Friday, 9 March 2018

The rise of a tax star – Elissa Romanin

Elissa Romanin didn’t originally choose a career in tax. Instead, she says, “tax found me.”

Imagining her future in a commercial role, Elissa completed a law degree, “because it was a good thing to have,” she says.

At university, Elissa found the tax subjects “interesting and challenging”, which made it all the more appealing to her. Throughout her undergraduate studies, she also became more exposed to the prospect of working in a law firm.

“I went down the usual path; did vacation work at a number of law firms, one of them being MinterEllison, and I loved it. I knew MinterEllison was where I belonged.”

Elissa began her career at MinterEllison as a graduate, where newcomers can do three rotations in different areas of practice.

“By the time I came to my third rotation, which was tax, I knew I had found something I was especially interested in. It is technically challenging and it changes all the time.”

If you build it…

“MinterEllison is a fantastically supportive place to work. Unlike many other law firms, we see tax as a real growth area. It’s a great place for people wanting to build a career in tax. I might be biased, but I would have to say that real evidence of this is my recent promotion to partner,” Elissa says.

MinterEllison has offices in every Australian capital city, as well as in London, Hong Kong, Auckland, Wellington, Beijing, Shanghai and Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. In the 2016
Acritas brand index, the firm was named in the top 10 law firm brands in the Asia Pacific region, being regarded for “top-level litigation” and for “high-value work”. MinterEllison was also recognised in the Best Lawyers (2018 edition) as Law Firm of the Year in Taxation Law.

The attractions of a career in tax are many to the young lawyer.

“It touches on everything. With a career in corporate tax you are involved in M&A deals, property transactions, employment-related issues and financing arrangements. You also have the opportunity to be involved with many different types of clients, industries and matters, which is exciting as it creates a variety of opportunities.”

She says an important aspect of being a tax adviser is being on top of everything (or trying to be on top of everything!)

“There are so many different things to think about in tax, so many different rules and principles and just as many exceptions; it is one of the challenges. You need to be able to competently spot issues and advise on many aspects of tax law. This requires an ability to see the bigger picture and look at a transaction from a holistic and commercial point of view, not limited to raising just tax issues.”

Variety is the spice of tax

To young women thinking about a career in tax, Elissa says she would highly recommend it as a field of study and work and has this advice to offer.

“The first thing I would say is to find something you are passionate about and get involved. Don’t wait for someone to ask you to do something. Don’t wait for an opportunity to be given to you. Put your hand up, even if you know nothing about it.

“If you see there’s an announced change to tax, volunteer to write something about it. Be on top of what’s going on, look for those opportunities. Often, when a new law is made, no one knows about it, because it’s new. Be the first one in your team to write a news alert or a summary.”

She continues: “Be prepared to make mistakes. When you are developing, and even all the way through your career, just know that you’re learning every single day. You will get challenged, you will get questioned, you will make mistakes, but you can learn from that to develop yourself going forward.”

Nerds no more

“Tax is just a really interesting part of the law, I think, for young people, for young women, because it means you can get brought in and get exposed to all different types of matters and clients, big or small. If you come into tax, there are so many opportunities and you can find your niche.

“I think tax used to – and maybe it still does – have this stereotype of being dry or boring. This seems to be changing. A lot of young, energetic people are coming into the field. People are seeing it as an exciting part of the law.”

No exact formula to work-life balance

We asked Elissa what work-life balance means to her. She says she thinks it means making sure that, whatever you’re doing, you’re doing what you want to do, what you are passionate about and what you enjoy doing.

“If you’re working very hard for a long period of time, if you’re enjoying it, and you’re passionate about what you’re doing, that’s okay, knowing that you need to make sure you make time for yourself. To me, work-life balance means doing things outside of work that keep you connected and make you a more well-rounded person in living your life. I don’t think there’s a formula, or even a way you should split your day. It is different for everybody, but it’s about making sure you’re doing the things you want to be doing,” she says.

Leadership and mentoring

Having had such a fast career trajectory and becoming a leader to others at MinterEllison, Elissa says she believes being a leader is about “empowering the people around you and giving them the tools, the freedom and support to develop and to become their own person in what they are doing.”

Because of the fast-paced, constantly changing laws around tax, she believes one challenge is instilling a culture and approach in the team that it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep on top of the changes and for each person to take the initiative to read, summarise and educate others on the key changes.

“I have also been the recipient of invaluable guidance and support from the leaders I have worked with. I would recommend to anyone coming through to seek out those around you and to ask questions.”

Outside of work, Elissa says she and her husband – who was a professional chef for 18 years – enjoy trying out different restaurants, good food and wine, travelling and spending time with family.

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