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Michelle Novotny, Accounting Firm Attorney

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Working as an accounting firm attorney has both pros and cons, just like any other attorney. Some of the pros include having interaction with people in the accounting firm and having corporate benefits that other types of attorneys don't get. One of the cons is trying to learn how to figure out how to process the accounting work, since it is different than regular legal work.
 
Attorneys working in an accounting firm enjoy various benefits that private practice attorneys don't have. That being said, there are some downsides to becoming an accounting firm attorney. While they often are able to help companies with legal financial dealings and receive corporate benefits, they also are often faced with high stress during certain times of the year end have to deal with numbers, which is hard for some people. All in all, you should definitely consider becoming an accounting firm attorney if it looks like the right fit for you.


 
  1. Why did you decide to work in an accounting firm?

    I obtained a Bachelor's Degree in Business Economics with an Accounting emphasis so, after I went to law school and received my Juris Doctorate, I wanted to use the education and experience from both. Working for an accounting firm afforded me with an opportunity to become more analytical and provide advice that reflected the natural synergy between law and business.
     
  2. What is the best part of working at an accounting firm?

    I gained a comprehensive understanding of how the tax advice I was providing had a direct financial impact on the clients I was working for - clients that included multinational public and private companies as well as high net-worth individuals. For example, I oftentimes worked on projects researching and providing strategies on how to minimize a company's effective income tax rate; seeing that tangible expense reduction on the financial statements was very rewarding.
     
  3. What is the worst part of working in an accounting firm?

    Some people say they go to law school to get away from numbers, so the "worst" part depends on whether you like math and sometimes very complicated spreadsheets! I learned, and admittedly the learning curve was steep, to create pivot tables, write look up functions, etc. that were challenging. At the same time, I learned a whole host of ways to perform quantitative research and analytics that is absolutely essential in today's marketplace. So if you can embrace all those numbers, this potentially negative aspect is a great tool in all future endeavors.
     
  4. What advice would you give to others looking to work in an accounting firm?

    My advice is to be open to something different - namely, to gain comprehensive knowledge and expertise in interdependent fields. After law school, graduates follow pretty common paths of either going to an established law firm, hanging out a shingle to start their own firm, or perhaps working for a pro bono organization or government institution. Accounting firms should be added to that generic list. In today's business environment, multidisciplinary expertise and experience is a great advantage.
     
  5. What is a typical day like for you as an attorney in an accounting firm?

    Although it's been a number of years since I last worked at an accounting firm, there wasn't a "typical" day for me. Each day presented its own opportunities - to work with a new client, different partners in offices around the world, on different issues. The practice is multi faceted and if you like being on your toes and challenged each and every day, embracing the opportunity to learn, accounting firms are great places to accomplish that.
     
  6. What was/is your title in your [current] position in an accounting firm?

    My first job out of law school was with an accounting firm, and I started as a first year general tax associate. I became a senior tax associate in the international tax group within a couple of years. The other tracks could have been to remain in the general tax group as a senior associate, or focus on domestic tax issues or risk management, or … the list is extensive.
     
  7. How does your experience compare with your peers who chose other sorts of jobs?

    My experience seems pretty unique based on a comparison with my peers - I haven't worked with anyone who has followed the same path. I like that about the path that I took. I also firmly believe that, after moving on from the accounting firm to in-house corporate counsel positions, the Legal and Finance organizations of those companies place a high value on the tax and accounting background that I bring to the table. When I'm, for instance, preparing or reviewing SEC filings to comply with federal securities laws or when I'm structuring an agreement to take into account the revenue impact, the fact that I can recognize the financial statement impact is a value-add that my post-accounting firm employers find attractive. The difference being that when you have financial and legal experience, you can be part of the deal-making process and drive the nature of the transaction as opposed to just papering the contract afterwards. Legal and financial issues are inherently intertwined with business strategies and overall corporate goals, and my training and experience in legal, accounting, and business matters allow me to play a key role in achieving those objectives. I would hope that others who follow a similar path will experience the same benefits!

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