Post-pandemic opportunities lie in strategising with – and supporting – clients and their distinctive needs, according to these tax lawyers.
Andrew Antonopoulos and Toni Eisenhut are the founder and associate director of ABA Legal Group, respectively. The pair spoke recently on The Boutique Lawyer Show about the state of affairs of tax law and how it’s been impacted by the pandemic, as well as how they support idiosyncratic client needs.
Ms Eisenhut said that one of the firm’s main principles is to “demonstrate value”.
“Demonstrate what you’re able to give back to your clients and what you can, because that’s, at the end of the day ... what you want to do is that value and maximise people’s earning potential,” she said.
Mr Antonopoulos added that demonstrating value for their clients, and making them a priority, helped ABA Legal survive the uncertainty of the last 18 months.
“A lot of our clients didn’t know what was going to happen. A lot of our clients didn't know how it'd affect their cash flows, their business, their employment. So, over the last 18 months, we've experienced a lot of that volatility, the highs and lows,” he said.
“We were faced with a choice, and our choice at that moment was to double down our efforts towards clients, to pick up any employees that were otherwise made redundant or let go from organisations where we thought they could add value to our client base.
“We went all-in with our clients and went all-in with our staff, and said in times of crisis and uncertainty let’s band together. And we embedded ourselves with a lot of clients and took the risk that it wouldn’t work, but doubled down and made sure that it did,” Mr Antonopoulos added.
The firm subsequently reached out to their clients to check in, ask what they were doing and how ABA Legal could help, said Ms Eisenhut.
“I think it’s fair to say we get emotionally involved with our clients a lot. Particularly because they’re entrepreneurial type clients and we love seeing what they’re doing. We’re very passionate about what they’re doing, and love seeing them grow.
“What we learned as a practise, as a business, was agility. It came down to people, how agile businesses can be and how much they can change and how much we can. As tax lawyers we know how to read the numbers, we also know how to interpret the law,” she explained.
“On a day-to-day basis pre-pandemic, we were just looking at maximising returns. Now we’re looking at let’s focus on the day to day and managing cash flow. What strategies can we implement to make sure that you can get through this?”
As tax is an extremely compliant area of law, it can be “extremely difficult” to stay on top of it whilst simultaneously dealing with changing client needs, according to Mr Antonopoulos.
“There’s a lot of consequences in the event you get a tax problem wrong because you are playing with quite a lot of somebody’s money and savings, and for small businesses, their livelihoods,” he said.
“The traditional tax lawyer from time to time will focus on the problem or a tax law issue or a private ruling or leaving outside tax controversy and tax dispute, which I think is a different area within tax law. The opportunity tax lawyers have is to take more of a step back from the problem and look at the businesses in their totality, because we’re the ones that kind of grasp those transactional elements between groups and outside.”
Mr Antonopoulos added that tax lawyers, in particular, have increasing opportunities to look into “grants, incentives and other non-dilutive capital sources to support clients” – and that the domestic market was the future.
“I often hear from people that we need to get to the states, our product needs to be in the states. It’s a bigger market. It’s a huge market. [But] I think nowadays you’re looking more domestically. And the tax lawyer can look at that and see the impact that can have on financial statements or the equity piece or the capital raise and consolidation,” he said.
“Tax lawyers can play a big part in advising clients what’s the appropriate time to consolidate the business, the products, the revenue lines, in order to get ready for an export market again. Because the export world can look different to us in the next foreseeable future.”
In terms of other future opportunities for tax lawyers, Ms Eisenhut said one of the most exciting parts of the space was being able to strategise with business owners and clients about what they want to achieve.
“From what I’m seeing in the market, this is what people are looking for. They want to be able to do strategic work. And this is one way you can do strategic work with a really solid technical knowledge base,” she said.
“I think the thing we can look forward to most is uncertainty again about what is the government, what is the federal government, what is the state government going to be doing in order to try and collect enough revenue to make up the deficit that’s there from coronavirus stimulus packages and other revenue problems they might be facing.
“I think the opportunity for us as tax lawyers is looking at structures. Looking at asset protection, looking at structures, looking at transactions and giving effect to strategic growth of a business and scaling a business so that it can weather a lot of the storms that might be coming if the government changes its policy,” Ms Eisenhut continued.
Similarly, Mr Antonopoulos added that as well as “keeping an eye on the international market”, lawyers should be on the lookout for new government regulations and incentives in relation to their client needs.
“As tax lawyers, we should be looking for things that the government will be doing from an incentives perspective. From a tax holiday perspective, the patent box is a good example the Australian government has announced and is implementing,” he concluded.
“There’s opportunities as tax lawyers to leverage those incentives and government responses to try to call back their revenue base after they've recovered from this economic position that they’re in.”
The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Andrew Antonopoulos and Toni Eisenhut click below: