tax controversy practitioners at Reed Smith LLP - several are former state and federal tax officials - are led by Philadelphia-based Lee Zoeller, who secured a $2m tax refund on behalf of Hewlett-Packard. The impressive client roster also includes the likes of FedEx and General Motors, and Bayer engaged John McIntyre as lead litigation counsel in a lawsuit against the United States - pending in district court - in which the multinational pharmaceutical company alleges that the IRS improperly denied nearly all of its research credit claims despite the fact that it spent more than $11bn on research and development in the US during that specific period.

Steptoe & Johnson LLP handles state, federal and international matters in all phases of tax planning and controversy, for national and international clients. Robert Rizzi and Lisa Zarlenga in Washington DC lead the team. Additional names to note are Walker Johnson and Rob Kovacev, also based in Washington DC. The team is acting for Delaware Gas and Electric, the trustee of two statutory trusts, in a pending Tax Court case in which the trusts claimed several millions of dollars in tax credits for producing and selling methane from landfill gas collected at various landfills across the US. After serving nearly four years as tax legislative counsel at the Treasury Department’s Office of Tax Policy, Lisa Zarlenga rejoined the team. Beth Tractenberg joined from Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP. Art Bailey retired and Dawn Gabel rejoined Quarles & Brady LLP’s Phoenix office.

Sullivan & Cromwell LLP’s ‘outstanding’ tax controversy practice draws its strength from its close cooperation with the firm’s litigation group, importing the methodologies employed in corporate controversies to tax disputes. The team, which is considered ‘extremely responsive and accurate’ with ‘very good judgment and expert knowledge’, has recently acted for Reed Elsevier (now RELX Group), Foundry Group and the US subsidiary of a UK bank. Practice head Donald Korb has 42 years’ experience in the field, including a tenure as chief counsel at the IRS. James Gadwood, who combines ‘knowledge and ability with outstanding customer service and interpersonal, financial, business and commercial skills’, is another name to note.

Dallas-based Thompson & Knight LLP handles a broad range of tax controversy matters, from IRS audits and position papers contesting tax adjustments and penalties, to administrative proceedings and assessment appeals, to federal and state tax refund and deficiency litigation. Mary McNulty focuses on federal tax procedural issues and partnership audits and is one of the key contacts. Another name to note is Emily Parker, who is an experienced litigator representing clients in IRS audits and appeal proceedings, federal and state tax refunds, and deficiency litigation. As part of the firm’s preeminent energy practice, it has a long and successful history acting as tax litigation counsel to petroleum and natural resources clients.

Baker Botts L.L.P. predominantly handles large tax controversies for clients in the energy and technology industries. The team is representing the co-executors of the estate of Carl R. Pohlad in a case regarding the IRS’s assertion of a $256m estate tax deficiency. In pending property tax lawsuits in more than 120 Texan counties, Houston-based Renn Neilson is representing Exterran in various appraisal districts’ classifications of its natural gas compressors as general business personal property, when in statutory language terms the compressors are heavy equipment inventory. Other clients are Halliburton and CenterPoint Energy. Don Lonczak, who divides his practice between Washington DC and New York, is another name to note.

New York-based Stephen Gardner is the chair of the tax litigation group at Cooley LLP. Together with Kathy Pakenham, who leads the firm’s tax practice, he handles significant federal, state and international tax controversies, such as the representation of energy corporation ConocoPhillips in a refund action before the Northern District of Oklahoma Court and the US Court of Appeals relating to the restoration of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. The practice is also well versed in transfer pricing matters; it recently represented a global natural resources company in a transfer pricing dispute with the IRS, which ended in complete concession of more than $150m in proposed adjustments.

Covington & Burling LLP regularly handles tax controversies involving transfer pricing, financial products, foreign tax credit and Subpart F income. Daniel Luchsinger leads the Washington-based practice, which recently saw the returns of Sam Maruca, following a stint as head of transfer pricing at the IRS, and Lee Kelley, former deputy tax legislative counsel at the Department of the Treasury. Jeremy Spector is advising the National Football League regarding the controversy surrounding its tax-exempt status, which has come under attack from Congress, the press and academics.

The ‘outstandingDLA Piper LLP (US) team, led by David Colker, the ‘highly capableKathryn Keneally (former assistant attorney general at the Tax Division of the DOJ) and Ellis Reemer, assists with federal, as well as state and local civil and criminal tax audits, appeals and litigation. The team advised the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation in connection with the refiling of amended tax returns. Diana Erbsen was appointed by President Obama to serve as deputy assistant attorney general for appellate and review for the DOJ’s Tax Division.

