Our Spotlight series highlights the careers and lives of tax professionals around the world. This week’s Spotlight is on Brian Ginsberg, a partner in the appellate practice group at Harris Beach PLLC in New York.
Ginsberg leads appeals in federal and state courts across the country spanning a broad range of legal issues, including tax law. He joined the firm in May 2022 after a long tenure in the New York solicitor general’s office, where he briefed and argued several high-profile corporate tax appeals on behalf of the state’s tax department.
When he’s not working, you might find Ginsberg listening to a true-crime audiobook, running on the treadmill, or rooting for his hometown baseball team, the Chicago White Sox.
What’s your official title and what does it mean? I am a partner in the appellate practice group at Harris Beach PLLC. In that role, I work with talented colleagues across the firm’s diverse array of industry teams and substantive practice groups—including our tax practice group—to litigate appeals and critical motions, strategize on complex legal issues arising during trial, and counsel clients facing investigatory or regulatory scrutiny from tax authorities and other agencies. I also mentor junior lawyers who express interest in appellate practice.
Free time: book, audiobook, or podcast? Lately, I’ve been enjoying audiobooks and podcasts. My audiobook tastes tend toward true crime, whereas for podcasts I prefer comedy.
Tax is a huge subject. What’s your area of special interest? The wide variety of issues that come under the tax umbrella is itself a large part of why I relish handling tax cases. So, too, is the natural opportunity that tax cases present for collaborating with colleagues across industries and legal specialties. I also enjoy how tax matters seem to raise an endless supply of complex questions of statutory or constitutional interpretation.
What’s the last movie or show that you watched and loved (DVD, Netflix, or in the theater)? As far as dramas go, I always look forward to new episodes of “Chicago P.D.” And on the comedy side, lately I have been re-watching “Frasier” and “The Office.” All three of those shows are compelling in different ways and help make long runs on the treadmill go by quickly.
What college did you attend and what did you study? I attended Yale University and studied mathematics, graduating with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in the subject. But I also undertook what was in effect a second major in journalism: working as a crime reporter and later an editor for the Yale Daily News, writing, editing, or planning stories nearly every day of the week. Believe it or not, I draw upon both of those experiences routinely when handling tax cases, applying my quantitative fluency to develop a deep understanding of the tax issue at hand and then using my reporter’s perspective to boil it down and communicate it clearly and efficiently to a generalist audience.
Go-to pick-me-up: Coffee or tea? As far as beverages go, my pick-me-up of choice is soda, although green tea (hot or iced) is a close second. But even better, when time allows, is a long run or other form of vigorous physical exercise to clear the mind and reset.
What’s the best tax or financial advice that anyone ever gave you? The best financial advice I’ve received is among the best advice I’ve received for life generally: Set measurable goals, work toward them steadily but aggressively, and have a solid backup plan.
If you weren’t working in the tax profession, what would your dream job be? I would be hard-pressed to imagine more of a “dream job” than working alongside my tremendous colleagues, including first-rate tax lawyers. But if I had to pick an alternate career—and if I had to assume that playing second base for my hometown Chicago White Sox was off the table—I would pick a job that (like my current one) entails a blend of continuous learning, teaching, and communicating. Journalism would certainly be high on the list.
If you had the opportunity to make one change in the tax world—an extra credit, a disallowed deduction, whatever—what would it be? Having recently returned to private practice and resumed litigating on behalf of taxpayers, I would make the standard of judicial review of administrative tax rulings more evenhanded and less slanted in favor of the government. Specifically, I would authorize courts to review administrative tax rulings using the same legal standards applied by the agencies themselves and not force the taxpayer to prove that an adverse administrative decision was not just wrong but also clearly erroneous in order to obtain relief, as many jurisdictions require taxpayers to do.
Favorite food, snack, or candy during tax season or other busy time? Counting beverages as snacks, my go-to snack—during any season—would be Pepsi Zero Sugar.
What tax news or move made the most impact on your practice or clients this past year? The increased use of state False Claims Acts as a means of enforcing state tax laws. The federal False Claims Act allows private individuals, termed “relators,” to bring fraud claims on behalf of the federal government, and if the federal government decides to pursue the case and ultimately prevails, the relator is entitled to a portion of the money the government recovers. However, tax fraud claims are expressly excluded. Filling this gap, New York and a number of other states have enacted state False Claims Acts that include tax fraud claims in their ambit. Particularly in recent years, enforcement of these statutes to combat alleged tax fraud has been vigorous. It should serve as a wake-up call for all businesses and corporations to regularly review and update their internal compliance programs in order to ensure that they are operating lawfully from a tax perspective.
If you received a big tax refund check right now, what would you do with it? I would donate it to one or more of the many great charities that Harris Beach generously supports, like the Hillside Foundation, which provides programs, education, and services to strengthen the lives of children and families throughout New York.
You can find out more about Ginsberg on LinkedIn.
You can learn more about Ginsberg’s firm, Harris Beach PLLC, on its website.
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