Robert Foxall, Associate Professor at The University of Law (ULaw), has worked in higher education for over ten years following a successful career in private practice. We asked Robert about his passion for tax law, and what skills are needed to work in a field that’s more exciting and rewarding than you might think.
By Editorial Team. Published 07 April 2017. Last updated 11 January 2023.
I practised with a variety of firms for 15 years or so before turning to full-time teaching. I specialised in the non-contentious field, so mainly property and private-client work, but I was also encouraged to write and run training courses for other professionals. I thoroughly enjoyed it, so when an opportunity to join ULaw as a tutor came up, I took the plunge.
When I was a student I enjoyed Equity & Trusts, which involves many of the underlying concepts of tax law. In my early practising days I was drawn to capital taxes, so focusing on tax law was a logical choice for me. Tax is a constant theme on many of our courses and is something many people can relate to.
The role of a tax lawyer is to advise and represent a client’s best interests within the confines of the law. For private clients (including companies) this involves identifying tax points or ‘triggers’ to minimise or allocate the tax they need to pay. The main aim of a tax lawyer is to achieve the best outcome for the client, which is usually in financial terms, but that’s not always the case.
Tax isn’t the dry area of law some people think it is. Tax law carries moral, political and criminal implications which can shake up the world. It was a tax lawyer who ultimately brought Al Capone, America’s most notorious criminal, to justice. And let’s not forget that the long-running and almost philosophical debate about whether a Jaffa Cake is a cake or biscuit came about for tax reasons.
SPOILER ALERT: It was held to be a cake and not subject to VAT, making it cheaper at point of sale.
At ULaw we teach our students to adopt a holistic approach to tax law. It’s about giving the right legal advice in particular circumstances. It’s our job as lawyers to understand our clients’ businesses and be able to mentor them to achieve their commercial strategy. It’s this human aspect of the work that really grabs our students’ attention.
Tax lawyers need good analytical skills and a keen eye for detail. But they also need to be able to communicate well, work in a team and be able to negotiate effectively. Law firms (and their clients) look for a good character and life experience, not just great academics. At ULaw we help to develop all of the skills that help to make students employable.
At the end of the tax year communication skills come in very handy. Clients want to make sure the current year is tidied up at the same time as setting up as efficiently as possible for the tax year ahead. The lawyer’s job at this busy time is to put their clients’ minds at ease with clear and reassuring advice.
At ULaw our tutors come armed with experience of working in the legal sector, preparing you for life in the real world. Find out how you can achieve your career ambitions with our practically focused law degree.