This article is a continuation of ''Small but mighty'' from the January 2017 issue of Canadian Lawyer magazine.
Click here to read Part 1.
Tax boutiques may be small, but they are mighty.
Existing in a competitive market, facing off with large law firms and accounting firms over a share of that market, tax boutiques are constantly assessing how they fit in the grand scheme of things.
Michael Colborne, a partner at Thorsteinssons LLP, says a tax boutique is “a little bit different in the sense you fulfil a role not picked up at large transactional firms and one that is distinguishable in some facets from the advisory services provided by advisory firms.”
There’s an important difference between how a tax boutique practises and how a tax group at a big firm would practise, says Byron Beswick, partner at Felesky Flynn LLP in Calgary.
“We have direct relationships with our clients and have to maintain those continuously,” he notes.
Both Colborne and Beswick predict the focus of their practices over the next couple of years will be managing the development and the direction of international tax policy.
“The fact that we in Canada are being impacted so significantly by OECD initiatives, by European initiatives, by U.S. initiatives — all of these international developments have a direct impact on what we do,” Beswick says.
It’s challenging from a tax boutique perspective because they have to deal with different rules without the benefit of necessarily having close relationships with firms in those countries, Beswick says, adding “we don’t have that in-house network to always manage those things.”
Colborne says there is a continuing perception by the Canadian government there are “significant issues with Canadians improperly keeping assets offshore or not reporting income earned offshore,” but in a way, that’s good news for business.
“As lawyers for taxpayers who get the call from the CRA or another tax authority, the next call is to guys like us who sit down, examine the situation and sort it out,” Colborne says.
One challenge Beswick identifies is growing the practice with new talent. It can be tricky to find young lawyers who want to practise in this very complicated area for their career.
“That has to do with the demographics generally in the nature of what we do,” Beswick says. “While we are successful at that, I think that’s a challenge all of us are facing and think very deeply about on an ongoing basis.”
For Colborne, the issue is not as pressing. He says over the last few years, the firm has “stumbled into a group of extremely ambitious, smart, hardworking and talented young folks.”
“It’s injected it with a bit of youth and vigour,” he says. “With smaller-sized law firms, that matters a lot.
It’s more magnified in a smaller place.”
Being based in Alberta, Beswick says his firm is impacted by quantity prices and the current downturn in the resource industry, but he sees it as the normal ups and downs of the practice.
“One nice thing about a boutique is we’re more flexible in managing changes in the market and in the economy,” he says. “We can move very quickly to change our services or change the types of clients we target. That’s an important advantage.”
Top 5 Tax boutiques
Barsalou Lawson Rheault Barristers & Solicitors
Barsalou Lawson Rheault, a 15-lawyer law firm founded in 1994, provides tax advice to multinational corporations doing business in Canada. Its practice covers all areas of taxation, with a particular emphasis on transfer pricing (planning, audits, competent authority) and tax dispute resolution. It has been involved in a number of the largest audits and objection matters in the country. Pierre Barsalou, a former governor of the Canadian Tax Foundation, Sébastien Rheault, a current governor, McShane Jones and Stephane Marcassa are the firm’s partners. Its clientele includes leaders in various industries, including pharmaceuticals, e-commerce, mining and telecommunications.
“Outstanding service to clients, particularly in transfer pricing and tax litigation,” enthuses one respondent.
Deloitte Tax Law LLP
Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal
Deloitte Tax Law LLP provides advice to domestic and international clients on all aspects of Canadian tax law — including tax litigation and controversy, tax advisory, customs and global trade and commodity taxes. Its lawyers have experience in large and complex audits and disputes involving corporate reorganizations, cross-border transactions, transfer pricing, SR&ED credits and the general anti-avoidance rule. Its tax litigators have appeared at all levels of court. Services include developing tax planning strategies and tax-efficient corporate structures and advising on the income and commodity tax implications of a wide variety of transactions. Deloitte Tax Law also helps clients resolve customs and international trade disputes, minimize duties and taxes and manage compliance concerns.
One voter cites the firm’s “sophisticated, creative advice,” while another mentions its “depth of specialization” and “exceptional client service.”
Felesky Flynn LLP
Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon
Felesky Flynn LLP was founded in 1978 and, as a tax boutique with offices in Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatoon, has become a recognized leader in Canadian and international tax matters providing tax planning, representation and litigation advice to clients throughout Canada and internationally. The firm’s lawyers are very active in their community through teaching, publishing and participating in professional organizations.
One voter mentioned several things, including the firm’s “exceptional service to clients; deep understanding of the area of law and its intersection with clients’ objectives; contribution to the area of law by way of presentations and publications.”
KPMG Law LLP
Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, Vaughan
KPMG Law LLP assists domestic and international organizations with transaction planning, risk assessments, tax reporting and statutory compliance. The firm was established with two tax lawyers in 2003, expanding to more than 40 tax lawyers and offering services in tax litigation and dispute resolution, indirect tax, tax incentives, U.S. tax and trade and customs.
“Have always received great results when working with them,” says one voter.
Thorsteinssons LLP was founded in Vancouver in 1964 by Pat Thorsteinsson. In 1990, the firm expanded to Toronto in order to better serve its national client base. For more than 50 years, the firm has provided tax advice to clients around the world and is recognized for its work in highly complex matters. The firm has a long history of work in the resource sector, and provides advice in personal, corporate and international tax advice, estate planning, sales tax advice and has been involved in a number of tax litigation matters at all levels of court.
One respondent cites the firm’s depth and breadth of tax knowledge — “Thorsteinssons is Vancouver’s ‘go-to’ tax firm.”
Drache Aptowitzer LLP
Ottawa, Calgary, Toronto
Clients include not-for-profits, charities and non-taxable entities
Moodys Gartner Tax Law LLP
Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto, and Buffalo, NY
17 lawyers (also 14 chartered accountants/certified public accountants)
Clients include Abreezio LLC and Petrograx, as well as other real estate, financial, technology, oil and gas and agriculture companies
Millar Kreklewetz LLP
Clients come from oil and gas, automotive, financial institutions, non-resident importers, direct selling
Dwyer Tax Law
Family-owned enterprises, estate planning, Canadians moving offshore, immigrants moving to Canada
Clients represent a variety of industries, including manufacturing, real estate development, technology and financial services, ranging from a billion-dollar multinational software company and a U.S. pension plan to software and financial services startup entrepreneurs.