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Nicole Ortiz

/ Washington, D.C.'s Best Lawyers 2018

A Q&A with Celia Roady with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, 2018 "Lawyer of the Year" in Tax Law.

How did you get into your practice area?

I am a tax lawyer who focuses on tax-exempt organizations. I started practicing as a general tax lawyer who worked on a wide variety of tax issues. One of my first assignments involved a challenging tax question for a private foundation client that involved significant public policy issues. I found the work so interesting that I began to do as much work as possible for tax-exempt organizations, and within a few years, I was able to stay completely busy on matters for tax-exempt organizations.

Were there any particular inspirations (people or events) that spurred your interest?

My tax-exempt clients were and are my inspirations. I find their work to be interesting and relevant to significant social and public policy issues.

Who are your typical clients?

I represent all types of 501(c)(3) organizations, ranging from some of the largest private foundations and operating charities to smaller, community-based organizations.

What is your ultimate goal in your practice?

My goal is to help my tax-exempt clients achieve their missions within the constraints of applicable law. 

Describe one of your most interesting or memorable cases.

There have been many! Here’s an early example. Many years ago, before the passage of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a foundation client had an employee who was arrested while doing foundation-related work in a foreign country governed by a dictator known for very serious human rights abuses. The employee was in great jeopardy, and the foundation had to pay a border guard to allow the employee to escape the country. I was asked to research whether the payment was permissible under the U.S. private foundation rules. Fortunately, I was able to conclude that it was!

What qualities do you possess that you find particularly relevant/necessary for practicing your area of law?

My clients value advice that is both legally correct and practical. If something can’t be done the proposed way, I look for legal alternatives that will accomplish the intended objective. My clients also value responsiveness and being able to provide advice on complex issues in a concise and easy to read format. I am a big believer in being responsive and providing advice in a very client-friendly format. The days of the 10-page memos are long gone!

What lessons have you learned along the way?

I have learned that clients value lawyers who can serve as trusted advisors to help them think through all aspects of particularly complex decisions. I have also learned that clients value lawyers who can help them “see around the corner” to identify new issues that the client has not asked about and potential consequences, good and bad, from particular transactions or decisions.

What other passions/interests do you have?

I love to run. Last year I ran the Marine Corps Marathon and plan to do so again this year.

Please provide anything else you would like to share regarding your practice.

I am blessed by a group of colleagues who love working for tax-exempt organizations as much as I do!