Jeroen Janssen advises major international clients. Jeroen focuses strongly on the Brazilian, Mexican and Israeli markets, assisting corporate clients, financial institutions and high-net-worth individuals on cross-border investments. Jeroen has worked in New York and London. He is a regular speaker at international conferences and is the author of several publications on tax topics. Jeroen heads the Latin America team of Loyens & Loeff, and visits the region on a frequent basis.
What inspired you to pursue a legal career?
I never had a plan to become a tax lawyer; it just happened. After high school I went to a prestigious business school, and when I graduated, I started studying law. Not because I wanted to become a lawyer. I wanted to become an investment banker or a management consultant. Although I was offered job opportunities for both, in the end, I had a feeling that I would be more successful as a lawyer. I followed that feeling and chose to work for the law firm I still work for today. As the Dutch writer Gerbrand Bredero said, life can turn on a dime.
What do you enjoy most about working in corporate tax?
Surprisingly, still the same things that made me pursue a legal career. The always-changing environment in the tax world is intellectually challenging. But it is not only a technical and intellectual job behind a dusty desk. Corporate tax means working with people. Working with clients and ambitious young colleagues, and solving complex problems, makes every day different.
What do clients look for in an effective corporate tax lawyer?
Being effective means good communication. Communication is 30 per cent talking, and 70 per cent listening and understanding. I think that most clients often have the feeling that the 70 per cent – the listening – is lacking. And when it comes to the 30 per cent – the talking – the drastic changes in the tax environment over the past few years and the increased uncertainties require, in my view, a good judgement on these developments, more than a detailed explanation of the current rules.
What challenges do you see on the horizon for lawyers in the corporate tax space?
Momentarily there is an international crusade against tax evasion as a result of a clear call in society that multinationals and high-net-worth individuals should pay their fair share. Encouraged by this call of voters, and attracted by the potential increase in the budgets, governments are introducing more and more open negative norms in their tax codes, like the general anti-avoidance rules (“taxed unless for business reasons”) and principle purpose tests (“taxed unless the main purpose thereof is not a tax benefit”). The interpretation of these open negative norms will evolve over time, and nobody can predict exactly how a judge will apply these rules five to eight years from now. Furthermore, the call for paying the fair share results in an increase of mandatory disclosure and exchange of private information. The open negative norms will more often put taxpayers in a position of being guilty, unless there is some reason ... and the information disclosure will put the tax authorities in a position where they have more information than the client. These developments will require more strategic judgement from advisers.
Another challenging development is artificial intelligence (AI), which will affect the added value of advisers to their clients. What I understand from AI is that it is most effective if it can be based on big data. Therefore, it seems likely that the added value of advisers will decrease in questions for which big data is available. It will eliminate hours that are currently billed for, and change the nature of services rendered.
Where, in your opinion, does the future of the practice area lie?
In the past, tax advice was a topic for the treasury department: “How much tax do I have to pay and when?” (As little and as late as possible.) Because of the developments described above (open negative norms and the increased disclosure and exchange of private information), taxes create more risks – not only financial risks but also reputation risks. Taxes are no longer solely a treasury department topic. Nowadays clients are less focused on paying as little and as late as possible, they are rather more focused on being in control, and they want to remain as flexible as possible in the changing environment.
I expect that these developments will also result in more tax litigation. The rules are drafted rather in favour of the tax authorities, and the authorities have an information advantage.
What is the best piece of career advice you have received?
When I started as a tax lawyer I had a strong focus on know-how. I wanted to know as much as possible in order to give the best possible advice to the client. When I became partner, one of the senior partners of the firm urged me to not just write complex advice, but to focus more on (potential) clients and developing my practice. According to him this was the only way to build a sustainable, flourishing practice. And he was right: a client presumes you are good. I’ve never seen a client asking advice from someone they presumed was not good. However, a client will call the adviser who is committed and invests in the relationship, not just by talking but more by listening and understanding his needs.