Penny Indictor of Berman Indictor LLP has been a member of Women in Housing and Finance of PA (WHF PA)) since its inception. She joined the Steering Committee in 2015 and serves on the Events and Programming Committee.
Penny is an expert affordable housing and community development attorney who focuses her practice on various aspects of federal income taxation, including partnership taxation, real estate taxation, and transactions involving Low-Income Housing, Historic, and New Markets tax credits. Penny’s experience includes structuring, negotiating, documenting and closing tax credit transactions and other complex equity investments.
In 2012, Penny joined a few of her colleagues (including her long-time colleague and mentor, Steven Berman) to form a boutique law firm (Berman Indictor LLP) specializing in tax credits, affordable housing and community development matters. Chris Paul of WHF PA recently sat down with Penny to talk about her experiences as a woman business owner and entrepreneur. An edited version of that interview follows:
CP: Tell us about your decision to start your new firm. How easy or hard was it to decide to do it?
PI: There was a small group of us who decided together to start our new firm and everyone gave it a lot of thought. From a purely practical standpoint it was difficult to find time to have discussions, share thoughts and work out details, given how busy we were with client matters at our prior firm. Also, the decision was particularly hard for me because I had always worked in large firms throughout my 18-year legal career, so the small firm idea and the idea of being an owner of it was very different from anything I had been exposed to. It was a hard decision because it represented such a big change and I was enjoying my work at my prior firm. However, our practice was really concentrated in a group and this seemed to make the most sense and be the best decision for the group. The people with whom I worked most closely were advocating it and I trusted them, so it made sense to jump into it together and the timing seemed right. So that tipped the scales for me, that it made sense to keep our group together. Our business was portable and we had confidence that our clients would follow us, since they had already done so from one firm to another. The decision would have been harder if we had overlapped more with (or more heavily relied on) other practice areas in our prior firm or if our group felt less self-contained or portable.
CP: Can you talk a bit about your career path and how it led to this point?
PI: I had majored in accounting in college for purely practical reasons and my career path started as a CPA for two years. When I went to law school, I thought I should be using my tax experience, so I gravitated towards tax law. I started my law career as a general tax associate and did different things within the practice. It was a total chance that I happened into affordable housing and community development, but this area ended up being the busiest at the time and there was just more need so I worked on tax credit transactions more. That wasn’t necessarily what I planned, though I do enjoy the area. I enjoyed the work and the attorney I was primarily working with. And the more work I did, the more comfortable I became and the more sense it made to focus on this practice area. If corporate tax had been busier at the time, I may have ended up there. I was aware of affordable housing in general, but not specifically about tax credits, which are a significant source of financing for these types of projects. I am grateful to have found the area; it is gratifying to see the end result when projects are completed and residents move in.
I feel lucky to have found a niche practice in the tax area, because being a more general tax professional, for me at least, might feel somewhat overwhelming – so many areas to try to be an expert at, so much change to keep up with. With a focus on tax credits I concentrate on the changes to the various tax credit programs as well as the partnership tax rules, which really underpin the tax credit transactions I work on.
CP: I know you have business partners who are men and a woman partner. Do you see any gender differences in how you each approach the business or do you mainly see non-gendered differences?
PI: Interesting question. While over the course of my career I have certainly noticed gender differences, for example, in the way women and men communicate and interact with co-workers and clients, I have also seen differences based solely on individual personalities which are not gender-related, and I think that is how I would describe my current work situation. Over my career, I have noticed that women may take the opportunity to think things through more thoroughly, taking a step back to consider what they want to say and not needing to be the loudest voice in the room. But I have definitely worked with women who vary from that persona (and it’s good to be exposed to that as well).
CP: What advice would you give an up and coming you (or other young lawyer), knowing what you know now?
PI: My advice would be to learn as much as you can by exposing yourself to as much as you can. Build a good foundation of knowledge and once you have a good general foundation, I would not shy away from focusing on a specialty if one presents itself and you are interested in it. Niche practice areas can be good in that having a specialty can help you stand out and be qualified to work on transactions that most people may not be able to.
CP: So it sounds like you would not have given yourself advice to follow a different path, that you wouldn’t have steered your career differently? Is that right?
PI: Yes, I don’t think I would have steered myself differently. Had I not pursued tax law, I might have pursued real estate law since I have always had an interest in that area as well. But I’m lucky in the sense that my practice area has a big real estate component as well as tax so I’m exposed to real estate documents and issues which I do find interesting.
CP: Do you have any particular advice for women related to owning a business?
PI: Starting your own business is a definite risk, and there can certainly be a lot of ups and downs – sometimes even within the same year (or month, or week, or day)! To alleviate some of that stress I might advise women to take the extra time they need to get their personal financial situation in order so you can feel more confident taking the risk. Even in a big law firm environment where you are held accountable for billing your time and collecting revenue for the firm, there is a bit of a safety net, which you lose when you start your own business. Sometimes partners in a small firm may have to pay everyone except themselves. So if you’ve built up a bit of a financial cushion, you are better able to handle this situation without panicking and making bad decisions. Overall, though, I would say take the chance on starting your own business, especially if you have always wanted to do it. It can be rewarding to feel that sense of ownership and you really get to feel like you are having an impact on the direction of the business.
CP: What do you love doing when you’re not running your business and meeting clients’ needs?
PI: I like to get out and about, especially in the nice weather. I also like to travel and to socialize! Going to concerts, trying new restaurants, spending times with friends, all that. Over the last several years, I have really enjoyed starting to be more active. I try to walk as much as possible, ride my bike, take Pilates, Yoga and Zumba classes – anything to move around more. Our jobs can be so stationary, so I have enjoyed taking the time to move after work.