A leadership team of hybrid lawyers allows a unique, panoramic perspective to cases
IT’S downright difficult to talk about this topnotch accountant-lawyer and not give in to the strong urge to use the word “Renaissance.”
Because she just is. A Renaissance woman.
Benedicta Du-Balalad, “Dick” to her friends and colleagues, is a painter – her works hang on the walls of the homes of her well-perched peers, apart from adding color and character to her own workplace, which is comfortably anti-law firm in atmosphere (she doesn’t like too many books on the walls that don’t get read anyway, she says). She also creates and makes clothes – hers fittingly included. And she is a mother and wife and a finance-industry personality.
Du-Baladad is the founding partner and CEO of the Du-Baladad and Associates (BDB Law), the WTS Global network firm that bears her name. No small achievement for someone who, only 10 years ago and after a career with a big-named firm and an earlier stint in government service, only wanted a small private practice, to afford her more time for her family.
BDB Law, originally envisioned as a boutique consultancy, now has a roster of clients comprising multinationals, listed companies and registered large taxpayers from the banking and other financial institutions, insurance, power and energy, manufacturing and technology. The Philippine government is also a client, having BDB Law as a consultant for its TRAIN, or Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion, Law.
Reimagining the practice
BDB Law is a decade old now, and the Renaissance woman’s firm is, in many ways, forging a renaissance of its own. It’s deliberately different. To begin with, three-quarters of the firm’s 40-or-so people belong to that sought-after uncommon combination: CPA-lawyer (the pure certified public accountants among the rest are even encouraged to take up law – as scholars of the firm). Some others are a separate – and rarer – mashup altogether: economist-lawyer.
The focus on hyphenated professionals is for a reason. “The practice of tax is really hybrid, needing the services of both a CPA and a lawyer – or an economist and a lawyer,” Du-Balalad explains. And this is reflected in BDB Law’s roster of partners.
Du-Baladad herself is a CPA who graduated magna cum laude from Baguio City’s St. Louis University (SLU). She also completed a Master of Laws in International Tax Program, at Harvard University, after earning her Bachelor of Laws from the University of Sto. Tomas.
The firm’s managing partner, Fulvio Dawilan, is likewise a CPA-lawyer who, like Du-Baladad, earned his degree in accountancy at SLU. He went to San Beda College (now university) for his law degree, and is now a licensed lawyer both in the Philipines and in New York. Partner Irwin Nidea, Jr., on the other hand, is an economist-lawyer. The chief of BDB Law’s Litigation, Nidea earned his degrees in economics and in Juris Doctor both from the Ateneo de Manila University. The newest partner, Rodel Unciano, is a CPA-lawyer who leads the firm’s Advisory unit and heads its support staff.
Having a leadership team of mostly accountant-lawyers and economist-lawyers allows BDB Law a unique, panoramic perspective to cases, enabling them to offer strategies and solutions based on a more encompassing appreciation of a client’s needs – and, just as importantly, putting these in the proper contexts.
That conscious effort to assemble a firm of hybrid lawyers has earned for BDB Law – as its partner network WTS Global puts it – “a track record of being able to provide practical and customized strategies, either as a preventive or a curative measure, to achieve optimum tax benefit has given the Firm a differentiating advantage.”
Moreover, BDB Law’s select lineup allows it the luxury to focus on high-end tax advisory, complex cases and novel issues that, as Du-Baladad says, “cracks your head.” What pushes the firm to do well, she reveals, are difficult challenges, reason why they don’t like simple cases that do not require them to think. Calling the latter “giveaways,” she literally gives away advices on them – for free.
The firm’s concentation on higher-value work is also a pragmatic appreciation of the world they operate in: locally, Du-Balalad is confident that TRAIN – will simplify taxation; globally, the advancements of digitalization and AI – plus their implications to the tax profession, which WTS Global is deeply involved with – will place a premium on the kind of thinking that can only be done better by highly-educated and -enabled professionals.
Retooling tax professionals
The firm’s focus on high-value work from high-value professionals begs a two-part question: BDB Law seems to have cornered the market of accountant-lawyers and economist-lawyers – is there enough talent out there, and is our educational system responsive to this requirement? “Yes,” Du-Baladad replies, quickly and unequivocally. But she says that education should be more thought-out – and a step ahead. “Our educational system in the Philippines is more of a generalist [type],” she opines. “When you work, that’s when you get into specialization.”
Which is why BDB Law envisions itself as the industry’s training ground – not unlike Citibank. “This is part of our corporate social responsibility – to train the younger ones,” she shares. Even if they leave later on to join a competitor or set up their own firms. She smiles and says, “It’s a big market, anyway.”
Always consciously looking a step ahead and as BDB Law turns 10, Du-Balalad is already preparing for the next decade ahead. She has already relinquished her role as managing partner to Dawilan and begun easing into a back seat behind her partners. In five years, she plans to segue into the role of chair of the firm and focus more on the BDB Law Foundation, which operates on a self-imposed tithe of 5 percent of BDB revenues. Even with her departure as managing partner, she is confident that the company structure for continuity – and quality of work – is already in place.
“We practice a three-eyed review policy at the firm: nothing of consequence is written and released without the review and concurrence of the three partners,” reveals Du-Baladad, the multifaceted proponent of the hyphenated hybrid tax lawyer who has set her firm – and her profession – up for a rebirth as the BDB Law celebrates its 10th birthday today, July 8, and rethinks the tax practice in its part of the world.
There’s a word for it: renaissance.