By Jock Anderson
- Neil Andrew (Neil) Russ
- Entry to law
- Graduated LLB(Hons) from Victoria University. Admitted in New Zealand in 1986, England and Wales in 1991.
- Tax partner at Buddle Findlay, Auckland.
- Specialist areas
- Corporate and international tax issues, structured transaction with a multi-jurisdictional background in banking and capital markets transactions.
If, as tax specialist Neil Russ says, tax is the engine room, then getting the Inland Revenue Department to accept the taxpayer is right is the fuel that fires it.
“The biggest thrill is getting the Revenue to accept we are right and it is increasingly difficult.
“I try to keep out of court which are really places of last resort. If you can, in tax you want to engage with stakeholders and get some certainty.
“Court is a bit of a lottery and statistics show courts are very likely to find in favour of IRD, so you are in an unhappy place.
“The pendulum may swing back in favour of the taxpayer and I hope it does, but it has swung too far in the Commissioner’s favour at the moment.
“There are exceptions but at a cultural level the IRD believes every taxpayer is up to no good…The sense we get is they don’t believe anything much we say and are very suspicious.
“Basically tax clients just want to get their affairs in order, do the right thing, structure their affairs in an orderly manner and don’t mind what the tax outcome is as long as there is certainty.”
But he says what was considered completely orthodox eight years ago is now not OK and is challenged by IRD.
He says avoidance cases such as the Ben Nevis income tax and Glenharrow GST cases – both of which favoured IRD – represents the Supreme Court’s view of what’s going on in the tax world and created a new “starting point.”
“This has emboldened the Revenue more and they have won a number of cases since.”
Neil originally studied science and maths with an interest in marine biology and chemistry.
After passing everything and having a gap year to go surfing and become New Zealand’s youngest Kentucky Fried Chicken manager, he returned to university “and got fired up about learning.”
“A mate of mine John Nankervis, a consultant in Buddle Findlay’s Wellington office, took me ski touring in Ruapehu and after nearly killing me when the car rolled asked if I had thought about law.
“I loved the challenge and switched fulltime to law. My parents were aghast.”
After starting in banking and tax work at Buddle Findlay in Wellington, Neil opened the firm’s Auckland office before moving to London to work on secondment at Clifford Chance – the world’s biggest law firm.
That included an “eye-opening” spell with Chase Manhattan in the United States - “getting to know what clients are like and what they care about” – before returning to London.
Deciding between a UK legal career and a partnership offered at Buddle Findlay, Neil had no regrets returning home in 1995 with a young son in tow.
He headed up the firm’s tax practice in Wellington until 1999/2000 before bringing the entire tax practice back to Auckland.
He ran the London marathon a few times before getting into Ironman events, ranking 15th overall in Canada in 1992 before a bike crash knocked him out.
“I was concussed and finished the bike section without knowing my name, where I was or what I was doing there.
“I just got up and carried on. My bike helmet was in three pieces. I ran the marathon section with a splitting headache and qualified for the Ironman world championships."
He has qualified twice for the world championships in Kona, Hawaii.
He has to qualify either first or second in his 50 to 54 age group, has entered for next year and concedes it’s a struggle to balance work, family and training.
His wife Rachel, a lawyer who headed up the Auckland City Council environment unit, is an at-home Mum and an accomplished golfer.
She has the rare distinction of being a winner of the 80-year old Devil’s Own, New Zealand’s oldest privately run golf tournament for lawyers, played annually at Palmerston North.
A keen shooter, fisherman and ethical hunter, Neil also enjoys mountain biking, swimming, skiing and golf – when he’s not driving his 480 bhp, 2007 Porsche 911 turbo.
“Rachel calls it my MenoPorsche.
“Having the ability to meet people and hopefully solve some of their problems on the way has been the most rewarding thing for me.
“My biggest challenge is lack of time…There are always new jobs coming in and I love it…”
A member of the New Zealand Law Society tax committee for eight years and now Convenor, he says giving something back is “incredibly rewarding”.
He is also a jurisdictional council member for New Zealand of the Inter-Pacific Bar Association – which means a conference and an annual meeting in two different locations each year. This month it’s Rio.
"A hard life but someone has to do it..."
Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for several decades. He also writes the weekly Caseload column for the New Zealand Herald. Contact Jock at firstname.lastname@example.org.