A tax conversation with Jiyeon Lee-Lim of Latham & Watkins
When the position of global chairman of the tax department at Latham & Watkins LLP opened in 2016, partner Jiyeon Lee-Lim spoke.
At the time, Lee-Lim was a nearly 30-year veteran of the firm and a leading tax partner in some of Latham’s most complex and high-profile transactions.
When Liberty Global
When the Japanese oil giant INPEX Corp. partnered with Total SA and others to develop the Ichthys liquefied natural gas field in Australia in 2012, Lee-Lim advised export credit agencies and a syndicate of commercial lenders on the aspects project tax of $ 20 billion. funding.
At the time, financing was the most important inked in the international financial market. Yet when the post of world president opened, she took nothing for granted.
“When I heard that there was an opportunity available to lead the tax department, I raised my hand to show interest,” she said. Tax Notes. “I think it’s important to speak up when you know you want to do something and think you can do it well.”
Since becoming Global President in 2016, Lee-Lim has solidified her status as one of the country’s top international tax lawyers. She also used her position as a platform to advocate for women and diversity in the tax bar.
“For women in the legal profession, I like to suggest that they are not afraid to speak up when they have something to say, to raise their hand to take on something they like to do and, above all, to believe in themselves. “said Lee-Lim.
The lawyer of a lawyer
As a law student in South Korea, Lee-Lim was an outstanding scholar, earning her LLB at the country’s most prestigious university, Seoul National University, and receiving the President’s Award for her class. .
Shortly after graduation, she moved to Boston, where she immersed herself in the more academic aspects of law and obtained an LLM and SJD from Harvard Law School. As she continued her studies, she realized that tax law gave her the most intellectual development.
“I’ve always enjoyed solving puzzles and, for me, thinking through difficult tax problems and developing a tax structure that meets a client’s business goals is essentially solving a complex puzzle,” said Lee-Lim. .
The late Irv Salem, one of Latham & Watkins’ most prolific tax partners, took note. In 1988, he recruited Lee-Lim from Latham right after she completed her SJD and mentored her for over 20 years. Salem’s mentorship was instrumental, but he wasn’t the only one advising Lee-Lim, who said she owed a lot to several Latham partners who provided her with endless support and guidance throughout. his career.
But she also strived to make herself indispensable as a partner: doing a good job and helping colleagues when needed, which opened the doors for her to become a partner.
“I believe that a combination of hard work and good working relationships with colleagues has brought me to where I am today,” she explained.
Lee-Lim’s expertise, which focuses on cross-border tax matters as well as financial products and various financing structures, extends beyond Latham & Watkins.
Shortly after becoming a partner, she was invited to join the executive committee of the tax section of the New York State Bar Association, one of the city’s top tax attorneys. She approached this role as she did for others: she quickly got busy.
Specifically, Lee-Lim addressed some long-standing concerns about the Treasury Department’s definition of public trade in debt instruments. His work ultimately influenced the Treasury to update the law.
The problem was that the previous definition of public trade was unclear, generating a multitude of spillover effects for various business transactions. Two separate bar reports that Lee-Lim wrote in 2004 and 2010 laid out the issues, and in 2012 the Treasury finalized new regulations that reflected many of the suggestions offered by Lee-Lim in its first report.
Lee-Lim considers public business regulations to be the most exciting tax development of his career to date. “I feel like I have contributed to the development of the tax rules,” she said. “Writing the reports was a tough business, but I learned a lot and got to know many New York tax lawyers. “
This work also opened avenues of leadership for Lee-Lim, whose peers appointed her to several leadership positions in the tax section of the NYSBA until 2024.
She is secretary of the tax section; will hold the positions of Vice-President from 2022 to 2023; and will become president in 2024, a huge honor for her and Latham & Watkins, she said.
Inclusion and tax
When asked what should be done from an institutional perspective to retain women and various professionals and place them in leadership roles for which they are qualified, Lee-Lim said it was imperative that the fiscal bar focus on creating women-friendly environments.
“It should be done from all angles – from an institutional (corporate) perspective, from a family perspective and also from the individual himself,” Lee-Lim said.
“I am fortunate to be part of a company like Latham & Watkins that supports me and is filled with mentors who support me tremendously. I am also extremely fortunate to have a husband who could not be more encouraging for my career, ”she said.
“At the same time, it’s also important to have a ‘can do’ attitude and focus on great work. “
However, Lee-Lim cautioned that having strong institutional and family support systems and working hard is necessary, but not enough.
“We all have to recognize that we come from very different backgrounds and that we think and behave differently. Unless you step back and accept all kinds of differences and believe that we and the world can be better because we are different, we won’t get to where we should be, ”she said. “We need to be understanding, tolerant and open-minded. “
Lee-Lim incorporates this perspective into his own practice and leadership by offering all members of his department the same opportunities and taking the time to chat with people looking for career advice and mentorship.
He follows with his guiding philosophy for his career: “Respect others and their views and listen to them even if you don’t agree. Make an effort to learn from everyone around you.
This approach is paying off. Of the 165 attorneys listed in the Latham & Watkins tax department, just over half are women, which stands out among Big Law’s tax departments. Tax NotesAnalysis of the 45 best law firms in New York found that women make up an average of 38.5% of firms’ tax partners.
For puzzle-solver Lee-Lim, the biggest puzzle of her career has been the one virtually every working mom grapples with – balancing family and work.
“As a parent, I always wonder if I should or could have done more, but someone once told me that parenthood is multi-faceted and changes as children grow older,” Lee said. -Lim.
“Despite my wishful thinking that I had 48 hours a day, my kids have become better people than me – and that, aside from sustaining my career, is very gratifying,” she said.
As Lee-Lim advances in her career, she focuses on helping aspiring lawyers navigate their legal careers. When asked what she’s been looking forward to in the months and years to come, she focused squarely on one thing: young talent.
She looks forward to “continuing to recruit and mentor young tax lawyers, because tax law is a stimulating and extremely rewarding profession,” she said.