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Top Ten Tax Attorney Characteristics

Finding a good tax attorney who is competent to handle IRS tax matters can be challenging. There are a number attorneys who claim to provide tax services, yet they have no tax experience or education. The following is a top ten list of desirable tax attorney characteristics that will help taxpayers narrow down their list of potential tax attorneys:      

1. The tax attorney has actual IRS experience, meaning that the tax attorney has actually worked for the IRS. If you have a non-criminal tax matter (such as a tax debt, a tax lien, or you need to negotiate with the IRS), then you will want an attorney that has worked for the IRS Office of Chief Counsel. This is the IRS’ legal department. Taxpayers would be well advised to ask their would-be tax attorney whether they have worked for the IRS.

2. The tax attorney has a Master’s of Law in Taxation (often referred to as an LLM in taxation). There is no substitute for an LLM. Tax law requires a dedication to continued study. The LLM shows that the attorney has dedicated at least one full year (on a full time basis) to studying tax law. Taxpayers should seriously consider whether they want to hire a tax attorney who does not dedicate the time to learn about tax law for their clients on a full-time basis.

3. The tax attorney has continued to keep up with the field, as evidenced by articles and publications on tax topics. The LLM degree is the starting point. Tax laws change literally every day (literally, with the possible exceptions to federal holidays). A tax attorney who has not kept up with the changes cannot provide quality tax advice to clients. Clients should use the internet to search for evidence that their would-be tax attorney has kept up with current tax law changes. In many cases a Google search and/or viewing the tax attorney’s website should provide a good starting point (especially if the tax attorney maintains a tax law blog).

4. The tax attorney limits his or her practice to tax law matters. Again, tax law is one of the most demanding areas of the law to keep up with. Many tax attorneys also do business, estate planning and bankruptcy work – all of which are related to IRS tax matters. The tax attorney has to understand these areas as well as tax law in order to properly advise the client on IRS tax matters. But an attorney who does everything from divorces, wills, DWIs, personal injury, AND tax law probably has not kept up with tax law changes. Taxpayers should review the would-be tax attorney’s website to verify that the tax attorney focuses only on tax law matters (Taxpayers should also check for separate additional websites maintained by the would-be tax attorney to advertise their non-tax law related matters).

5. The tax attorney (and their law firm) does not have a TV commercial. Tax attorneys who are able to spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV commercials must be earning hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to afford the commercials. This can occur one of two ways: (1) the tax attorney can be a volume shop, meaning they farm out nearly all of the work to other tax attorneys and they merely take a cut or referral “finders” fee or (2) they charge each client hundreds of thousands of dollars. Taxpayers should decide whether they want to hire either of these kinds of tax attorneys.

6. The tax attorney is personable on the phone or in person. The IRS holds a lot of power. Tax attorneys who are not able to work well with people, will not be able to cope effectively with difficult IRS employees. The result can be the IRS employee exercising their discretion in a way that is not favorable to the taxpayer. Taxpayers should feel comfortable when talking with their would-be tax attorney.

7. The tax attorney is conversant in tax law matters. Tax law has a lot of jargon. Taxpayers should do a little internet research and find a few tax law terms to ask the would-be tax attorney about.

For example, taxpayers might ask: (1) what halts the IRS collection statute (the answer is filing an offer in compromise, installment agreement, taxpayer assistance order, bankruptcy, or leaving the country for a certain period of time)?, (2) what is the difference between an IRS payment and a deposit? (the answer is that a payment belongs to the IRS immediately; whereas, the deposit belongs to the taxpayer and must be returned upon request from the taxpayer), (3) what federal courts are available to handle tax matters (the answer is the federal district, circuit, and supreme courts; the federal court of claims; the US tax court; and the US bankruptcy courts).

If the tax lawyer cannot FULLY answer these questions (without saying “I will have to look that up for you”), then there is a good chance that the would-be tax attorney is not really a tax attorney.

8. The tax attorney has direct experience handling the taxpayer’s particular matter. There are a lot of procedural rules that must be handled properly in tax matters. Direct experience in applying these rules can help produce favorable results quicker for the taxpayer. Taxpayers should ask the would-be tax attorney directly if they have handled the exact same matter before. If they have, then the taxpayer should ask when was the last time (approximately) and how many of the exact same types of cases the tax attorney has handled. Taxpayers would be well advised to not give the tax attorney any wiggle room on this topic. If necessary, halt the conversation and discuss this topic in detail.

9. The tax attorney encourages the taxpayer to get a second and third opinion before hiring a tax attorney. Taxpayers may feel pressure to hire someone immediately after getting a scary notice from the IRS. This is probably a good idea; however, taxpayers should call two or three tax attorneys before selecting the one they will hire. Most tax attorneys offer free initial (and confidential) consultations. When taxpayers make these calls, they should note how long it takes the tax attorney to get back to them. If the tax attorney takes a long time to return the taxpayers phone call, then the taxpayer should expect the same thing after they hire the tax attorney.

10. The tax attorney does not have any complaints against them. Taxpayers can Google the tax attorney’s name along with the word “complaint,” “rip off,” or other similar (negative) terms and they can check with the better business bureau and the state bar association.

Finding a Tax Attorney:


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