This story is part of a series of profiles featuring some of this year’s outstanding law school graduates from UC Law San Francisco.
As he prepares to start a new career as an attorney in Silicon Valley, Zach Leonard ’23 said he feels confident with the skills and knowledge he gained from the tax concentration program at UC Law San Francisco.
“Having a good understanding of the tax consequences of certain corporate transactions will be immensely helpful in my career as it relates to mergers and acquisitions,” Leonard said.
After graduating in May and passing the bar, Leonard plans to work on mergers and acquisitions in the Silicon Valley office of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, a law firm where he previously interned.
“I’m very excited about returning to Freshfields in the fall because of the wonderful experience I had this past summer,” he said. “Opening their new office in Silicon Valley three years ago has allowed the firm to create a culture that is different from your stereotypical Big Law firm. I’m excited and honored to be a part of their growth.”
Leonard grew up on a ranch in the small West Texas town of Sonora and studied theatre performance at the University of Houston before moving to Los Angeles. He tried his hand at acting – appearing in several theatrical plays, short films, and independent movies – before working in account management roles at different startups.
“I liked the client-facing interactions that I had, but I knew I wanted to work with clients in a more impactful, sophisticated way,” he said. “Based on my education and experience, law school seemed like the most logical path forward to make that happen.”
Leonard said he was drawn to UC Law San Francisco because of its welcoming community. Throughout law school, he said he received valuable support and encouragement from faculty and staff, including Professors Paul Belonick and Heather Field and Assistant Dean of Career Development Amy Kimmel, who helped him devise a career plan that matched his goals and interests.
He joined several student organizations, including the UC Law SF Journal, OUTlaw, and the UC Law Association of Tax Students. He also participated in the Startup Legal Garage and joined the award-winning Alternative Dispute Resolution Team, where he won accolades in national competitions.
Leonard is one of 17 recent grads who participated in the tax concentration program. Through the program, he took courses on international tax, family wealth transfers, pensions and employee benefits, federal income tax, taxation of corporations and partnerships, and more. In a yearlong tax seminar course, he researched a new 1% excise tax on stock buybacks, which was enacted by the Inflation Reduction Act signed by President Joe Biden in 2022. He said, “I learned about the relationship between stock buybacks and equity compensation plans and proposed legislative and regulatory changes that could incentivize corporations to maintain, and even increase, the equity compensation plans they provide to non-executive employees.”
He said one of the things he liked most about the program was the strong connections he built with a tight-knit group of tax concentration students, “There was a genuine camaraderie and a huge feeling of accomplishment shared between us.”
Leonard also won major awards for his work as part of the tax concentration program. He was co-winner of the Fung Family 2L Excellence in Tax Law Award and the Fung Family Excellence in Tax Writing Award. Each award came with a $5,000 scholarship, which he shared with co-winner and fellow tax concentration student Lisa Chen. The scholarships were funded by generous donations from Jennifer Fung ’18 and Adrian Fung.
“Completing the tax concentration was the hardest thing I did in law school, but the feeling of accomplishment and the skills I gained made it worth every minute,” he said.