Tax Whisperer

Tax attorney Suzanne DeWitt is a financial artist. She takes a canvas and paints a picture, which is the design principle of tax minimization. While she is well versed in the rules, she takes a practical, more entrepreneurial approach, passionately finding the best solution of what clients not only shouldn’t be doing, but also what they should, for each individual situation. She’s a deal maker, not a deal breaker.
Words by Sandy Lindsey | Photos by Edward Leal | September 26, 2021 | People

The practice of tax law is quite distinct and separate from the field of accounting and preparation of tax returns. Accountants are like historians; they prepare tax returns after a period has completed, which involves detailed reporting of what happened during that past business year. The field of tax law, however, is proactive. “Tax planning is most successful when it commences at the beginning of a year,” says Suzanne M. DeWitt, Founder & Principal, DeWitt PLLC. “Unfortunately, business owners often forget tax altogether or put off thinking about tax until after the year is nearly over. Because there are far fewer means of reducing taxes once the year is complete, the result is almost certainly an overpayment of taxes. In contrast, tax planning is most successful when it commences at the beginning of the year, as the number of strategies that can be implemented to reduce tax expands dramatically.”

With over 21 years’ experience in international tax and private wealth planning, Suzanne DeWitt is an expert in the areas of global tax minimization and cross-border wealth planning and implementation. Her work includes the structuring, formation and operation, on a cross-border basis, of a variety of alternative investment products, including U.S. and non-U.S. investment funds, as well as private banking and international tax and trust planning for very high net worth clients and financial institutions. Additionally, Ms. DeWitt represents a number of significant companies in their international, outbound tax planning and global tax minimization projects. “Oftentimes, my services drill down on a client’s various asset classes (i.e., financial assets, fund investments, operational assets and real estate),” she says. “My approach is to ensure my tax planning will align itself with four key areas: valuation, accounting, fiduciary and compliance. I view it is a soup-to-nuts approach that allows me to have a deeper understanding of the underlying business or family office/family holdings, on all levels.” She also delves into business continuity planning as a way to scale up simple estate planning methods that are outdated and rarely align with running an actual business.

Suzanne’s father ran an estate planning law firm, where she spent every summer there since she was a little girl. “I looked up to my dad and it was through observing him in this environment that I began to learn how to run a business,” she says. Successful tax attorneys, like Ms. DeWitt, are confident enough to understand that the Tax Law field is collaborative. Because strategic Tax Planning examines several components concurrently, she believes that tax attorneys should rarely “work alone” when examining a business owners’ position. “Because of the interrelation between the business owner and the business, and because of the dynamic between different taxes, legal structures, industries, and ownership, some tax planning recommendations may overlap with other areas and thus a good tax lawyer understands that decisions as to what is optimal for the business owner are made jointly with a team of advisors,” she says. “The result of the collaborative effort of all the professionals is a synergistic plan which has considered all aspects of the business owner, including the business, retirement, estate planning wishes, succession wishes and asset protection.”

The practice of law is not just about lawyers anymore. It’s highly unlikely that clients will only have lawyers handling their work. As technology continues to evolve and integrate itself into the legal services industry, legal service providers will be looking to hire legal technology specialists, data engineers and project managers in increasing numbers.  At DeWitt, PLLC, the practice focuses on promoting and developing talent in the firm, rather than actual revenue. They have a culture that rewards collaborating with other lawyers on complicated or related legal matters, not competing, and, in turn, find that this allows them to provide representation on a broader range of legal topics.

When Ms. DeWitt was a young attorney, she was asked to bring in coffee to a meeting, thinking she was the secretary. “When leading a meeting — offering beverages and being hospitable is second nature to me,” she says. “Attendees are shocked when I serve coffee and then proceed to take a seat at the head of the conference table, to lead the meeting. I have always believed that how you treat people speaks volumes about who you are as a person, regardless of your title.” 

In addition to her regular clients, she has lent her services to crucial local businesses that did not have the resources to understand complex tax laws and situations on their own. This has allowed those small businesses to remain afloat right now, even during this global pandemic. If you haven’t guessed already, Ms. DeWitt loves her job. “I enjoy International Tax Planning because it’s challenging and it’s exhilarating when you achieve great results for the client,” she says. “Every lawyer in their career has that “a-ha!” moment where they see the magic start to happen — it’s that moment when we hear ourselves confidently interpreting complex themes and simplifying them into a clear, understandable deliverable applicable to a client’s particular case. That’s the endurance test every lawyer needs to master, no matter the area of law.”;