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Dennis Nerland tackles complex tax issues with unique skill set

As an innovator in the field of economic modeling, Calgary tax and fiduciary services lawyer Dennis Nerland thrives on the opportunity to craft tailored solutions to tax problems — which often requires a different approach than other legal issues.

Nerland, a founding partner of Shea Nerland Law and leader of the firm's tax and estate planning practice, focuses on tax and estate planning matters involving high-net worth individuals and families, as well as publicly traded companies and private corporations. He also acts as a trustee to a number of trusts and is on the board of directors of more than 20 listed and unlisted companies.

Tax issues tend to be some of the most challenging financial problems — and call for a special way of thinking. On a risk-adjusted basis, solutions are difficult to come up with, but Nerland says that as a result of his background and training in mathematics and econometrics, this is one of the elements of his practice he enjoys most.

“There’s always more than one right answer to any problem, but what’s the right answer that’s most likely to work for this particular client? If you’re connected with the client and under their skin in terms of understanding their motivators and goals, not only can you know that and explain why, but you can actually anticipate issues and problems and be proactive in terms of setting up for solutions that are coming around the corner," he tells

After studying mathematics, followed by a Master’s Degree in econometrics and a brief tenure at the Economic Council of Canada, pioneering economic modeling in the 1970s, Nerland decided his future was in law.

He began his law career at a mid-market firm, but the practice was soon bought by a large firm, where he became a partner. He grew with that firm through tough economic times in Alberta and continued to develop his tax law skill set.

However, he says, he always preferred a smaller firm environment — in 1990, he and his law partners decided the time was right to strike out on their own, and start what is now Shea Nerland Law.

Now, the firm has more than 25 lawyers on its roster, the majority of whom are focused on tax and estate planning.

“We are one of the go-to tax boutique firms in the mid-market in Western Canada. We do strategy, planning, compliance and tax litigation,” Nerland explains.

“In addition, we provide trustee services — trusted advisory, because we think solutions for clients are bigger than just the financial solutions. They’re also relational issues, so we have support for that in terms of relationships with coaches and mentors who can help people, families or companies solve their personal or relational issues, which are often more complicated than tax issues,” he says.

“We like to focus on the ‘why’ before we tell people what they need and how to do it, so that there’s a connection. A lot of times you can provide solutions that just don’t resonate with where their heart is, and they just don’t work. So actually, that’s a distinguisher for us.”

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