As I mention on my site, I have started interviewing state tax professionals across the country and will be posting them on this blog to help each of us build connections and get to know each other better.
To be interviewed, all you have to do is answer the 14 questions (found here) and send them to email@example.com to be published on the blog.
I have received feedback from professionals that answering the questions is a great exercise. Looking back is a good way to help you move forward.
To read prior interviews, go here.
Today's guest is Stephen Kranz. Stephen is a state tax lawyer and partner at McDermott Will & Emery. Steve helps clients prevent and resolve tax problems throughout their life cycle, starting with tax planning, compliance, financial statement implication analysis, audit defense and litigation, legislative monitoring and advocacy, and the formation and leadership of taxpayer coalitions. Steve developed many of these techniques as a litigator for the US Department of Justice, Tax Division, as chief counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Tax and Revenue, and further refined them during his tenure as general counsel for the Council on State Taxation (COST).
In his interview below, Steve provides great advice, insight and fun commentary. He may have went a little Quill overboard, but hey, he is from North Dakota.
Without further ado, here are his answers to the 14 questions:
Birthplace: North Dakota – born in the state that gave us Quill
Education: Bachelor of Accountancy, UND; J.D., Drake University Law School.
Career: Spent 25 years as a tax lawyer starting as a Trial Lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice, Tax Division, served as COST’s General Counsel and Tax Counsel, and now a Partner at McDermott, Will & Emery. (Note that Kranz did an summer internship with the ND Attorney General’s Office when the state was developing the Quill case and is now at the law firm that litigated the case for Quill –in other words, nexus litigation has always been in his blood.)
Best Career Move: moving into private practice as a lawyer where he works with a team that seeks to solve tax problems differently. They approach tax problems with a holistic view, combining strategic thinking with effective skills for the courtroom, the statehouse and the conference room. Taking a holistic view of government allows their team to access all three branches of government in solving tax problems.
Career Goals: to find clients interested in managing tax problems on a multistate basis by leveraging technical tax skills, relationships in the executive and legislative branches of government, and an understand of the value of standing up for fair and rational treatment in court. The value-add of strategic thinking in an attorney-client protected environment can be transformative to a client’s ability to solve multistate tax problems with practical and fair manner solutions. For example, why would anyone with good facts simply sign up for a standard voluntary disclosure agreement? See: Just Say No to the Standard Voluntary Disclosure Agreement (https://www.insidesalt.com/files/2016/06/Just-Say-No.pdf) and Open Season on State Statutory Apportionment (https://www.mwe.com/~/media/files/thought-leadership/publications/2013/08/open-season-on-state-statutory-apportionment/files/tax_analyst_081213/fileattachment/tax_analyst_081213.pdf.) “There are reasons we can and do deliver for companies who spend the time to explore our value proposition,” says Kranz. “Our Handling Tax Controversy to Win speaking series has helped clients understand their rights and how they can defend those rights using ALL of the offensive and defensive tools in the toolbox.” “It starts with a deep understanding that the Government is not always right – and leads to an understanding of how to defeat the presumption of correctness when appropriate.”
Best advice ever received: Paul Frankel pulled Kranz aside when he was a young lawyer on the COST staff and told him to speak and write about state tax frequently. Frankel was known for his “don’t pay, don’t pay, don’t pay” mantra which resonated with Kranz’ trial lawyer, “fight to win” outlook learned at the U.S. Department of Justice. His COST days also taught him the value of relationships in the legislative branch of government, and how they could be helpful if tax administration was running amok.
Most difficult situation faced on the job: arguing in front of a judge that did not understand state tax and that was afraid of harming the government by ruling against it. The frustration of the “home court advantage” faced by so many when challenging the government. This problem contributed to Kranz’ efforts to develop a more holistic approach to problem solving in tax.
Career tip for students: Volunteer to work for anyone. Volunteer to write, research, and analyze issues on a multistate basis. Volunteer to work through the night and over the weekend. Hard workers are hard to find and when people spot that they will grab you. Education is important but the practical understanding you get from digging deep into issues facing real taxpayers will help prepare you for your career and it may help you find one. Finally, learn how to change a light bulb, plunge a toilet, and balance your own checkbook. Kranz thinks too many kids enter the workforce without learning basic life skills. If you can’t handle your life why would anyone trust you to handle their problems.
Role models: Kranz attributes his view of the world to his grandparents on both sides. He learned to work hard on the family farm and ranch. He learned how to use tools to work efficiently. He learned that despite working hard and efficiently not every problem could be solved the same way and some needed to be approached with ingenuity. Law school and an accounting degree became tools for his career but the source of his successful approach to client service was his grandparents’ dedication to thoughtful problem solving through perseverance.
Family: Kranz’ wife, Carolynn Kranz, is also a SALT lawyer (www.saltattorneys.com) who runs a subscription database of sales tax rules for software and cloud (www.industrysalestax.com); they have a six year old son, Colton, who is already reading great books like Quill v. North Dakota, and learning to drive and work on the family farm.
Pastimes: spending time with the family on the farm/ranch in North Dakota. Kranz enjoys herding cattle, mending fences and working with power tools. He drives a four-door four wheel drive Dodge Ram pickup and operates a 30-inch Craftsman snowblower when needed; when that does not work Steve owns and operates a Bobcat skidloader. Steve has found his experience in all of these activities indispensable to his professional life as a Washington, DC tax lawyer.
Most memorable book: Almost anything written by Chuck Klosterman or Gerry Spence.
Favorite restaurant: having spent the majority of his career on the road at client events eating great meals at great restaurants with great people, Kranz cherishes meals at home made by his wife and aspiring chef Carolynn. Living in the heart of Washington, DC they entertain frequent SALT guests at their home which is jokingly referred to by many as the Tax Shelter or the SALT B&B as a result of the constant stream of SALT guests who stay at their home and break bread with them.
Ideal vacation: The ranch in North Dakota on a clear windless night in July where the sky is lit up by millions of tiny stars and off in the distance you can hear the sound of Coyotes calling for company surrounded by silence.
I hope you enjoyed meeting Stephen.
Thank you Stephen for sharing.