Jim Fuller is a partner in the tax group at Fenwick & West in Mountain View, California. Euromoney named Fuller eight times as one of the world’s top 25 tax advisers, most recently in 2019. He is the only US tax adviser to receive a “star performer” rating (above band one) in Chambers USA (2019). He is one of the three “most highly regarded” US tax practitioners according to WWL, and one of the USA’s top 30 transfer-pricing advisers, according to Euromoney (2019). Fuller is included in The Legal 500’s “Halls of Fame”, and the top tier of Chambers Global, for both corporate tax and international tax. Fenwick has represented six of the Fortune Top 10 companies; over 50 of the Fortune 100 companies; and over 100 of the Fortune 500 companies in federal tax matters. Fuller and his firm have served as counsel in over 150 large corporate IRS Appeals proceedings and over 75 large-corporate federal tax court cases. Some of these have been for Fortune Top 10 companies.
What inspired you to specialise in corporate tax law?
As a young first-year associate with a large NYC law firm, I experienced working on corporate, commercial litigation and tax matters, and concluded that tax was for me. Tax had an early, upfront role in M&A transactions to help structure the deal, and often a continuing role post-closing to help with implementation. I felt that tax also played a more complete role with clients, and good ideas drew more appreciation from clients.
What are the greatest challenges currently facing corporate tax lawyers in the USA and how do you ensure you are well equipped to face them?
Keeping current as tax changes are happening all around the world. The USA just enacted the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA); the Treasury and the IRS just wrote thousands of pages of TCJA regulations; and the OECD just gave us the concepts of base erosion profit shifting (BEPS), and development, enhancement, maintenance, protection and exploitation (DEMPE). These were major changes. Countries’ tax laws also change on a regular basis. More changes will be coming. On the US side, tax lawyers need daily updates on developments and a plan for active, continuing education. On the foreign side, good foreign advisers are necessary.
What are the benefits and the challenges of practising in an area of law that is constantly changing, and highly international?
I love what I do and wouldn’t want to do anything else. Keeping up with the constant changes is a challenge, but one with major opportunities. Understanding clients’ businesses and needs is also important, as the tax law often lags behind real-life developments by a decade or more. Finally, coordinating US, foreign and treaty rules in international planning is both a challenge and an opportunity. It’s quite rewarding. I get great satisfaction from what I do.
How do you prepare for a transfer pricing case involving large multinational corporations?
The only way to prepare for a large transfer pricing case is to know all the facts. This can take a lot more time than one might think; it’s also extremely important. Careful research regarding the relevant law nearly always brings material improvements to the case. Relevant non-tax laws also can be important. Developments in the industry as a whole can be important. Identifying and working with experts also is key. It all takes time and effort. There are no shortcuts.
What makes Fenwick & West stand out from its competitors in the market?
First, we have very good tax attorneys who are willing to work hard. Second, we make great efforts to keep current. Third, we have the experience to know how to approach particular matters with the necessary creativity. This might sound like hyperbole, but it’s true. Clients keeping coming to us for these reasons.
How have client demands and priorities changed since you first began practising?
Perhaps despite the belief of some, things have not really changed since I first began practicing. Clients have always wanted sound, sometimes cutting-edge advice that is both creative and practical. Change in the tax laws is also not a new thing. These changes have been going on for decades. Many countries, many changes. Some big, some small, but they have always been important.
What advice would you give to younger lawyers hoping to one day be in your position?
Work hard, always go that “extra mile”, keep current and know your client’s business. Give practical advice. That can be more important than it sounds. Be creative as well as giving sound advice.
Looking back over your career, what is the most interesting case you have been a part of?
There were so many cases and deals. It’s difficult to pick one. We had the first (and to date, only) transfer pricing case decided by arbitration (baseball arbitration) in the Tax Court. The case involved Apple Computer. One of my first big M&A cases involved Chrysler’s sale of its European operations to Peugeot. I designed and implemented a structure that I had to negotiate with the relevant banks in Paris and Madrid. I was barely a partner at that point, and I was on my own.