For Jocelyn Tau, a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, standing out as a tax lawyer representing major energy companies requires thinking about more than just tax.
When corporate attorneys question Tau, who is based in Houston, on business transactions, she tries to think about not just the question they’re asking—but also why they’re asking it.
“To come up with commercial solutions, rather than just telling them the tax answer—I think that’s what kind of sets apart a tax lawyer who is successful,” she said.
Tau has advised on many large corporate transactions, such as 7-Eleven Inc.'s 2020 agreement to buy the Speedway gas station chain, including about 3,900 convenience stores, from Marathon Petroleum Corp. for $21 billion.
She worked as essentially the “right-hand lieutenant” on the tax team for the deal, said Alison Chen, a partner who helped recruit Tau to the firm after having worked with her previously. Chen said Tau was mainly first-chairing negotiations and supervising and working with an associate to go through documents related to the deal.
Tau also represented Genesis Energy LP in its 2019 agreements to purchase up to $350 million of preferred interests in its subsidiary, Genesis Alkali Holdings Co.
Tau, who attended the University of Texas School of Law, has found that oil and gas clients in particular don’t want to be wrapped up in technical numbers.
“They need somebody who’s user-friendly, who kind of understands their industry, understands the commercial points of the deal, and understands their sensitivities,” she said.
One thing that makes Tau stand out among junior partners is her ability to get buy-in from various people involved in a transaction, said Chen. Tau is able to “not just be the geeky tax lawyer and technical expert on the call,” but is also “very good at facilitating discussions and bringing consensus,” Chen said.
While tax may seem like a weedy, technical field, Tau can sound philosophical when she talks about it. She described it as not just a revenue-generating system, but also a useful tool for incentivizing different actors and molding behavior. Reflecting on the motivation behind a particular section of the tax code helps her to better understand it, she said.
Tau attributed some of her success to her passion for her practice area.
“I really do love tax law,” she said. “I love how structured it is, but also at the same time, how you can use it to achieve objectives that you’re looking to achieve.”
Tau also helps tremendously with the firm’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, Chen said. That includes helping young associates with their professional growth and working to recruit a diverse group of lawyers to the firm.
“It’s not just the professionalism and the technical expertise that she brings to the table—it’s the whole-person approach,” Chen said.