Deciding on a career is an important step. You need to choose a career that utilizes the skills and talents that you have while taking a practical approach to your path to your goals. Tax attorneys are a type of lawyer and must have a JD (Juris Doctorate) degree so that they can enact litigation on behalf of their clients; they can make up to $124,000 per working year if they are successful. If you were already thinking about starting a career in accounting, you might want to consider going that extra step and becoming a tax attorney. Your experience and income will definitely increase if you choose this path.
Tax lawyers can provide help to individual clients or organizations dealing with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) over complex problems arising from taxation of real estate or estate planning, international income for any American working or receiving income from staff working in a foreign country, the findings of IRS audits, and advise or represent clients if any type of tax issue ends up in court. If you aspire to become a licensed tax attorney, there is a specific set of steps you need to take to achieve this. As with any profession, there are particular standards you must meet to show that you have met the criteria that this profession demands.
What is a Tax Attorney?
The first thing you need to do before proceeding with your education is to decide which program you want to take and what college you are interested in attending. You should take coursework which falls within the requirements of a tax attorney, which is the same as if you were pursuing a degree in criminal or civil law. Tax attorneys practice both types of law so the law degree that you choose should include content that covers both areas well in preparation for your career.
Typical Job Duties and Functions of Tax Lawyers
Average Tax Attorney Salary
It's always a good idea to do your research to find out what your job will entail and to know some of the functions of this career before beginning your education. Below is an outline of some of the specific tasks and services that tax attorneys are involved with on a regular basis whether they work with law firms or on their own as a consultant:
- Helping businesses fill out their corporate tax forms and taking time to review completed forms
- Representing business owners or individuals with IRS or state tax issues in court
- Drawing up contracts for business owners regarding their tax obligations or responsibilities
- Filing some accounting paperwork but only as it relates to the tax code and laws
- Typically, they will also spend a certain number of hours each year or two on professional continuing education in order to stay up to date with local, state, and federal income tax and other laws - some large firms have a policy that they will pay for one or more full course, while others don't
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Tax lawyers are required to take a certain amount of accounting courses while they are students. Without these they will not have the same opportunities as professionals. However, they are not expected to receive a CPA license.
Tax attorneys are not CPAs. Their job is not to handle the entirety of someone's accounting needs unless they also have a CPA. Instead, they focus only on the tax issues that someone needs help with. The tax attorney is considered a tax law expert and, while their job sometimes crosses over into the realm of accounting, they generally do not present themselves or consider themselves accountants.
Possible Job Titles, Duties, and Day in the Life
CPAs focus on filing and organizing someone's accounting books but tax lawyers are called on when there is a tax dispute or when the person has a legal issue involving taxes. This is why most of these specialists work for law firms and are not employed in a businesses office. For example, if someone receives a notice from the IRS about a pending audit, it would be wise for them to hire a tax attorney to protect their interests. In some cases, there may be thousands or even millions of dollars at stake. This is why tax attorneys are so well-paid. Individuals and business owners sometimes need a tax attorney to protect their assets and to resolve tax debt with the IRS or state tax entities.
A tax lawyer may also serve as a mediator between the tax filer and the IRS in cases where their IRS debt has become too high for the person to pay or when the tax debt would represent a financial hardship. In these cases, a tax attorney can help negotiate a settlement that the tax institutions will accept to work out a payment plan for the debt.
By having a tax attorney negotiate a settlement on behalf of the debtor, the person is more likely to end up with a positive outcome because the attorney represents the client and presents the case for the individual. In addition to this, they have a strong background in tax law and knows some of the loopholes that can aid in helping someone work out a plan to settle their tax indebtedness.
In addition to these duties, tax lawyers may also sometimes be present during an audit, look over federal or state tax forms, or give legal advice to the person regarding their approach to tax issues at any time, not just at tax time.
Tax Attorney Education Requirements
There are five basic steps to obtaining the qualifications needed in order to become a tax attorney. Below are the steps along with some helpful tips on how to proceed.
Earn a bachelor's degree in business or accounting.
Most tax attorneys realize the importance of becoming skilled in the area of accounting. While they are not accountants, they need a strong background in this area due to types of tasks that they will be doing for clients every day. Getting a bachelor's degree in accounting or business is a great start to set the framework for becoming a skilled tax lawyer.
Apply to law school.
