Gibson Dunn hires Morgan Lewis partner trio in DC to grow new tax controversy group

Sanford Stark to co-chair team as firm responds to 'growing demand' for contentious advice and representation
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The US Capitol Building Orhan Cam; Shutterstock

Top 20 US firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher has boosted its newly-formed tax controversy and litigation group in Washington DC with the arrival of three partners from Morgan Lewis & Brockius, six months after the firm hired former IRS chief counsel Mike Desmond to strengthen its tax capabilities amid a rise in IRS enforcement activity in the US. 

Morgan Lewis partner Sanford Stark joins the Los Angeles firm as co-chair of the new practice group with Desmond, while Saul Mezei and Terrell Ussing join the tax controversy and litigation practice as partners. 

The firm’s new tax controversy group, which at this stage includes Desmond, the new Morgan Lewis trio and Los Angeles-based senior partner Kevin Rosen, will focus on advising clients on all stages of tax controversy, from audit and administrative resolution through trial court proceedings and judicial appeals. 

Welcoming the trio to the firm, Barbara Becker, Gibson Dunn’s chair and managing partner, said: “Our clients turn to us for guidance on a range of complex domestic and international tax issues, and, with this group, we’ll be able to meet the growing demand.” 

She added that the new group’s experience handling tax matters would help it “realise our long-standing objective of establishing a market-leading global tax controversy practice”. 

Stark, who spent a little more than seven years as a Morgan Lewis partner in DC, served as a trial attorney in the tax division of the US Department of Justice before joining McKee Nelson, later Bingham McCutchen, as a partner in 2000 and remained with the firm until it merged with Morgan Lewis in 2014. He focuses his practice on domestic and international tax issues with a significant emphasis on cross-border transfer pricing. 

“Partnering with Mike Desmond and our colleagues across the firm presents a unique and exciting opportunity to expand our offering to clients and continue growing a market-leading tax controversy and litigation practice,” Stark said. 

Mezei and Ussing, meanwhile, also bring significant experience handling transfer pricing matters. The duo overlapped with Stark during their respective five and one year tenures at Bingham McCutchen prior to the merger with Morgan Lewis. Following the merger, Mezei was promoted to partner and Ussing worked as an associate before being promoted to partner in late 2020. 

Before joining Bingham McCutchen, Mezei also worked as an attorney advisor to judge Robert Wherry Jr. in the US tax court between 2007 and 2009. 

Outside their work in private practice, the trio all serve as adjunct professors in the graduate tax programme of Georgetown University’s law school, where they focus on teaching transfer pricing and tax controversy law. 

Gibson Dunn’s wider international tax group currently boasts 54 lawyers including 27 partners across its offices in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas. 

In October, the firm boosted its private equity M&A capabilities in London with a trio of partner-level hires from US rival Vinson & Elkins. Vinson partners Federico Fruhbeck – who became European head of private equity – and Robert Dixon moved across alongside counsel Alice Brogi, who joined as a partner.

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