In this exclusive interview with Investor’s Mag, we speak with Johanne Hague, Founder and Director of Prism Chambers. With a specialization in tax-related laws, Johanne delves into the challenges and constant evolution of this field. She also discusses her new weekly podcast “Beyond the Black Letter Law”.
What can you tell us about “Beyond the Black Letter Law”? What’s the big deal?
“Beyond the Black Letter Law” is a podcast that I host on which I invite each week (generally), a guest to have a conversation around a specific theme. The idea of a podcast dates to the first lockdown in 2020, when physical contact with people was virtually non-existent. As a firm, we needed to connect to people from various walks of life. Almost three years on, what started as sporadic zoom conversations has now evolved into a weekly video and audio podcast supported by a brilliant videographer. We have also started collaborating with other service providers (such as management companies) whose values we share and who are interested in creating valuable content. The “why” behind the podcast has also naturally evolved into providing a platform for conversations with people who inspire or have the potential to inspire others. Our guests are all carefully selected and each has a unique story to tell. Although the podcast is hosted in English and principally showcased on LinkedIn, the audience is diverse, curious, supportive and engaging.
What were the difficulties in launching Prism Chambers?
Making a name in the legal industry in Mauritius when you don’t have a legacy name or practice has never been an easy path to take. Fortunately, the legal profession in Mauritius has vastly improved in the last decade, and clients increasingly appreciate the value add that a specialist can bring. Technology and professional social media have also been a great leveller as it is now possible to disseminate great legal content, whether or not one is “well connected” in the traditional meaning of the word. By focusing on one area of law, we have transformed any perceived obstacles into opportunities for collaboration and growth. We, therefore, operate in partnership with other like-minded tax advisers or lawyers who do not view us as “the competition” but as trusted partners.
As I always say to my colleagues, tax does not exist in a vacuum. The other interesting aspect is that Tax law never remains static…
Johanne Hague | Director | Prism Chambers
How did you learn to appreciate Tax?
I knew the moment I did part of my training contract in the Tax department at Linklaters LLP in London that this was an area I wished to specialise in. When you work in a transactional law firm, it is easy to become a “commercial”, paper-churning lawyer with very little exposure to pure law. Tax seemed to me to be a perfect blend of black letter law and commercial exposure in a wide range of practice areas. As I always say to my colleagues, tax does not exist in a vacuum. The other interesting aspect is that Tax law never remains static. As it is heavily influenced by government and international policies, it is an ever-changing, ever-evolving area, and so it keeps me on my toes.
Is there adequate human capital in Mauritius to grow this industry?
There are some very talented accountants and lawyers in Mauritius. The question is: would they find a career in Tax enticing? Based on my experience, I would say that it is easier to recruit accountants in Tax than lawyers. There persists this unfortunate myth that one has to be good at numbers in order to be a tax lawyer. The reality is: absolutely not. Our role is to advise our clients on tax law: we opine on points of law, we advise on tax implications of transactions, we litigate in relation to assessments raised by the tax authorities. All of this is done with the support of tax accountants where appropriate. Does a tax lawyer need to know how to read a P&L? Yes, but so does any other commercial or transactional lawyer (in my humble opinion). The other obstacle is the reluctance of young lawyers to specialise early in their careers. Whilst I appreciate the validity of this hesitancy, I would counter that practising Tax offers the opportunity to be exposed to many areas ranging from corporate and finance to private client work and litigation. This market, therefore, offers huge potential and there is more than enough work for everyone.
There are some very talented accountants and lawyers in Mauritius. The question is: would they find a career in Tax enticing?
Johanne Hague | Director | Prism Chambers
It appears that you have the “good enough is not good enough” syndrome. What is the gravity of this?
I am certainly not a perfectionist, but I abhor mediocrity. Good enough is not good enough means being committed to investing in yourself and your personal and professional growth, aiming to be 1% better today than you were yesterday. In my professional life, it means favouring quality over quantity; it means supporting my colleagues to push themselves out of their comfort zone; it means learning to compete against oneself rather than others; it means learning how and when to challenge societal norms and accepted practices when it is time for them to be revisited. It’s a rough path to take. I am sometimes met with remarks like “but it’s always been like this” or “we are not in Europe” or “you should be grateful that you have least this or that” but they do not faze me. Progress is rarely achieved without some disruption and I welcome the challenge.