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Visitors come to Chattanooga, Tennessee for any number of reasons: to enjoy the view from Lookout Mountain, to see the largest freshwater aquarium in the world or to savor a whiskey tasting at a nearby distillery. Now, the laid-back southern city is becoming a draw for an entirely new and unexpected reason—its world-class tax counsel. That’s what veteran transactional tax lawyer David Mittelstadt is offering clients at his new one-man shop, the Middelstadt Law Firm.
Mittelstadt brings some serious credentials to his new enterprise. Educated at the University of Chicago Law School, he spent time in the 80s and 90s practicing tax law at some of the country’s most prestigious firms. Blue-chip names like Jones Day®, Shearman & Sterling®, Hale and Dorr (now WilmerHale®) and Fulbright Jaworksi (now Norton Rose Fulbright®) all appear on his resume. Despite Mittelstadt’s history at larger firms, he is no stranger to operating as a one-man show. His 35-year career includes a seven-year stint at Fish & Richardson®, during which he was the only tax attorney for the renowned intellectual property firm. While there, he counseled on major M&A transactions, corporate restructurings and venture capital deals.
Beyond his Big Law experience, Mittelstadt also spent seven years as the most senior in-house U.S. tax counsel for a global legal research firm, dealing with an array of domestic and international issues, such as evaluating structured financial products, advising on acquisitions and litigating tax controversies. Mittelstadt is admitted to practice in New York, Tennessee, Georgia, Massachusetts and the U.S. Tax Court. He also is the 2018-19 chair of the Tennessee Bar Association’s tax section, as well as a member of its executive committee.
With a background like that, Mittelstadt’s pitch to prospective new clients is no surprise. As his website indicates, he is offering a “big-firm experienced lawyer” at the “dramatically lower costs of a smaller firm.” It’s a simple (and powerful) equation.
Since the Great Recession of a decade ago, firms like those Mittelstadt trained at have faced significant price pressure from clients. To a large extent, the struggle of Big Law to handle that pressure has written the story of the legal industry over last ten years—from mass layoffs, to the outsourcing of document review, to the promise of AI and other forms of legal tech. All of those cost-shaving, efficiency-enhancing trends are responses to the need to deliver greater client value.
For practitioners like Mittelstadt, however, there’s a simpler solution: leaving the big firm and hanging a shingle. Without the need to support less productive colleagues (not to mention office leases in New York skyscrapers), a lawyer like Mittelstadt can offer his top-notch experience at a much lower price point. Especially when he is doing it from Chattanooga.
If Big Law veterans can get enough of their business to follow them out the door to a solo or small firm, it works out for everyone (except their former firms). Many boutiques have started just that way over the last ten years—including a previous venture by David Mittelstadt himself. He was ahead of the game nine years when he started his own firm in Georgia. That experience provided proof of concept that national and international work would find him at a small, non-coastal firm. In one matter for instance, he counseled a Texas-based investment group seeking to acquire an Italian operating company through an Irish holding company. In another case, he represented a U.S.-owned European group regarding restructuring.
Now, after a few years as “of counsel” to a Chattanooga firm, he’s relaunching his solo shop. Mittelstadt expects to maintain his national practice, while also advising startups and smaller local clients in Tennessee. “I look forward to working with other businesses, both big and small, in the region, and to supporting the Chattanooga area business community however I can,” he told The Chattanoogan.
To start, he’s giving outsiders a whole new reason to visit the Chattanooga area.
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