By: Kathy Martin
Leader. Mentor. Trailblazer. These words only begin to describe Kim Boylan. It’s no wonder why she is where she is today. Becoming Partner, Head of Tax Controversy and Global Head of Tax at White & Case is just one of Kim’s many accomplishments. But it took hard work and dedication to reach her current role.
Kim started her professional career by graduating from Georgetown University with her Bachelor of Science in Accounting. Obtaining her CPA license thereafter, Kim worked for Ernst & Whinney (now Ernst & Young). At that time, there were not many women in the accounting industry. To put into perspective just how challenging it was, only two of all of the Big 8 accounting firms’ thousands of Partners were women – and neither was at Ernst & Whinney. But Kim didn’t let that slow her down. It was at Ernst & Whinney that she realized she wanted to pursue law, specifically tax law.
Of course, she chose to attend Syracuse University College of Law. Being from New York, she was attracted to the smaller size. And it was fate as she met her husband who was also attending Syracuse University College of Law. Clerking for the Honorable Robert J. Yock at the United States Court of Federal Claims in DC, she put her Law Review skills to good use. She also gained a valuable mentor, Judge Yock.
Kim attributes her success to having several mentors throughout her career. She emphasizes the importance of mentorship in professional growth. Her best advice in finding a mentor: don’t focus on getting a mentor that looks and acts like you. Instead, finding a real connection with someone is of utmost importance.
It was a mentor at her first firm, Dow Lohnes & Albertson, who recommended she pursue her Master of Laws (LLM) degree. This mentor was a new Partner at the firm and heavily involved in transfer pricing. International tax is structured very differently from the U.S. tax system. At the time she attended the College of Law, only a few tax classes were offered and none in international tax. After spending about three years in the industry and following the advice of her mentor, Kim decided an LLM was the right course of action. Thereafter, she attended Georgetown University of Law. Having a structured program taught by professors in the practice was not only beneficial but also a catalyst for her career. Although it was beneficial to her career, Kim recommends spending some time in practice before pursuing an LLM.
An opportunity then came for Kim to join Mayer Brown. However, there was not a tax controversy group in Washington DC where she was based. The only location was in Chicago. After expressing that she did not want to work in partnership tax in Washington DC, her mentor at Mayer Brown encouraged her to try to get some of the tax controversy work even though it meant losing her as his dedicated associate. This is a sign of a true mentor. Kim followed her mentor’s advice to success. She then became the only woman Partner in tax controversy at Mayer Brown.
It was at Mayer Brown that Kim had the opportunity to work on two seminal tax cases: United Parcel Service of America v. Commissioner and Riggs National Corporation & Subsidiaries v. Commissioner. Although she had great success at Mayer Brown, she made the tough decision to leave the firm to be a Partner at Latham & Watkins to focus on developing and expanding Latham’s tax controversy practice. It was there that she started to take on the mentor role herself to grow the tax practice.
All of this experience led to her joining White & Case, where she is Partner and Head of Tax Controversy. Kim also was the Global Head of Tax, overseeing more than 100 tax attorneys globally. While the position was supposed to be a two-year stint, she held the position for over seven years, stepping down from this position only last year. As you can imagine, managing a group of lawyers this large throughout the world involves many tasks from giving annual reviews and determining promotions to ensuring the group works in the most efficient manner to keep finances reasonable.
Additionally, a group this size can run into challenges when it comes to cohesiveness and collaboration. Kim’s biggest initiative when first joining White & Case was to get the team to know each other better, to facilitate interaction among the group, foster collaboration, and enable the free flow of ideas. She has done this through team-building events that take place at their annual firm-wide global tax meetings. Kim had the fantastic idea to organize an event where everyone was split into four groups to produce a commercial explaining why tax is important to the firm. Filmed by a real production company, each group was able to create a commercial using sets and props. The event finished with an Academy Awards-like ceremony with a red carpet and Oscar-inspired statues. Kim said this event broke many barriers between people and made everyone much more informal with each other. Mission accomplished.
When Kim is not busy fostering team dynamics, she is of course busy litigating. Tax litigation takes time. Usually it takes several years for an audit to be conducted, then there is an internal process that ranges from one to two years before litigation can begin. There is never a dull moment in the tax litigation world.
One can only hope to mirror the success Kim has achieved. Passion and drive are key and those elements are clearly present in Kim Boylan.