A law degree is one of the basic requirements for becoming a tax attorney. You can check online for law schools that offer the Juris Doctorate with a specialist in tax law. It's also a great idea to find a school that offers some undergraduate coursework in Accounting. Remember you should start with the Bachelor's in Accounting before pursuing the J.D. in Law. You will need to pass the LSAT test to get into law school, and each institution has its standards for admission. You should look up the requirements of the law school you plan to attend and make sure you study for the LSAT using one of the online guides or practice manuals before attempting this important test. You need a score of 160 or better on the LSAT to be able to get into the top law school in the U.S.
Obtain an internship.
Once you have completed the requirements needed to work as a tax lawyer, you should seek an internship opportunity with a law firm. Make sure that the law firm you choose has a sound reputation and that they focus on tax law. It does little good to go through all of the training to become a tax attorney but practice as an intern under a lawyer who specializes in some other area of the law. The old saying, "We do what we can teach" applies here. When you work as an intern and learn the sound practices of a seasoned tax lawyer, you will be able to take that knowledge and apply it to your career later on. Think of the internship process as a requirement for gaining the practical skills that you'll need to be able to help your future clients. Think of it as "in training for the future."
Pass the bar exam and receive a diploma.
The bar exam is the big test that is required of all aspiring attorneys, and it must be passed to obtain your Juris doctorate. This achievement is a state requirement, so it is important that you know the laws in your state where you will be practicing as to what is required. This process is also an important consideration when looking into colleges. In general, you should obtain a law degree from a school that is in the state where you plan to practice law, but this is not required. Double-Check to make sure you are familiar with the requirements of your state so that you can make sure the courses you are taking line up with your state legal requirements. For example, here are the Florida requirements if you plan to practice in the state of Florida.
Complete additional education and seek employment.
In addition to your J.D. degree requirements, you may want to take additional coursework to be able to offer your clients more expertise in your area. You could add the Master of Laws in Taxation certification if you wanted to assure your clients that you have a higher level of expertise in this specific field of Law.
While some people may not want to invest the extra time and money necessary to do this, obtaining the Master of Law status may be the extra edge you need to rise above your competition when making your way through your first years as a new Tax Attorney.
Certification, Credentials and Licensure
As stated before, a tax attorney is not an accountant. Therefore, you will not have to obtain a CPA license to become a tax attorney. The only requirement to become a tax lawyer in most states is passing the bar exam. The license to practice law and the Juris Doctorate from an accredited institution is the basic requirement to practice law in any area. However, the licensing requirements for Tax Attorney vary from state-to-state so you should check to make sure you are following the path laid out by your state to achieve the correct credentials.
Increasing Your Potential for Success
Tax lawyers may also want to apply to pass the bar in other states if they plan to move to another state in the future or want to practice Tax Law online. Additionally, to put yourself in a position to be more competitive, you may want to add a CPA licensure to your education or a Master of Tax Law to present yourself as more of an expert in the field of tax law.
Path to Success
A tax attorney is an attorney, just like an attorney who specializes in any other area of the law. But they have a strong background in the area of Accounting and Bookkeeping or Business. This helps them to develop a strong understanding of the everyday tasks required of the typical Tax Attorney when dealing with clients.
Tax attorneys work in a wide variety of environments, either with other tax lawyers in a partnership firm or their practice.
Some tax attorneys go on to become defense attorneys so that they can represent their client in court when they encounter legal issues with federal or state tax issues. Tax attorneys are much needed when people face these types of problems, so you are doing an excellent service to the public by offering this unique skill.
So, to achieve your goal of becoming a tax attorney, remember these simple steps:
- Education- Get a bachelor's degree in Accounting or Business. Pass the LSATs, then get a Juris Doctorate in Law from an accredited law school.
- Licensure- Receive your Juris Doctorate in Law and pass the bar exam.
- Practice- Do an internship in a law firm specializing in tax law.
It's also a good idea to research tax issues for yourself and to bookmark some good sources of information as a reference when you encounter challenging issues with clients.
Most of all, take your time and remember the words of Neil Armstrong, the first man who landed on the moon, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Step-by-step, you will achieve your goals and the small steps you take now will lead to many open doors in the future in your career.
We hope this guide will serve a starting place for anyone seeking a degree in Tax Law so that you can prepare for a career as a tax attorney. Do your own research to study the requirements within your state and get the ball rolling by contacting a school of your choice.
Good luck in your career and remember, one step at a time!