Areas of Practice
  • Columbia Law School, J.D., 1997, Senior Editor, Columbia Law Review, James Kent Scholar, Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar
  • Harvard College, B.A.,magna cum laude, 1994
Judicial Clerkships
  • Hon. M. Blane Michael, US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Bar & Court Admissions
  • District of Columbia
  • California
  • US Supreme Court
  • US Tax Court
  • US District Court, District of Columbia
  • US District Court, Central District of California
  • US District Court, Eastern District of California
  • US District Court, Northern District of California
  • US District Court, Southern District of California
  • US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
  • US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
  • US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Robert J. Kovacev

1330 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20036
TEL: +1 202 429 6462
FAX: +1 202 429 3902

Rob Kovacev combines his skills in civil litigation with substantive knowledge of the tax laws to represent taxpayers in high-profile, high-stakes tax disputes against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), both at the administrative level and in Tax Court and federal district and bankruptcy courts.  Mr. Kovacev’s practice focuses on anticipating and defending against IRS challenges to cross-border transactions involving transfer pricing issues, disputes over the research tax credit and the Section 199 domestic production activities deduction, and disputes involving the economic substance doctrine and related judicial doctrines.  Mr. Kovacev is an experienced trial lawyer with extensive first-chair experience who has been called into civil tax cases on the eve of trial as lead trial counsel.

In addition to his active tax controversy and litigation practice, Mr. Kovacev also advises taxpayers how to anticipate, address, and overcome potential IRS challenges to transactions before controversies begin.  In particular, Mr. Kovacev provides advice regarding the research tax credit, the Section 199 domestic production activities deduction, and intellectual property-related tax issues.

Prior to joining the firm, Mr. Kovacev was a senior litigation counsel in the United States Department of Justice, Tax Division, responsible for litigating some of the largest and most complex civil tax cases in the nation.  In that position, Mr. Kovacev worked closely with the IRS’s Large Business & International (LB&I) Division and top management of the Tax Division to shape litigation strategy on high-priority tax enforcement issues. 

At the Department of Justice, Mr. Kovacev was lead trial counsel in several complex tax cases in the pharmaceutical, financial services, energy, and government contracts industries.  These cases involved cross-border transactions, Section 482 disputes, Section 199 deductions, research credits and foreign tax credits, corporate reorganizations and acquisitions, and valuation of pharmaceutical patents and other intellectual property.  The amounts at issue in each of these cases ranged from $10 million to more than $1 billion in claimed tax benefits.  Mr. Kovacev was also lead counsel in several important summons enforcement matters, including the Wells Fargo tax accrual work papers case.

Mr. Kovacev developed particular knowledge regarding the IRS’s use of the economic substance, substance over form, and sham partnership doctrines to disallow the tax benefits of transactions that comply with the technical requirements of the tax code.  For example, Mr. Kovacev was lead trial counsel for the United States in AWG Leasing, involving a cross-border leveraged leasing transaction.  The court in AWG Leasing disallowed over $100 million in tax benefits from that transaction, and sustained the IRS’s determination of penalties against the taxpayer.  Mr. Kovacev was also on the trial team for the Southgate Master Fund case, in which the court disallowed more than $1 billion in tax benefits arising from a distressed debt transaction based on the court’s interpretation of the sham partnership doctrine.

Before joining the Tax Division, Mr. Kovacev litigated several complex civil and white-collar criminal cases at two other AmLaw 100 firms in Los Angeles and Washington.

Representative Matters

  • As special tax litigation counsel for the Liquidating Trustee of a motor home manufacturer, successfully challenged IRS proofs of claim for employment taxes in bankruptcy court adversary proceeding.  SLTNTRST, LLC v. Department of Treasury/In re Fleetwood Enterprises, Inc. (Bankr. C.D. Cal.)
  • Called in two months before trial as first chair in a Tax Court case involving an IRS challenge to several million dollars of tax credits for the production of landfill gas as a nonconventional fuel under Section 45K.  Green Gas Delaware Statutory Trust, et al. v. Comm’r (U.S. Tax Ct.)
  • Representing multinational financial services corporation in IRS transfer pricing examination involving financial derivatives.
  • Representing principal in contract manufacturing arrangement in IRS dispute concerning the domestic production activities deduction under Section 199.
  • Representing software company in IRS Appeals regarding worthless security deduction regarding a foreign subsidiary and Section 199 deductions for software license and maintenance revenues.
  • Advising corporate taxpayers on various tax issues including the research tax credit, the Section 199 deduction, economic substance issues, and disclosures and penalties related to reportable transactions and offshore bank accounts.


  • Legal 500 US, Tax: US Tax - Contentious, 2016
  • Recipient of the John Marshall Award, the highest award for trial of litigation given by the Department of Justice, 2009
  • Recognized as Outstanding Attorney by the Department of Justice, Tax Division, 2008, 2009, 2010
  • Recipient of the Mitchell Rogovin Award for providing outstanding support to the Office of Chief Counsel by the IRS, 2009

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