Civil Law, Common Law
It’s one thing to have expert level knowledge in tax law. It’s quite another to be able to explain it clearly. The trick, says Travis Chalmers, is to show empathy. “I always try to put myself in the listener’s shoes,” he says. “Tax law so complex and there are so many nuances, but when I communicate with somebody about the tax consequences of a transaction, I always ask myself what is it that they really need to know.”
He’s also a recovering scientist who loves solving puzzles. After spending enough time studying in labs as a biochemist, Travis sought a new challenge and decided to pursue a law degree. He signed up for a tax course and knew right away he was hooked. “The Income Tax Act is written like software,” he says. “I was just drawn to its logic.”
Today, he advises on all areas of income tax, including tax planning for growing businesses and their families. Colleagues say he has an intuitive sense of what the Income Tax Act is trying to accomplish in terms spotting traps in the legislation.
His experience covers a wide range of industries, from biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and medical devices to financial services and private equity, as well as manufacturing, entertainment, and natural resources.
When he’s not at work, Travis is either with his family hiking in the Eastern Townships, skiing, feeding his daughter’s curious mind, gaming online, or practicing karate. Regardless of where he is, his trusted dog isn’t far.
Born in Calgary and raised in Montreal, Travis first had his eyes set on science and completed an Honours B.Sc. in biochemistry, before attending McGill University to study law. Now a member of the Law Society of Ontario and the Quebec Bar (as a Canadian legal advisor), he articled at a leading Montreal tax litigation firm, where he stayed on as a lawyer advising on tax dispute resolution and planning relating to large multinationals, cross-border transactions, SR&ED tax credits, and transfer pricing. In 2014, he took up a director’s position at the business advisory firm Richter, before moving to PSB Boisjoli. Now, as Senior Legal Counsel at Simplex Legal, Travis brings his broad experience in tax advice to help clients navigate a quickly evolving business environment.
We asked Simplex Legal’s new Senior Legal Counsel what businesses need to know about structuring their taxes.
Tax law changes all the time, but over my career, I’d say that the most consistent direction has been the closing down of so-called loopholes. The government is also a lot more sophisticated now about drafting crystal clear (and very complex) legislation that leaves very little room for interpretation.
The biggest issue I’ve seen is that they do not consider the tax consequences of what they’re doing – like when they borrow money from their company or move money between two companies. You obviously don’t have to check every time, but the first time you do a new kind of transaction, you should talk to somebody to make sure you understand what the tax consequences of that are. For example, something as simple as paying your kids to work at your restaurant could cause a big tax bill because there are new tax avoidance rules that catch a lot of legitimate activity. Established clients will often invest in US businesses and either not get advice, or only rely on US advisors – but the complexity of the US and Canadian tax systems means they should be getting tax advice on both sides of the border.
There are two main mistakes: too little guidance, and too much. New companies usually get too little guidance at the start because they think they can’t afford tax advice, and so they skip it altogether. While I think that’s the more forgivable error, start-ups should realize that a couple of hours of time with a tax advisor can save thousands of dollars down the road. Sometimes, on the other hand, an entrepreneur that has some start-up funding will go to a firm that has been marketing to start-ups, and that firm’s package is expensive or unnecessarily complex for this stage of the business. These companies will spend a lot of their founding capital on advice, effectively putting the cart before the horse: tax shouldn’t drive your business, so don’t spend all your money making sure your tax structure is perfect right away. Get the business going first and get some high-level advice on some of your particular business’s biggest traps and pitfalls. Once you have more profit, you can get more sophisticated.
Travel with my family, skiing, training my dog, reading (mostly biographies, science fiction and fantasy). Pre-pandemic, I practiced karate twice a week.
Process improvements I’ve designed, from document templates to work flows to client portals, are still used at each of my previous firms. As a self-taught coder, I’ve developed a methodology to bake certain types legal expertise into software, so that I can spend more time advising and less time drafting. I co-founded the Montreal Junto (a kind of TedX for the Montreal start-up community), served as chairperson of the governing board at my daughter’s school, and have one of the best-behaved dogs anyone’s ever seen.
I’ve wanted to work with Simplex since they were founded, since their emphasis since the outset has been to disrupt the legal services industry through efficiency, astoundingly good customer service, and lower prices. All of this is achievable with current technology, and Simplex is helping build it from the ground up.
The combination of amazing service, high levels of expertise, and relaxed, available lawyers means our clients will receive unparalleled value and personalized service.
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