Jack Bernstein is chair of the Aird & Berlis international tax practice and a senior partner of the firm’s tax group. Jack is well known in international tax planning, mergers and acquisitions, corporate restructuring, reorganisations, financing, and cross-border estate planning. He is experienced in dealing with public and private corporations and has advised hedge funds, venture capital funds and real estate funds. Jack frequently advises international clients on doing business in Canada.
What inspired you to pursue a legal career?
In my second year of law school at McGill University in Montreal, I took a tax law course taught by a well-known tax practitioner who had left his firm to start his own boutique tax firm. I was fortunate to be one of two students he hired to work at his firm. It was as a result of this experience that I decided to specialise in tax law, and have been doing so ever since.
As chair of the firm’s international tax practice, what are your priorities for its development over the next few years?
Expanding the client base served by our international tax practice and related firm practice areas through cross-selling is a key focus of mine. Over the years, I have developed strategic relationships with counterparts in major law firms across the USA, the UK, Europe and South America, resulting in referral work not only for the members of our tax practice, but also many of the firm’s other practice groups, including capital markets, corporate/commercial, real estate, litigation, intellectual property and financial services. I continue to lead the firm’s international business development initiative, which includes annual business development trips to meet with clients and contacts at their offices and attendance at key conferences and events. I am also committed to mentoring the younger partners and associates in our group. I provide opportunities for the younger partners to take a leadership role on client files and for associates to work on a wide variety of matters. I also strongly encourage the younger partners and associates to attend international business development trips and facilitate opportunities for them to write for leading tax publications and to get involved in industry associations, such as the International Bar Association taxes committee, the American Bar Association section of taxation and the International Fiscal Association.
What do you enjoy most about working at such an international level?
I have always appreciated the global nature of business, and working with counterparts and clients on cross-border and multi-jurisdictional matters brings a dynamic dimension to my practice. I enjoy staying in tune with global legal trends and structures through my involvement in several international and Canadian tax organisations. This includes successfully chairing and organising the annual IBA finance and capital markets tax conference in London since 2011, as well as my former roles as governor of the Canadian Tax Foundation, chair of the American Bar Association foreign lawyers forum, global co-chair of the International Bar Association taxation committee, and council member of the International Fiscal Association (Canadian branch). I have also been fortunate to forge many relationships with practitioners around the world, which have resulted in lasting friendships along the way.
How does your work writing for tax publications enhance your work in private practice?
To date, I have published well over 1,000 articles in leading tax publications globally, including Tax Notes International, Canadian Tax Highlights, Tax Profile, The Canadian Tax Journal, CA magazine, Tax Management International Journal, The Bulletin (a publication of the International Fiscal Association), The Journal of International Taxation, and World Tax Report and Derivatives and Financial Instruments, among others. Writing has definitely helped me to raise my profile as an authority on domestic and international tax matters. It has opened the door to many opportunities, including speaking engagements and new business. By sharing quality content with key audiences in the tax and legal communities, I have been able to build and maintain the trust of peers, clients and prospects.
What do you find most challenging about handling cross-border transactions, and how do you ensure you are well equipped to meet it?
Working on cross-border and multinational transactions requires a sophisticated approach to addressing the legal needs in each jurisdiction in an efficient and effective manner. At Aird & Berlis, we compose a team of specialised experts who work cooperatively with all parties to a transaction.
What advice would you give to younger lawyers looking to specialise in tax law?
Tax law is a broad area of legal practice with various areas of sub-specialisation. Having the opportunity to work on a diverse range of tax matters – including those related to corporate tax, estate and trusts, international tax planning, and even litigation – can provide young tax lawyers with a well-rounded sense of this area of practice. Seek out a leader in the field who can provide you with valuable mentorship and guidance and take every opportunity to learn from them. Start building your reputation from day one, by getting involved in relevant associations, writing articles and ensuring you provide exceptional client service and support.