Interview with Jason M. Stephan, Tax counsel

“You have to be inclined towards life-long learning,”
Jason M. Stephan, tax counsel with Warren Sinclair LLP in Red Deer, Alberta

WHAT APPEALED TO YOU ABOUT TAX LAW?

The Income Tax Act (Canada) is an extremely complex piece of legislation. You have to be very creative and careful in order to get conclusive results in terms of reduced tax liabilities. It is very rewarding to work as a team with the client’s accountants and other lawyers involved in the matters. Multidisciplinary working relationships are almost always rewarding.

I don’t personally handle my clients’ tax returns, but when I develop a tax plan I need to work with the client’s accounting advisers so that the tax returns are properly report the tax planning transactions.

WHAT KINDS OF REQUESTS DO YOU GET THE MOST OFTEN?

Many of my clients contact me when they are buying or selling property or a company.
Most of the time, my engagement involves considering the tax on the normative transaction and then considering what can be done to pay less tax. Obviously, each case is different depending on the circumstances; the more significant the tax in the normative case, the greater the opportunity for planning to decrease the taxpayer’s tax burden.

HOW DOES THAT WORK?

The higher your taxable income, the more potential opportunity you have to reduce your tax burden, in dollar terms. In all cases, my work must justify itself in terms of the client’s benefits. Accordingly, if I realize that there won’t be any benefits, it’s not appropriate for me to be engaged by a taxpayer.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD TAX LAWYER?

Being creative is vital, because you need to think about things in a new way, with a different point of view, in order to benefit from a situation. The conditions of the law may apply in one way or another based on the entity that is using your services.
Moreover, you have to be inclined towards life-long learning. Being a tax lawyer means being acquainted with real estate law, corporate law, partnership law, property law and trust law, as well as finance, commerce, accounting, etc. Without having a true passion for the law in general, it’s difficult to excel!

Finally, the third quality to be developed is the ability to work on a team and with taxpayers. Getting good tax results usually requires a multi disciplinary team and as such to be effective, you need to work well with the taxpayer’s accountants and other lawyers.

WHAT DO YOU DREAD THE MOST IN YOUR WORK?

The devil is in the details! The technical part of this job is where the greatest risk lies.
Tax laws are vast, complex and technical. It’s easy to make mistakes if you’re not focused and careful in your work.

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