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January 11, 2022 People in Tax

Interview with Jacob Puhl

By Jeremiah Coder, Washington, DC

Editor’s Note: Jacob Puhl (JP) is currently the Tax Policy Manager at Meta (formerly Facebook). He has been a legal intern at Treasury, a law clerk for the U.S. Senate, and a state and local tax (SALT) intern at KPMG. ATT interviewed him in mid-November to learn something about his decision to become a tax attorney.

ATT: Hi Jacob! You’ve been pretty consistent in being grounded in tax policy from the beginning of your career, with experience at Treasury, on the Hill, accounting firms, and now in-house. What got you interested in tax in the first place?

JP: When I started law school, I was sure I wanted to go into finance or banking law, having spent the two years after college working at Morgan Stanley. But once I was a 2L and could actually take those courses, I quickly realized they didn’t appeal to me. Meanwhile, I took Tax 1 as a suggested course for students interested in finance and I was instantly hooked. While there was still some “it depends” in tax, it felt more tangible than other courses and those first few tax cases are just fun! I quickly changed my spring semester to include other tax classes and fortunately ended up with a summer associate position in SALT at a Big 4 accounting firm.

ATT: What, if anything, surprises you most about the tax law profession?

JP: How little math is actually involved! Not that I’m afraid of the math, but especially in a policy role, the issue is more often about the bigger picture than a specific calculation.

ATT: How did you first get involved in the Tax Section?

JP: When I was at Georgetown working on my LLM and still unsure what kind of job I wanted after school, one of the best pieces of advice I got was to join the Tax Section and to attend events. So I did! It was a great way to meet attorneys and hear the varied ways they used their law degrees in the field. It was also an amazing way to start building a network. And considering I ended up working in policy, it’s been really helpful to know people in a variety of areas. So I would highly recommend attending events to other tax lawyers and law students interested in tax!

ATT: Any significant mentors/influences in the profession?

JP: I haven’t had a formal mentor, but when I was an intern at Treasury, Bob Stack was a great resource: teaching interns a lot about tax policy; explaining how he got where he was in his career; and putting me in contact with folks working in international tax in DC. We have had the chance to work together several times since then, including some overlapping time at Deloitte. And we still keep in touch: he recently gave me a collection of books to help fill our library while he downsizes.

I would also mention my first tax law professor, Donald Tobin, who made tax law exciting and accessible.

ATT: Did you have a perception of what in-house work would be like, and what’s been the biggest surprise you’ve encountered so far?

JP: I had heard that working in-house tends to be less specialized, so I expected to cover a more varied range of issues and need to brush up on things I hadn’t studied in years. However, it has been far broader than I imagined! In a policy role, it’s often not enough to know the tax issue. You also have to understand the underlying political or technical issues that spill into tax, so a lot of the role is learning about those non-tax factors. And when you layer in our global footprint, the role often includes meeting with folks all over, though now these are all virtual – and often very early in the morning for me. Another surprise for an American: I never thought I would need to learn so much about VAT! So grateful for my overseas colleagues taking the time to teach me.

ATT: If you could make one change in the tax policy realm, what would it be and why?

JP: I think more tax policy should be accessible to non-tax folks, including non-lawyers. Tax is a unique area of the law in that basically every person interacts with it, yet many people don’t understand why and how rules get made.

ATT: How has “globalization” of tax changed how some companies face international tax policy?

JP: Tax is in a period of rapid change just like the global economy. Most tax rules were written a century ago when businesses operated quite differently, and governments around the world are working to update those rules. As more and more businesses of all sectors and sizes operate across borders, they are seeking workable, globally consistent rules aligned with best practices. Growth requires certainty and stability in the international tax system, so changes must be made in an international, collaborative context.

ATT: What do you think are important trends in tax policy that taxpayers and advisers will still be dealing with in 10 years?

JP: I may be partial, but I think taxation of the digitizing economy will continue to be an important issue over the decade. Tax is difficult enough without layering in evolving technologies and global economic trends, so as more business takes place across borders electronically, I think policymakers will still be busy. In addition, the OECD Inclusive Framework member countries have agreed to work over the next few years to implement domestic rules for taxing the digitizing economy, which I think will have knock-on effects and influence non-member countries to develop similar regimes.

ATT: When you’re not busy thinking about tax, what do you do to unwind? How important is it to maintain balance for mental health?

JP: My husband and I recently bought a historic home in Baltimore, so I spend a lot of time working on it and our gardens. It’s a lot of work but it’s been fun and really gratifying seeing it all come together! I think a balance between work and personal life is essential, though it can be more difficult working from home. I also enjoy a nice long walk at the end of the day to separate the work day from the evening.

ATT: Do you have a favorite depiction of a lawyer in a movie or book?

JP: Since I’m sure others have said all the classics, I’ll go with Trevor Nelsson on NBC’s “Parks & Recreation.” 

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