It may seem strange to think of the practice of tax law as an act of translation. But a lot of the work for tax attorney Kara Mungovan involves knowing how to speak effectively to the varied set of actors involved in a commercial deal.
“I try to tailor the communication to the person I’m speaking with,” said Mungovan, a New York partner in the tax practice at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP. “If it’s a conversation I’m having with the corporate lawyers at Cravath, it’s a different style of communication than if I’m talking to the tax director at the client, for example, or to a non-tax person at the client who needs to understand what we’re talking about in order to be able to make a decision.”
Mungovan has brought these communication skills to bear on very large transactions, including Occidental Petroleum Corp.'s 2019 acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which was valued at $57 billion, according to a Cravath announcement. She was involved in structuring, negotiating, documenting, and then executing the transaction, she said, working within a wider team to represent Occidental Petroleum’s interests when it came to tax issues.
Mungovan also worked on an agreement under which Deutsche Telekom AG consented to the sale of T-Mobile shares for about $20 billion in 2020. The transaction involved working effectively with Cravath colleagues, experts, co-advisers, and counterparts across the negotiating table, she said.
“There were all those competing stakeholders, and they all had different interests, so there were just a lot of needles to thread in terms of legal, tax, accounting, regulatory, kind of you name it, in multiple jurisdictions,” she said.
Mungovan, who attended Harvard Law School, pointed to the relationships she’s been able to build at her firm and her love for what she does as two ingredients that have helped her succeed.
When advising young associates, she often tells them to learn as much as they can as early as they can about the facts of a transaction and the particular area of law that’s relevant, so they become the go-to person for questions.
“Just because you’re suddenly in a room with people who have been doing this longer than you have doesn’t mean that you can’t apply your skills and apply your logic and contribute a lot,” she said.
Michael Schler, who was a partner at Cravath when Mungovan joined the firm and is now of counsel, described instances in which Mungovan improved a report they were working on together for the New York State Bar Association Tax Section by speaking up with thoughts that challenged his own. Both Schler and Mungovan are members of the tax section’s executive committee.
“Many times I would tell her how I thought the statute worked and she would say, ‘Well, but what about this?’” he said. After a while, he realized she was “always right” and stopped arguing.
“She’s very smart, and she could see how it all fit together really well,” he said.
Mungovan’s contributions to reports are another way she has used her skills to contribute to tax legal practice—not just in major deals, Schler said.
“There aren’t that many tax lawyers that are really good at both, or even try to do both,” he said.
In a field in which a lot of good lawyers will let you know right away how smart and tough they are, Mungovan also stands out for how she carries herself, Schler said.
“She’s very low key, and you’d never guess just talking to her how smart she is and how good she is, and just such a nice person, too,” he said.