Antiwar activist turned tax lawyer still seeking challenges

Posted: June 03, 2014

On Nov. 19, 1969, more than 600,000 people converged on Washington to protest the Vietnam War. One of them was Mark Silow, then 16, now 60, and the managing partner at Fox Rothschild L.L.P., a Philadelphia law firm.

"I went to all the big anti-war protests," he said, "and all the more local anti-war gatherings."

That's when he began to consider a law career. "Growing up in the 1960s and early 1970s, it was a very politically intense time and lawyers seemed to be in the forefront of a lot of things that were going on."

Question: Did you imagine that you'd be bailing out protesters?

Answer: I started out thinking I was going to do great constitutional matters and criminal defense - and I wound up doing tax law, so go figure.

Q: How did that happen?

A: I just liked the courses. The right professors at the right time. I just found it to be very interesting.

Q: Do you still?

A: It's very intellectually challenging.

Q: What do you like about it?

A: I like the intersection of the tax code with business planning, succession planning, the things that have a more human element to them.

Q: You didn't lay off lawyers or staffers during the recession, the way other law firms did.

A: Zero. We were positioned in a way that left us largely immune from a lot of those forces.

Q: How?

A: We've always had a very diversified practice. Clearly there were areas that decreased during the worst of the crisis, but they were offset by increases in litigation and bankruptcy. We never have been involved in capital market transactions, which I think were the areas that were most hard-hit by the crisis.

Q: Besides the usual specialties, your firm has a lot of interesting practices: animal issues, fashion, wine.

A: Our approach is to have this really big tent of a firm but with lots of niches and specialties under that tent. It's a business model that has worked for us.

Q: On your 50th birthday, your family gave you a survival trip to the southern Utah wilderness.

A: It was really rugged, minimalist hiking and camping, including several nights and days by yourself in the desert.

Q: What did you pack?

A: Literally, the clothes on your back. A knife, a compass. Some water bottles. You find your food and water wherever.

Q: Any new skills?

A: I learned how to make a fire - the old proverbial Indian method with a bow and rubbing two sticks together.

Q: What did you eat?

A: You eat a lot of grains and plants and you learn how to kill an animal and how to butcher and prepare the animal.

Q: What was the animal and how did you find it?

A: They provided us with a live sheep.

Q: How has that experience affected your business life?

A: You learn to stay calm, you learn to focus, you learn to problem-solve, so those are skills to translate well throughout life. You learn that as difficult and challenging as things appear at any moment, you have to step back and think things through and try to find the solution.


Title: Managing partner, Fox Rothschild L.L.P.

Home: Center City

Family: Wife, Amy Slater; children, Peter, 28

Diplomas: Cheltenham High School, University of Pennsylvania, political science; Temple University Law School, New York University School of Law, master's in tax law.

Evenings: Dines out five out of seven nights.

Current favorites: Vernick, Bibou, Osteria, Dmitri's (Northern Liberties location) and North Third.


Where: Center City

Local offices: Blue Bell, Warrington, Atlantic City, Exton, Wilmington.

Elsewhere: New York New Jersey, Nevada, Connecticut, Florida, Washington, Colorado, California.

Lawyers: 588 total, 253 in local offices.

Total employment: 1,244l, 634 locally.

2013 Revenues: $301 million, up 8.7 percent.

Acquisitions: Five lawyers from a New York firm, 16 from a Denver firm, seven from a San Francisco firm.


Mark Silow on managing employees who love to argue.

Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.



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