Beth Kaufman Comments on Her Time at Treasury in Tax Notes
Jon D. Feldhammer, a former IRS field attorney, likens his six years working at the IRS to dog years.
“I had six years of 100 cases at any given time,” recalled Feldhammer, now a tax controversy attorney at Baker Botts LLP. “I had 13 trials in six years. I almost went to trial in three times as many cases. I dealt with practitioners all over the country in all kinds of matters. I assisted in probably 1,000 audits.”
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From the beginning, Beth Shapiro Kaufman of Caplin & Drysdale said her dream job was to work in Treasury’s Office of the Tax Legislative Counsel, where she could be at the forefront of both legislative and regulatory tax policy. “As for how I got the job, it found me,” she said.
Kaufman recalled that a former colleague called while she was on maternity leave from her firm and asked if she’d be interested in applying for a job as an attorney-adviser on trust and estate tax issues — a position she hadn’t even realized was open.
“So he’s like, ‘Send me your résumé,’ and I said, ‘I don’t have a résumé.’ ‘Well, write a résumé and send it to me!’” Kaufman recalled her former colleague saying. “So I wrote a résumé, I sent it in, they immediately called me in for an interview, I had the interview, and they offered me the job.”
Jobs at the Office of Tax Legislative Counsel are subject matter specific, Kaufman continued. Often, the person who holds one of those jobs and who plans on leaving already knows a few practitioners in the in the tax community who might be interested, she explained.
Public sector work often gets a bad rap as dull and dreary, but tax practitioners uniformly described their time as a public servant as frequently exciting.
Kaufman said that as assistant tax legislative counsel, she had the opportunity to go to congressional hearings and accompany Treasury officials who were there to testify.
On one occasion, Kaufman said a Treasury official was testifying before one of the taxwriting committees and being grilled by lawmakers demanding to know where in the tax code it says “death tax.”
“He’s got the tax code in front of him, furiously flipping through it, and I’m behind him whispering, ‘It’s not there!’” Kaufman recalled.
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It’s not uncommon for many attorneys to serve a relatively brief time in government, particularly at Treasury, said Kaufman, who worked at the agency for six years. Many only stay for two or three years, and that’s partly by design, as it regularly brings in people who know what kind of tax abuses are happening in the private sector and have fresh ideas about how to deal with them, she explained.
Making the jump from the government to the private sector can sometimes come as a shock.
Kaufman said she didn’t even have to keep a timesheet while at Treasury. Back in private practice, however, “you need to account for every six minutes of your day,” she said.
“One of the luxuries in government is you can have a meeting with six or eight people and just brainstorm solutions to a problem,” Kaufman said. A meeting like that in the private sector would cost $20,000 an hour and “nobody wants to pay you to do that,” she added.
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Kaufman also related that initially it was hard to switch out of the pro-government mindset after leaving Treasury. But that wasn’t the case for Feldhammer, who said he was able to jump right into defending clients.
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