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  • Name: Susie S
  • Job Title: Director
  • Areas of Specialism: Other

After completing her law degree, Susie tried her hand at banking, property, and corporate law before choosing a career in tax. Seeking greater potential for career progression, she moved to PwC where she is now a director.

The daughter of a barrister – my father spent his life as a residential landlord rather than practising in construction law – I spent many school holidays as a teenager earning money working for my father, preparing his accounts and tax computations. Sad as it sounds, it paid very well and ultimately set me up with plenty of money for socialising as a student at Nottingham University.
Somewhat lacking in imagination when it came to degree choice, I chose law and spent the next three years regretting taking the only degree course which required almost daily 9am lectures! Apart from the early starts, I soon discovered that I was rather enjoying my degree course – particularly the property and tax law elements. I took a strange satisfaction in threading my way through centuries of case law and legislation – a bit like a history lesson with a commercial relevance. Eventually I decided that a career in law might be the answer after all.
Three years later, with some serious student debt and having found my future husband, I moved from Nottingham to London to complete my legal practise course. I then secured a vacation placement with a large London law firm, Ashurst, and promptly left the country for nine months travelling through India, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, America and Mexico. It came as a shock having to start back at work as a trainee in London in March 2000, but it turned out to be the start of a good millennium (so far!).
I spent two years as a trainee and tried my hand at banking, property, corporate and tax law before eventually qualifying into tax – I must admit as much for the work as for the great bunch of tax lawyers with whom I worked. I qualified just as the property boom was in its infancy and worked on some enormous property transactions with plenty of stamp duty and corporate tax planning. I learnt from a team of incredible partners and senior solicitors, many of whom were the pre-eminent lawyers in their field. It was a busy but exciting time.
I then got engaged to my Scottish husband and the Scots homing mechanism kicked in so, after much thought and trepidation, we upped sticks and made the move to Edinburgh, where I secured a qualified position as a tax lawyer at Dickson Minto. They were a very good fit as they had a strong London presence in the deals/private equity market and so I still enjoyed the quality transactional tax advice and experience which I had benefitted from at Ashurst. Dickson Minto also sponsored me through my Chartered Tax Adviser exams which, I maintain, were the hardest exams I’ve ever taken.
One of my biggest career decisions then came three years later when I reached a fork in the road. I realised that if I remained at a law firm as a tax specialist, my potential career progression could be limited. As a tax lawyer, I would always be in the background behind the corporate lawyers when it came to meeting clients and winning work.
I started to look around and, to my surprise, PwC showed some interest in my skill set. I’m not sure that they really knew quite what to do with me at the start. I was an experienced tax professional and yet had never really looked at a set of accounts and had only limited experience of how to put together a tax computation.
I spent the first two years at PwC ‘catching up’ on what I’d missed out on from a compliance perspective but maintaining my specialism in stamp duty – now stamp duty land tax – and property taxes. Both proved a good fit with the world of Private Finance Initiatives (PFI); I worked on a number of key Scottish PFI and construction projects and enjoyed the challenge of group structures and property tax planning. I gained my promotion to senior manager during this time. The property boom was in full swing by this point, as was the Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) market, so I had a few of the busiest years in my career flat out on a number of M&A projects until the collapse of Lehmans in 2008.
Following Lehmans and as the M&A project work began to wane, I switched paths to spend more of my time focused on SME and entrepreneurial clients. These types of clients had formed the backbone of my portfolio even before then, particularly during my time at Dickson Minto, but I began to really get a kick out of working with and advising the management and shareholders behind the businesses. Private businesses have a unique approach to commerce.
Sadly, as the downturn hit, even with more of a specialism in private businesses, much of my workload involved linking in with our business restructuring and liquidation/insolvency teams on the tax aspects of re-financings and business collapses.
After starting a family in November 2009, I returned to work to take on a new role heading up the private client tax practise. I kept my specialism in SMEs, entrepreneurs and private business corporate tax, but gained a much deeper awareness of personal tax affairs, which now means I have the full picture from a private business perspective. I was promoted to director in 2011 and have had a fantastic first year. I love the opportunities I have to represent PwC on external committees and to really work at the coalface of tax law development. I’ve made my debut on TV and radio in the last 12 months – and won’t be changing career any time yet!
Business is of course hard, particularly in the private business sector, but things will improve eventually. I’ve spent much more time in the Aberdeen marketplace in the last two years and I do recommend it as a tonic for anyone who needs a break from the doom and gloom of recession. The next few years could also be a scene changing time, with the Scotland Bill and the introduction of a new land tax, landfill levy and possible changes to income tax rates just the tip of the iceberg.
Being a tax lawyer in Scotland turned out not to be as boring as it sounds!

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