Life as a Tax Lawyer
Speaking to António Maria Pimenta, we learn that being a tax lawyer is more than just crunching numbers, knowing the law and assisting clients in abiding by the rules.
Of course, one must meet the regulations, but as António explains to us, being a tax lawyer allows him to witness the growth of his client’s businesses, ensuring that they are saving money and protecting themselves in the best way.
Below, we ask him some questions which reveal more about his career and journey to becoming a tax lawyer.
- You began your career at the European Commission (DG Development) in Brussels in 1997. What lessons did you learn here?
It was an enriching experience. An opportunity to learn and to be part of an organisation within the decision centre of Europe. The work that is done at the European Commission, by Commissioners, Heads of Cabinet, Directorates-General, Heads of Unit and all the staff, along with the other European institutions has a direct impact in everyone’s lives, although many people are not fully aware of this. We, Europeans, should always keep in mind that the European Commission is responsible for drawing up proposals for new European legislation, and for implementing the decisions of the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. To be there, networking, learning the decision-making processes and also making good friends for life, at a young age as I did at the beginning of my career, certainly opened horizons. Among other things, I learned the importance of diplomacy and lobbying when you want to succeed, being in a public servant’s career or in the private sector.
- What are the important skills tax lawyers need?
Besides having a perfect knowledge of the law and in one’s area of expertise, a good tax lawyer must always keep a sharp focus on the tax law modifications, which are very frequent and diversified, as well on the tax administration and tax court’s positions. I would say that an excellent tax lawyer, however, would also be proactive and able to somehow foresee the directions that tax legislation, both national and international, will follow as this will allow them to contribute decisively for clients’ strategic plans. To be able to help clients to quickly make decisions and implement the necessary action is crucial and is the only way to add value to client’s businesses. I consider that tax is a strategic factor of any business, so in my mind, a tax lawyer frequently is much more than a simple service provider. They must be like a partner, and for that reason, they also share clients’ successes and risks.
- How have you seen the tax legal sector change over your years of practice?
Globalisation and technology, I would say are the main words when you think of evolution over the past few years in the tax legal sector, and all legal sectors, for that matter. The globalisation of commercial transactions and the technology that was inserted inside every players’ modus operandi had a tremendous impact that is still, today, not easily followed-up by everybody. Also, inside law firms, technology is having a huge impact, and I believe that tremendous changes will occur in the near future.
But I believe that happiness, being professionally or in your private lives, comes from inside and it is there you must find it, not anywhere else.
In Portugal, a small European country economically opened with a long tradition in trading and establishing commercial relations on a global scale, we obviously experienced the same challenges. Additionally, in recent years we experienced extensive and dynamic changes in various sectors, such as technology and innovation, tourism, real estate and construction, logistic infrastructures and advanced communication systems, for example. Some products, like the Portuguese wine and olive oil, cork products or the mold industry, are considered to be among the best in the world.
Because Portugal is a safe country with a friendly economic environment, it has attracted many international investors. Furthermore, it offers an attractive tax system that benefits all companies and individuals that decide to take their chances moving in.
This vibrant environment that has been evolving in the recent years presented several important challenges to our governments, our judicial system and of course to all of the tax administration system.
- What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
To make the decision towards independence and towards clients’ interests, after many years of working with major international consulting and law firms. Accepting my risks as an autonomous, independent lawyer, fighting to win and preserve clients’ trust, jumping outside the comfort zone, leaving the big anonymous organisation and entering the “jungle”, in order to share client’s challenges and successes was a massive challenge I am proud to overcome.
- Do you have a motto you live by?
No, I do not. But I believe that happiness, being professionally or in your private lives, comes from inside and it is there you must find it, not anywhere else.
- Can you share more information on your top three cases?
Unfortunately, I cannot. My professional deontological limitations do not allow me to share any information regarding clients and cases. I can, however, give you some insights on the kind of operations that I have been dealing with recently and the reasons why they are so interesting to me.
. Taxes, although necessary, are many times used in the most wrongful way by governments and tax administrations, hurting good companies and honest working men and women.
