Daniel Butler graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Commerce/Bachelor of Laws. He worked in Chartered Accounting and for Baker & McKenzie before starting DBA Lawyers, a leading self-managed superannuation fund (SMSF) law firm. They also provide advice on tax, companies and trusts issues. He’ll be returning to Melbourne Uni this year as a lecturer in taxation and superannuation funds.
What attracted you to working in the area of SMSFs and Tax?
SMSFs are run by the members for their own benefit and they must ensure compliance with the super and tax laws. As SMSFs are ‘tax driven’ vehicles, a sound knowledge of tax allows you to understand what can and cannot be done. The rules are constantly changing and there are many grey areas where getting it wrong can mean being on the receiving end of a large ATO tax assessment. Having worked in large and small superannuation fund work, I decided when starting DBA Lawyers that I needed to focus on where the growth was. Today there are over 500,000 SMSFs with nearly $550 billion of assets.
What has been the most rewarding thing about working in this area?
Becoming an expert and getting on top of all the changes and then teaching others the rules. I love teaching others. Most of our clients are sophisticated advisers who we are teaching the law and strategies to. We see ourselves as specialists and the advisers are seeking our expertise to pass on to their end user clients. We run seminars around Australia and have a great time connecting with our clients – it’s important to present really good material, to make it practical with real life examples and interesting, and where possible, fun.
What would you say the most challenging part of working in this area is?
Keeping on top of all the material. Every day there are new emails, new items, legislation, cases and technical articles – if you want to get ahead and become a leading expert, you need to do the hard yards and work to make sure that you keep on top of it all. I’ve found that associating with motivated people is a great source of inspiration. My involvement with tax and superannuation committees, discussion groups and networking with people in my industry allows me to interact with some of the leading experts in tax and superannuation in Australia. I’ve also enjoyed being involved with numerous submissions on government policy and legislation and being a member of a number of consultation bodies that I can have a direct impact on the development of the law and how it is being administered.
What advice would you give to law students and young lawyers who wish to work in this area?
Make a considered decision to chase the field of work that you are passionate about and support this with education that shows you are keen and willing to invest time in this area. Join email lists for technical articles and become involved with discussion groups and professional bodies that provide further education and networking opportunities. As you develop your experience, you can determine whether the area you choose is the right one for you and be prepared to keep investing time to keep your skills at an appropriate level. Seek to make a connection with an expert or mentor whom you can bounce ideas and queries off.
I would encourage consideration of small law firms involved in this area, as they can provide excellent work and career advancement. Don’t just think of the large and medium city firms as there are some small to medium firms that are looking for motivated and passionate lawyers who have experience in this fast growth area, where there is a great and growing need for legal services.
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