STRUCTURING AN ADVICE
For most practitioners, their first encounter with structuring a written advice is in an assessment context at university. As a student, you were so keen to show your lecturer how much you know and jag those extra few marks that little thought was given to real-life issues such as the intended audience, clarity and (wherever possible) brevity.
To some extent, that desire to show people how much you know carries over into your career, first your superiors and later, clients.
In my experience (and I am as guilty as any in relation to the above), unless you have close client contact from the very beginning or a client-centric mentor focussed on providing plain-English, easily digestible advice, it’s not until you start to develop your own relationships and manage your own clients that you get a sense of how to tailor your advice to the particular needs of the client.
Clients come in all different shapes, sizes, backgrounds and levels of experience and sophistication. A critical part of your role is to distil complex concepts into simple and easy-to-read answers. This does not necessarily mean that there is a solution to every problem, on the contrary, numerous specific anti-avoidance rules and the ever-present spectre of Part IVA attest to the contrary, however, ensuring that clients clearly understand the issues, uncertainties (risks) and the basis for your recommendations one way or the other is absolutely critical to any meaningful advice.
Of course, any advice should specifically address:
- the facts and any specific assumptions relied upon;
- the relevant legislation, case law, commentary and any extrinsic materials that assist in deriving the scope and meaning of the relevant provisions;
- the ATO’s view of the relevant provisions (if applicable) in the form of:
- public rulings;
- ATO interpretive decisions;
- NTLG Minutes; and
- private binding rulings (which, although not binding other than in relation to the particular rulee may provide helpful insights into the relevant issues and likely outcome on similar facts).
Although clearly not law, the Commissioner’s views do represent his interpretation of same and taxpayers and their advisers can safely anticipate ATO compliance activity if a contrary view is taken. Whilst such a contrary view may be entirely justified on a correct interpretation of the law, having to fight the ATO to vindicate that view is certainly a risk to be carefully weighed.
Technical ability is the bedrock of any successful tax consulting practice, however, it is those soft skills, both written and verbal, that will ultimately determine how far you can take your career. Ensuring that your clients understand the issues and empowering them to make fully informed decisions by delivering complex and multifaceted tax advice in a simple, easy-to-read manner is the key to taking your career to the next step.