SECOND OPINIONS MATTER
- October 19, 2020
- Posted by: Joseph Okuja
- Category: Alerts & Insights
A colleague who left the employment of URA recently called on me to discuss and understand the tax consultancy landscape and how I have managed to stay afloat despite the competition from the numerous audit firms (especially the Big four, BDO and Grant Thornton), the big law firms and the many tax professionals of varying calibres scattered all over the place. For those who did not know, after faithfully serving for about 15 years with URA, I resigned my position and took a leap to join the consultancy business in my area of expertise, tax.
Working for yourself is a dream come true, but the demands it places on you can be overwhelming if you’re not prepared. As a consultant, you are always selling yourself and my approach was to demystify tax by making it easy for taxpayers to understand their rights and tax obligations, and by providing a source of reliable information for tax compliance through publications (I have three so far – Domestic and International Taxation in Uganda: The Law, Principles and Practice; Taxation of Income and Consumption in Uganda: The law and Practice; and the Compendium of Domestic Tax Laws), and tax information alerts… But this does not directly earn you money!
For starters, in the professional space, individuals and businesses have their people and have been working with the same financial, legal or tax advisor for years, maybe even generations, and their loyalty is intact! These are individuals they have known for several years through connections and friends, and who have impacted their freedom, finances, job, family and other important aspects of their life. Moreover, when people encounter tax or legal problems, they tend to contact “their auditor” or “their lawyer”, or alternatively, they will ask for recommendations from a friend, who will direct them to their auditor or lawyer. Even where Requests for Proposals are issued, there are always insiders who push to have their people succeed. As a new comer, it is almost impossible to win such potential clients over. Of course, there are a few exceptions. So, what’s my niche?
To get around this web of interconnected individuals and businesses, I decided that I would feature SECOND OPINIONS as part of our practice, and offer Second Opinions to “other people’s clients” who have questions about the tax and legal advice they have been getting. In fact, getting a second opinion, I reasoned, is a reasonable approach to dealing with complex tax and legal matters. I also reasoned that although most consultants are exceptionally skilled at their jobs, the law is a massive, complex entity, and tax law is a unique area with not so many skilled professionals. Above all, clients who retain the services of any professional are usually entitled to ask someone else for a second opinion. There is absolutely nothing wrong in seeking a second opinion on important matters that will impact heavily on your life. Do not cheat yourself out of your options and do not let yourself get pushed into a corner based on one person’s legal opinion and analysis. Seek a second opinion and weigh your options.
At Libra we often receive enquiries from people seeking a second opinion from their current consultants and leading expert lawyers. It may be that they are looking for reassurance that what they have been told is correct or they may have an inkling that something is amiss from the advice they are receiving from their current advisors. In all cases, we advise that they can choose to let the accounting firm, law firm or consultant handling the matter know someone else is conducting a second opinion, or they may choose not to. Very importantly, we emphasize that our goal is not to take over the matter but to give them objective advice since our team focuses on providing quality legal service and we are well-placed to offer a second opinion to individuals and businesses on complex tax matters regardless of whether a person is our client or simply wants a second opinion on the legal advice they have received. Rest assured, we play fair with others, including the current consultant that is handling the matter we are invited to review. In some circumstances, we provide the client with information and an opinion to take to their advisor. In other situations, we may be asked to take over representing the client and help them achieve the desired outcome.
WHY AND WHEN CAN A CLIENT SEEK A SECOND OPINION?
It is not uncommon for individuals to seek a second opinion in many different areas of life, though seeking a second opinion when it comes to a life-threatening medical diagnosis is fairly common. In the medical profession, most sensible people will get a second opinion if for example they were suddenly told that they had a life-threatening illness or had an incurable disease. When they do, it does not necessarily mean they do not trust the doctor making the initial diagnosis; rather, it is simply prudent to investigate further and learn more about how other medical professionals might choose to handle your ailment. The same would apply especially for tax and legal matters.
When faced with an important decision that may have a major impact on your life and livelihood, it might be advisable that you do not only rely on one opinion. Just like visiting the doctor and receiving a diagnosis, if you have questions about your legal rights and options regarding a tax law issue, it is not unreasonable to seek out a second opinion. It can confirm that you are already getting the best solution possible, or set you in a different direction. And just like a pressing medical concern, time is of the essence in a tax or legal matter because there are statutory deadlines. There is no risk or harm in seeking out a firm that is experienced in tax law matters and that can quickly and accurately assess your situation. I know that in any profession there are judgement calls about strategy and that competent, reasonable professionals can differ in how to approach and resolve any given issue.
There are several reasons why a client may seek a second opinion, but the most crucial is that the client might want to learn about alternative options to the recommendation by his or her primary consultant. Getting a second opinion often allows a client to make decisions from a more informed standpoint, let alone being able to more thoroughly understand an issue after receiving the second opinion. The original opinion may be confirmed by another legal professional, thus providing the client with greater confidence in the decision. Alternatively, the second opinion may result in the client wanting to go in another direction.
Clients can also save a lot of money by seeking second opinions. Clients seeking second opinions can ask a wide range of questions from wanting to know if a proposed settlement is acceptable, to wanting to get a second opinion about the direction their counsel is taking in a specific matter. Some just want a reality check on what they are being billed and what they are told it will cost to complete a representation or assignment. We have had cases where we have been asked for opinions about resolving matters that have been going on for a while and costs are rising, including whether a matter should be appealed or whether a lawsuit should be filed in the first place.
Clients seek a Second Opinion in certain situations where their lawyer or consultant may not be prioritizing the case or is not providing the proper representation to them. For example, if the lawyer or consultant is giving the impression that he or she is too busy by not returning phone calls, providing rushed answers that do not take into account individual facts and details, or always referring the client to someone else. Second opinions are also sought when the client gets the impression that their advisor may not be able to provide competent legal representation because they may not have very much experience in the subject matter or that they have not conducted enough research to fully understand the legal issues.
Finally, when you decide to seek a second opinion, always be mindful that in tax and legal matters, time is of the essence. There are statutes of limitations on exercising a right, fulfilling obligations, filing a claim, an appeal or contesting a decision, judgement or offer. The sooner you contact us for a second opinion, the sooner we can help you see what options are available and help you pursue them before time runs out. At Libra, our opinions, whether first, second or third, will help you #GetItRightTheFirstTime”! Have a great week ahead and stay safe.