Scott L. Brandman '92, Partner and Chairman of the North American Hiring Committee, Baker & McKenzie
Q: What piqued your interest in tax law?
A: When I began law school I had no intention of becoming a tax lawyer. Like most law students, I was debating between becoming a corporate lawyer or a litigation lawyer. At the end of my first year, I was chosen to be on Moot Court and was placed on the tax team. I think the Moot Court board decided that because I had a bit of a business background - I was a business minor in college and held a stock broker's license when I was an undergraduate - that I fit with tax. More likely, they had no one for tax so I was sacrificed. As a result, I took a tax class and to my surprise really enjoyed the class. The first year I competed in Moot Court I won first place oralist at the tax competition in Florida. This started me down my path.
Q: After earning your B.A. at State University of New York at Albany, what made you decide to move to Los Angeles and attend Southwestern?
A: During a college recess I traveled to Los Angeles with a friend. During that trip, I realized that I would like to live in Los Angeles after graduation. My friend also decided to move to L.A. to attend business school and I went to Southwestern.
Q: What were your favorite courses?
A: It was odd in that I really enjoyed my Property law class. I also enjoyed Contracts and Sales. One class I should have enjoyed more than I did was Constitutional Law. Constitutional Law is our legal framework and is a major part of my practice. I just did not have an appreciation for it at that time. My apologies to my professor.
Q: Why did you eventually return to the East Coast?
A: After living in Los Angeles for law school, I missed New York. My family was here and I'm a New Yorker. I travel to the West Coast quite often for business though.
Q: After receiving your J.D. from Southwestern and earning an LL.M. in tax law from Georgetown, where did you work?
A: I started at the now-defunct accounting firm, Arthur Andersen. I was in the tax group at Arthur Andersen for two years, before moving to General Electric.
Q: What do you consider the most important issue in current tax law today?
A: I specialize in state and local tax. Recognizing where the economy is today, states need revenue. As a result, states are trying to broaden their tax base. In the next few years we will continue to see more constitutional challenges to see if states are going too far.
Q: Do you also write and speak about your areas of practice?
A: My most recent article (State Taxation of Foreign Dividends: Will the U.S. Supreme Court Set the Record Straight on Footnote 23? with K. Reeder and S. Joo) was published last year. The article focused on an important issue raised in the GE case that we believed was ripe for the U.S. Supreme Court. Ultimately, the Court decided not to hear the case.
I'm currently writing some internal articles for my firm's quarterly newsletter addressing the new provisions in New York concerning the applicability of imposing sales tax collection responsibility for sales over the Internet. This is an area in which I have had considerable experience, including litigation for Borders Book Company in California. I also travel extensively for work and give about 15 to 20 speeches a year.
Q: What advice would you give to current Southwestern students who wish to work in the field of tax law?
A: Get an LL.M. in tax law. It differentiates you from other students. It shows your interest and commitment to the tax field and will open doors and provide more opportunities, especially with big firms. Accounting firms are a good starting place as well.
Q: What advice would you give to Southwestern students looking to work for a big law firm?
A: Do well in school. Solid academic performance is first and foremost, but is not the end all. What sets people apart at the beginning stages of the hiring process are schools and grades. If you don't have the best grades, you need to find other ways to differentiate yourself. Talk to as many people as possible. Timing can be everything. You can work your way up by working with smaller firms and finding mentors who can help. It's a good idea to specialize in areas that are in demand. Write articles, give speeches and develop an expertise, especially in a niche that firms need now or will need in the near future.
Q: As chairman of the North American Hiring Committee at Baker & McKenzie what are the most important things you look for in potential new hires?
A: We look at candidates' backgrounds in terms of what they've done: the jobs they've held, their accomplishments, etc. We are an international firm so we want to see if they have any ties to international practice. We start by asking why would they be interested in our firm and why would they make a good addition to our practice. We take into account their outside activities, pro bono work, and other types of accomplishments that we think would make them meld well with our culture.
It's not just about grades and schools. There are people who get through the door for an interview and who are hired who do not have the highest grades, but they need to have something special and present it in a way that makes us know that they will be a great fit for the firm.
Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes that graduating law students and new lawyers make on their resumes?
A: It's amazing how many spelling mistakes we see on resumes. Spelling errors are absolutely unacceptable. The length of the resume is often a problem. Many are too long. Unless this is a second career, resumes should be one page.
The bigger mistakes students make are in their cover letters. Many students send mass mailings. Students need to target mailings, think of specific people who the letter should be sent to. If the firm has alumni from your school, try sending it to them. If you send to the managing partner of a big firm, unless you are ranked first or second in your class, you probably won't have much success. If you send your letter and resume to an alumnus, you may be able to impress them enough to recommend your name.
I've also seen the following mistake often. I'll receive a letter from someone with spelling errors and it will ask me to pass their resume to the person in charge of the hiring group and it will invite me to talk with them about "What I do." Well, at this firm, I am the hiring person. Anyone sending a letter to our firm should know that. Law students should do their homework. I'm much more impressed by a student who writes, "I know you practice in tax, and I read your articles, etc." than one who sends a generic letter.
The bottom line is, students need to separate themselves if they want to be at a major law firm. It can be done.
Q: If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?
A: Failure is inevitable in certain regards. To be successful you have to risk failure. To be at the top of this game you must not be afraid of failure. I wonder how you can ever be great at something if you knew you couldn't possibly fail. For example, to become a great public speaker you have to be nervous before a big speech. But the reason the best speakers are so good is that they harness nervous energy. You have to have that fear of failure to make you great.
I love what I do. I like managing a practice. I like teaching younger associates. Someday I might like to open a coffee shop, maybe the equivalent of Starbucks. I've also thought about trying to build a resort hotel one day. But these are not things that I would do tomorrow, even if given the opportunity. I like what I'm doing now too much to give it up.