The first operation I can mention is the sale of a Portuguese energy company where we represented the interests of the selling party to a foreign fund. What makes this operation interesting is its legal and financial complexity and the challenge of finding commitments, compromising and committing, balancing positions until an agreement is achieved between parties.
The second case I can mention is the tax and legal support to foreign investors that came from France, Brazil and Thailand to invest in the construction and real estate sector in Portugal. What makes this case interesting is the variety of legal and tax matters that arise and the joy of witnessing the birth of new interesting projects that create value in Portugal, with guaranteed positive ramifications in the future.
A third case that I can mention is international tax litigation relating to a big operation that took place in Portugal and had tax consequences for Swiss and Lux residents. What made this case, which ended successfully, fascinating was that thanks to excellent coordination between legal teams in the various countries involved and, truth be said, to the Portuguese officials from the tax administration responsible for the case, we were able to conclude the process in a swift way with an excellent result for the client, saving a very important amount of money.
- Why did you become a tax lawyer?
I always had a taste for business and numbers. When I finished my degree and my trainee period obtaining my legal licence, I realised that I was not made to work inside a court. I am not happy there, although sometimes, I cannot avoid it. I feel happy when I know that I can somehow be a part of entrepreneurs’ or business people’s dreams and projects, helping them with their daily challenges, contributing to building successful companies, supporting and staying alongside family businesses and businesspeople when they take daily risks. Taxes, although necessary, are many times used in the most wrongful way by governments and tax administrations, hurting good companies and honest working men and women. It is also for that reason that it is important to keep a good tax team supporting businesses, assuring their defence against any harmful processes, helping to comply with all tax obligations in a growing global and complex world, whilst seizing opportunities.
- How do you measure your success?
I measure my success by the success of my clients. It is a cliché, but it is true, and I can say today that I feel happy and fulfilled as a tax lawyer.
- Do you have any nuggets of advice you would offer to those studying to become a lawyer?
Work hard, be bold, look for the changes ahead, but most of all, be loyal and earn the trust of your clients.
António Maria Pimenta
MACHADO, SARMENTO – SOCIEDADE DE ADVOGADOS, SP, RL [MSAD]
Address: Avenida da Boavista, 3197, 4100-137 Porto, Portugal
Phone: +351 220 920 150
Fax: +351 220 092 59
Web address: www.msad.pt
António Maria Pimenta is a Portuguese tax lawyer and a member of the Portuguese Law Society (Ordem dos Advogados) since May 1999.
He started his career at the European Commission in Brussels in 1997 and after that had a long career as a tax consultant and lawyer with some major international firms, starting with Arthur Andersen, Deloitte and Cuatrecasas and Garrigues, before joining international consulting firm Baker Tilly as a Tax Partner and Oporto Office’s Lead Partner in November 2011. After that, António led the opening of Miranda’s Office in Oporto, where he took on responsibilities as Director. Miranda is now one of the top full practice law firms in Portugal and one of the strongest international names among law firms in Portugal.
In 2015 there was an important change towards what he considered to be the best interests of his clients, opting for a smaller structure, where he could carry fewer responsibilities regarding human resources management, financial and administrative duties, dedicating more of his available time to clients. In his opinion, clients look for trust and added value in a lawyer and are not happy paying for heavy, anonymous structures.
Currently, Antonio is working with Machado, Sarmento, a boutique law firm with a very strong presence in Portugal and Brazil, where along with other carefully selected, highly skilled and experienced lawyers, providing leading businesses and entrepreneurs innovative solutions, legal security, commitment to think ahead, while bringing solutions to the most complex legal and commercial challenges.
Antonio’s experience in providing tax and legal assistance to a large number of clients is extensive. He primarily focuses on corporate tax and international transactions, with particular expertise in Portuguese tax matters and cross-border operations planning and structuring. During the course of his career, Antonio represented the interests of many Portuguese and international clients in transactions, mergers and acquisitions, financings, restructurings and investments abroad and in Portugal.
Handling estate planning, including the restructuring of private estates, inheritances and family-owned businesses, and estate planning for high-net-worth individuals also represents an important share of his daily responsibilities. In this area, the main emphasis of his practice is counselling clients regarding the preservation of their estates and the minimisation of estate and inheritance taxes.