Dentons’ tax controversy group recently underwent some changes. Jim Mastracchio - former co-chair of Baker & Hostetler LLP’s national tax controversy practice - now chairs the tax controversy and criminal tax practice, while Todd Welty, Mark Thomas and Laura Gavioli departed for McDermott Will & Emery LLP. The ten-lawyer team acts for a broad range of clients, including multinational companies, high-net-worth individuals, trusts and estates, and other tax advisers. It handles all phases, from pre-audit planning through to appeals and litigation.

The ‘excellentNorton Rose Fulbright US LLP has strong industry knowledge in areas such as transport, financial services, technology, and infrastructure and energy. The ‘very responsive and knowledgeable’ team includes key figures Robert Morris and the recommended Jasper Taylor. Morris is defending the British diving and marine services company Adams Challenge in a $75m deficiency claim. The team also acted for independent oil and gas company Newfield Exploration in relation to a US outer continental shelf tax indemnity.

Sidley Austin LLP’s broad practice covers internal investigations involving tax issues, all stages of the administrative process from audits to administrative appeals before the IRS, as well as federal and state tax disputes. The practice is led by Jay Zimbler and Matthew Lerner. The team is representing American Airlines and United Airlines in suits brought by the Regional Transportation Authority in the Circuit Court of Cook County challenging their sourcing of local sales taxes. Another client is ABA Retirement Funds.

Winston & Strawn LLP’s team is led by Chicago-based Amit Kalra. Charles Moll acted as lead counsel to Schlumberger Technology in an income tax appeal before the Alaska Supreme Court in a matter of first impression. The team is also representing Russell City Energy in federal court in a utility users tax and contract dispute. Chicago-based Jim Lynch and Lou Weber are other notable contacts. Since publication, Lawrence Hill has joined from Shearman & Sterling LLP.

While the tax controversy practice at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, led by Mario Verdolini, is known for negotiating settlements with the IRS, its litigation strategy has also proven successful, which is exemplified by victories on behalf of numerous clients, including PepsiCo. The team handles a variety of transfer pricing and competent authority matters for clients in the financial services industry.

Barbara Kaplan chairs the nine-member tax audits and litigation group at Greenberg Traurig, LLP. The team has recently represented numerous clients in federal tax examinations prompted by treaty disclosures of offshore activity to the IRS, as well as in federal tax audits, IRS appeals conferences, trust fund recovery penalty cases and transferee liability and collection cases. Scott Fink and Charles Simmons are some of the key figures.

Hogan Lovells US LLP’s five-partner team provides ‘outstanding service’ and ‘critical and out-of-the-box thinking’. Washington DC-based practice head Siobhan Rausch focuses on the formation and operation of a range of nonprofit, tax-exempt entities, including charitable, educational, health and scientific research-related organizations. Rausch and Todd Miller, who is also in Washington DC, are acting for Rural Telephone Finance Corporation after it received a notice of deficiency from the Virgin Islands alleging that it owed over $90m in income taxes.

San Francisco-based William Bonano leads Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP’s tax controversy practice, which operates from a bench with deep experience. The team includes Eileen J. O’Connor, a former assistant attorney general of the Tax Division, and several former IRS chief counsels and DOJ litigators. A team including Eric Fishman is representing one of the largest government-owned Swiss banks, along with its private banking subsidiary, in the historic Program for Non-Prosecution Agreements or Non-Target Letters for Swiss Banks. It also handles tax controversies for corporate clients like Apple and Amazon.

The tax controversy and litigation group at Shearman & Sterling LLP has a focus on litigation, IRS controversy and white-collar investigations. Laurence Bambino has spent his entire legal career with the tax group and serves at the co-head of the firm’s global tax practice. Washington DC-based Michael Shulman, co-head of the firm’s national tax group, and Robert Rudnick, who splits his practice between Washington DC and New York, are additional names to note. Since publication, Lawrence Hill has moved to Winston & Strawn LLP.

Vinson & Elkins LLP handles the full scope of tax controversy issues, providing expertise in relation to the Internal Revenue Code, international, state and local tax laws, tax treaties, financial products, accounting methods, partnerships, energy and tax credits, and valuation issues. Houston-based practice head George Gerachis represents BMC Software in tax litigation regarding foreign earnings repatriation under section 965 of the Internal Revenue Code. Miriam Burke retired. Sheri Dillon departed to Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, and David Cole was promoted to partner.

With the ‘extremely quick response times and superb tax advice’, the service level at White & Case LLP is considered ‘very high’. The 11 tax lawyers dedicated to tax controversy work appear regularly before the IRS and also handle international tax disputes. The ‘extremely knowledgeable, responsive and smartKim Boylan heads the group, which handled the tax controversy issues in numerous M&A transactions, such as health benefits company Anthem’s proposed $54bn acquisition of health insurance company Cigna.

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Legal Developments worldwide

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