From startups to Fortune 500 giants, Benjamin Blair has built a reputation as a leader in finding solutions to taxing problems. As an authority on tax law, Blair has also shared his expertise as an adjunct professor at his alma mater, IU Maurer School of Law. But Blair also applies his talents on pro bono tax and other legal matters, in addition to finding time to serve on the board of the Indianapolis Opera Company.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect of your practice?
I love helping my clients develop ways to resolve difficult situations. No one likes to be audited, and few people like to pay taxes, but those are virtual certainties in today’s regulatory environment. My practice lets me be the point of contact between my clients and the state, working to try to find a position that everyone can live with and plan for.
Who is someone who inspired or mentored you, and what did you learn from them?
I’ve had mentors at each stage of my career, each of whom contributed concrete skills I use every day. But I was extremely fortunate to be mentored by two of the best state tax lawyers in Indiana: Francina Dlouhy and Steve Paul. Beyond the substantive parts of the practice, they taught me how to boldly advise clients and use creativity to get the best results.
What would you be doing if you had not become an attorney?
It’s hard to know, since my path to law took so many turns, but I imagine that I would have become a professor. I rarely turn down an opportunity to teach — whether it’s a CLE, an industry panel or at the Maurer School of Law, where I have served as an adjunct professor. Breaking down complex concepts to make them comprehensible is a challenge that I really enjoy.
What motivated you to pursue a legal career?
My path to becoming a lawyer was guided by healthy doses of serendipity. I wasn’t someone who knew from an early age that I was going to be a lawyer. During my undergraduate studies, I took a course on government and policy that really intrigued me. I concluded that going to law school was the best path to working in the policy realm, even though that’s now a fairly small part of my practice.
What attracted you to the area of tax law?
The common perception is that tax law is an impenetrable, sometimes arcane, field. While that is certainly true on occasion, it is also true that everyone is going to come into contact with the tax laws at one point or another. As one of my mentors often says, there’s a lot of job security at the intersection of government’s desire for revenue and taxpayers’ desire not to pay it. The opportunity to build substantive expertise in a complex, mandatory field was one I couldn’t turn down.
What do you most enjoy doing when you’re not in the office?
I have a 1½ -year-old son, so much of my free time is spent playing tag through the house and otherwise living vicariously. My wife, Ashley, and I also love to travel, and although travel is now a very different experience for us, we enjoy hiking and finding challenging trails wherever we go.
You’re on the executive board of the Indianapolis Opera. How did that interest begin?
Since grade school, I’ve been involved in theater and the musical arts, both on stage and off. A few years ago, I was looking for a way to become more involved in leadership in the arts community in Indianapolis. Around the same time, the Indianapolis Opera’s board was looking for younger members to help build the Opera for the next generation of arts patrons. One of my mentors who knew of my interests got wind of the board’s search and made the connection; the rest was kismet.
Where do you see your legal career 10 years from now?
I hope I’m still litigating the types of cases I’m handling now, just more of them and on a bigger, more national scale. One of the most challenging parts about state and local tax, in particular, is that laws are constantly in flux, and every state approaches taxation a little differently. I like that challenge, and my favorite cases are the ones where we need to consider the multistate implications of a certain position or argument.
If you could change one law, what would that be?
I would institute the “Idaho stop” rule, which allows bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs. I bike to the office every day, so common sense rules that make biking easier and safer for everyone would be much appreciated.
What’s something about you not many people know?
My mom was a high school journalism teacher, and I was the editor of my high school newspaper. I still try to apply that editorial attention to word choice, sentence structure and page layout in my legal writing today.
How do you encourage other young lawyers to get involved in pro bono work?
Hands-on experience is invaluable in becoming a better lawyer. It’s an unfortunate fact that young lawyers often don’t get first-chair experience or even firsthand client interactions. Pro bono work provides an opportunity for young lawyers to build skills and confidence in a real engagement while helping a real client solve a real problem. At its core, pro bono work allows young lawyers to help themselves grow by helping others.
What’s your advice to a younger person who’s thinking about a legal career?
Try a little of everything before you settle into one field. It’s tempting to overlook certain practice areas as being uninteresting or unnecessarily complex. But you can find a lot of career satisfaction, and maybe even enjoyment, in some of the toughest practices. Even tax!•