Taxing matters-- Attorney helps clients respond to an ever-changing landscape

By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

When the talk turns to taxes, Bill Sider's eyes light up.

The political chatter about the dreaded "T" word has taken on a new sense of urgency over the past year as governmental units across the spectrum consider imposing a range of levies or enacting new taxes to plug budget holes.

The ripple effect of such thoughts is of abiding interest to Sider, a tax attorney with Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss in Southfield. His practice revolves around how one of life's true certainties impacts business and high net worth clients.

"I won't pretend that it is an easy topic to understand, but I find it to be particularly fascinating to determine ways to mitigate tax consequences," Sider says. "The tax topic is becoming more and more prominent all the time in political discussions. Government is looking at any and all ways to raise revenue."

LeBron James beware.

The NBA mega-star recently brought his Cleveland Cavaliers to The Palace of Auburn Hills to play the Pistons. James tossed in his usual 30 points or so to hang another loss on the home team. Nothing newsworthy there. What did pique Sider's interest, however, was some local talk of taxing James on his pay for the day, some $300,000. Oh, how Oakland County or the State of Michigan would love to get their hands on some of those NBA riches.

"The consequences of something like that would be precedent-setting and far-reaching, but it is that type of tax matter that is going to be more prevalent in the years to come as governments struggle to balance their budgets," Sider says. "Any source of potential revenue is going to be fair game. The fact that the tax law is ever evolving is part of its appeal to me."

Sider, who grew up in Southfield and graduated from Southfield Lathrup High School, didn't figure to find his calling in the tax code. He was an English major in the honors program at the University of Michigan, where he considered pursuing a career in writing. U-M Law School changed that focus, steering his interest toward the law.

He headed west for his first job, an associate's post with a Salt Lake City firm, spending a year and a half working for the second largest firm in the state.

"It was a great place to live with all the outdoor opportunities that were available nearby," Sider said of the Utah city. "I worked in the tax department of the firm."

He returned to Michigan to work for Jaffe in 1986, a time period that coincided with the massive overhaul of the federal tax code. Within a year he convinced his superiors at Jaffe that obtaining a master's in tax from New York University School of Law was a good idea.

"They fronted the money for the degree program with a handshake agreement that I would come back to work for Jaffe," Sider recalls. "It was a tremendous show of faith on their part."

The lure of working for a New York law firm gave Sider pause for thought after obtaining his L.L.M. from NYU in 1988, but he remained steadfast in his commitment to return to Michigan.

"Although it was tempting to stay in New York, I knew that I would be given opportunities to work on a variety of interesting and important tax matters with Jaffe," Sider says of his decision to return. "It was a good move."

His tax work now cuts across a "varied client base including private equity firms, real estate companies, high net worth individuals, publicly traded REITs, technology companies, and private foundations." Sider routinely structures purchase and sale transactions, family wealth transfers, and business formations, all with a focus on creativity. He enjoys the puzzle-like effort of mining the tax code to maximize client objectives.

"Successfully addressing a client's tax issues to enhance their overall economics is one of the best ways to add value as a professional," Sider believes.

Sider has written and lectured extensively on a "variety of tax topics, including equity incentives, limited liability companies, real estate workouts, REITs, and angel investment strategies." He has served as an adjunct professor at the former Detroit College of Law, now Michigan State University College of Law, and chair of the Partnership Committee of the State Bar Tax Section.

Sider's father, Ronald, spent his career in the insurance business, serving as the chief financial officer for a small agency in the Detroit area. An alumnus of Wayne State University with a degree in accounting, he and his wife, Barbara, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary last year, a milestone occasion that they marked with their three children.

"My parents have had a profound influence on my life with their strong emphasis on education and the work ethic that they instilled in each of us," Sider says.

A resident of Huntington Woods, Sider has two sisters, both of whom are architects. Wendy, his twin, lives in Florida, while his sister, Debbie, resides in Milwaukee. Both are graduates of the U-M College of Architecture.

A native of Oak Park, Sider and his wife, Michelle, have three children, 15-year-old Joshua and 12-year-old twins, Ben and Eli. Joshua is a sophomore at Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield, while the twins are sixth-graders at Akiva Hebrew Day School in Southfield. Sider serves as secretary on the board of Frankel Academy, chairing its legal committee. He also serves on the board of Camp Michigania, a recreational and educational retreat on beautiful Walloon Lake for U-M Alumni Association members and their families.

Sider met his wife while she was pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Detroit Mercy. A graduate of Birmingham Groves High School and the U-M, Michelle had a practice in child psychology before the couple began raising their family. She since has returned to her first love, art, as an instructor at the Jewish Academy.

"She teaches painting and drawing there," Sider says of his wife. "She is a fabulous artist, and her works are all about the use of colors. She has a special talent there."

For her 50th birthday this summer, Sider has arranged to send his wife to the "art workshop of her dreams," a weeklong educational experience set in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. There she will be exposed to the latest in encaustic art, an almost lost art form utilizing beeswax as a pigment medium.

Her passion for art is dovetailing nicely with Sider's increasing interest in the sport of triathlons.

"I started competing in triathlons several years ago and have found them to be very challenging," Sider says of the sport that combines swimming, biking, and running in a supreme test of speed and stamina.

For his 50th birthday this fall, Sider hopes to test his triathlon talents in a Half Ironman competition, an event featuring a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1-mile run. All for good fun, of course.

"The training that is required can be a bit self-indulgent, but I also view this as a way to push myself to get better," Sider reflects. "I'll let you know this fall whether all the training and sacrifices were worth it. I think I know the answer."

Published: Wed, Apr 14, 2010

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