Blair: My name is Blair Somerville, associate at Gowling WLG and today I have the pleasure of introducing John Sorensen, partner and co-head of our business law group in Toronto. Welcome John.
John: Thank you, it's good to be here.
Blair: Can you tell us a bit about your previous career as a sound engineer and how and why you ended up in law?
John: Well you know when I was a much younger fellow uh people would sometimes compliment me in my writing or my tendency to be analytical and teachers would often say you know maybe I'd make a good lawyer but really my first love was music. I only ever wanted to be a rock and roll guitar player to be honest with you so I did a degree in music performance and then did a Masters at McGill which led me into production and engineering. I left Canada in the 90s and relocated to Los Angeles and you know, my sound engineering career went surprisingly well. I found myself working with prominent artists making records that were selling really well but I kind of felt like something was lacking and rattling around in the back of my head was the idea that I could maybe be doing something else something more challenging and it turns out that things taxation law.
Blair: So I have to ask John, do you have a favorite record that you've worked on or anything you can tell us about your past life?
John: Oh absolutely um I think it's probably the record Mutations by Beck which we recorded in 1998. Terrific record, sounds amazing, I do say so myself and they're just delightful people to work with so it sort of checked all the boxes. A terrific record with nice people and uh yeah.
Blair: John honestly that might make you the most interesting tax lawyer on the planet.
John: I agree.
Blair: Yeah and since then you've co-authored tax textbooks, you've lectured at law schools, you've served on editorial boards of law journals, how does all that type of work help you in your practice?
John: Taxation law is highly technical and ever-changing and you have to keep pace so for me writing is an opportunity to you know, on the one hand contribute to the tax community but on the other hand, you know, continue to hone my skills while demonstrating thought readership. I think it really focuses your attention when you have to not only absorb new information but then explain it to others.
Blair: Can you describe your approach to working with clients and what that looks like throughout the different stages of litigation?
John: Well typically cases are decided on their facts more so than innovative legal arguments which is not to say that we never rely on innovative legal arguments but you need to prove out the facts and have robust sources of evidence to do that. Now at each stage of a dispute I think you need to be alive to settling issues and maintaining a focus on those matters that can be resolved without having to proceed all the way to a hearing. When you ask you know one of my approaches in the various phases of litigation I would say to have as few phases of litigation as possible and get to a satisfactory settlement for the client earlier rather than later.
Blair: So John as our new co-head of the business law department, what's your vision for the direction the group's going to take over the next few years?
John: I think law firm leadership is unique, compared to leadership in say the business world I don't think that a law firm leader should really be someone who's pushing an agenda per se it's less about I think telling people what to do and more about listening to what people want to do and then sorting out how you yourself may be able to facilitate that um I think our firm is a firm with a bright future I think we've been getting a lot of things right so when you ask about sort of strategies for the future and future directions, I think it's more of the same. It's more excellent client service but in an increasingly globalized context as the firm continues to expand within and outside Canada.
Blair: Okay so now for some tax 101, what would you say is the big news or major developments in the world of tax these days?
John: Well there's there's been there's been many, every time there's a new budget there are significant developments in the tax dispute world we're seeing basically in every budget for the last several years increasing funding for the Canada Revenue Agency to pursue administration and enforcement most notably in the audit space, most recently department of finance has announced new tools to access taxpayer information for example the requirements to trigger the reportable transactions regime have been lowered the department of finance has announced draft legislation that would enable the CRA to identify and publish information about particular transactions that would then also become reportable in a manner similar to the US listed transactions regime.
Among other things, the department of finance has announced draft legislation to overturn the BP Canada case and thus to make it possible for CRA auditors to access a public company's tax accrual working papers, the jist being if you're a company that produces audited financials, you have to accrue for uncertain tax positions and so this legislation would enable the CRA to uh seek and obtain a company's own analysis of its uh the soft spots in its tax return which is like a form of self audit and there are many other developments but those are some highlights.
Blair: Well it's been a pleasure John, thank you for speaking with us today.
John: Thank you.