Becoming an Accounting Lawyer: A Guide for Legal Professionals

Written by Lauren Erdelyi6 minutes well spent
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Law and accounting are two highly-coveted career paths. Although they may seem disconnected at first, lawyers and accountants share many skill sets, including keen attention to detail, critical thinking, and mastery of negotiation techniques.

Many lawyers and accountants work hand-in-hand on cases and business matters—while some even merge the disciplines by becoming an accounting lawyer. Legal professionals who work in the highly sought-after field of accounting law assist with audits, offer guidance on the tax considerations of business decisions, represent clients in court cases, and more.

In this piece, we’ll explore the path to becoming an accounting lawyer and how you can leverage these unique skills to your advantage.

What is an accounting lawyer?

An accounting lawyer holds both a Juris Doctorate (JD) degree and a Chartered Public Accountant (CPA) designation. These individuals embark on an extensive higher education journey and complete rigorous examinations to become dual-licensed.

The benefits of doing so are substantial. Many accounting lawyers significantly expand their career horizons and earning potential through the added value and knowledge they bring.

What does an accounting lawyer do?

Accounting lawyers possess a breadth of knowledge of the rules and regulations surrounding business transactions, taxes, estate planning, and wealth management. They counsel clients on tax laws, draft documents such as wills, develop estate planning strategies, handle tax disputes, and defend clients against IRS audits.

Accounting lawyers typically work in law firms, but many other career prospects exist. For example, accounting lawyers can work with accounting firms with tax transactional and planning practices, with the local, state, or federal government, or as in-house counsel for companies such as banks or hedge funds.

Accounting lawyer working at a table

The benefits of becoming an accounting lawyer

While it can be a demanding career, there are many benefits to becoming an accounting lawyer. You can:

  • Distinguish yourself from the competition. Legal matters often require the expertise of both accountants and lawyers. Yet, working with two professionals can be expensive and time-consuming. With their training in both fields, accounting lawyers can reach and attract more clients.
  • Expand your career opportunities. The beauty of accounting law is that you can enjoy flexibility by choosing a career as a lawyer, CPA, or both.
  • Deliver unique insights. Accounting lawyers have a deep understanding of the financial and tax implications of legal work. They can leverage this dual lens to help clients successfully navigate highly complex situations and ensure the best possible outcome.
  • Be indispensable. With their financial prowess, accounting lawyers can be an integral part of their law firm. The 2021 Legal Trends Report found that while most partners and solo attorneys are involved in their firm’s finances, they reported relatively low rates of confidence in knowledge of year-over-year revenue trends. Having a lawyer who understands finances and revenue on staff can provide massive advantage for law firms.

How do I become an accounting lawyer?

Has this piqued your curiosity? Read on as we outline the various steps to turning your dreams of becoming an accounting lawyer into a reality.

Undergraduate degrees for accounting lawyers

As with becoming a lawyer, there isn’t one single pathway to being an accounting lawyer. But generally speaking, your journey begins by obtaining a four-year bachelor’s degree. It’s worth noting that some law schools may not require this;  many will also allow you to apply without having received your degree.

While there aren’t any specific undergraduate degree requirements for law school, the American Association of Law Schools recommends focusing on skills relevant to the field, such as oral communication, problem-solving, and research. For this reason, degrees in business, accounting, finance, and economics are all worth considering. It’s also best to check with your state’s CPA regulator, as requirements can vary based on where you live.

Accounting lawyer student working at desk

Law school for accounting lawyers

After completing your undergraduate degree, the next step for many aspiring accounting lawyers is to attend an ABA-accredited law school. To do so, applicants must first pass the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), which evaluates reading comprehension, reasoning ability, and writing skills.

Most students complete their law degree in three years. That said, some law schools offer dual programs where students can earn their JD and Master of Accountancy degree simultaneously.

A Bloomberg Tax article reported that this dual degree is only offered at three of the top 25 law schools—Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School, the University of Virginia School of Law, and the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

Specializing in tax at this time can be a wise move, especially when it comes to earning potential. Drawing on data from a Payscale study, the same article reported that the average base salary for someone with a JD and Master of Accountancy is $124,000 (compared to $75,000 for someone with an accounting degree and $96,000 for someone with a law degree).

Additional coursework for accounting lawyers

Depending on the state you’re in, you will likely need to pursue additional educational requirements to receive your accounting designation. Most states require that aspiring CPAs earn 150 semester hours of accounting education—or about 30 credits beyond a typical bachelor’s degree program.

To obtain the necessary coursework to become certified, students who receive a generalist law degree may go on to pursue a master’s degree in accounting. Others might opt to complete an undergraduate degree in a major other than accounting and an MBA with an accounting concentration.

CPA candidates must also work for one to two years under a licensed CPA before receiving their license. The exact requirements are determined by their state. This can be done before or after candidates take the CPA examination.

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Licensing exams for accounting lawyers

The post-secondary journey for lawyers and accountants culminates with a rigorous qualifying examination—the bar exam for lawyers, and the CPA exam for accountants. To become a licensed accounting lawyer, you must pass both of them.

  • CPA exam. The CPA exam is a requirement to become a licensed CPA. The 16-hour assessment includes four sections: Auditing and Attestation, Business Environment and Concepts, Financial Accounting and Reporting, and Regulation. In order to pass, a minimum score of 75 must be achieved in each section. All four parts must be completed within an 18-month period.
  • Bar exam. The bar examination must be taken before you’re licensed to practice law in a state. The exam is known for being comprehensive, challenging, and a true test of endurance. Bar exams are generally only available twice a year, which raises the stakes.

Final notes on becoming an accounting lawyer

The field of accounting law is hardly new. Yet, as tax laws continue to evolve, the demand for legal professionals with business and accounting skills has soared.

The journey to become an accounting lawyer can be arduous, but also highly rewarding. As education requirements vary by jurisdiction, be sure to do your research to ensure you’re meeting all eligibility requirements. Accounting lawyers must also complete continuing education to maintain their license and deliver the best possible client service.

Supporting the next generation

Education doesn’t end when you leave the classroom. Once you join a law firm, you’ll embark on a career-long learning process as you contend with new software, office procedures, and much more. That’s why, at Clio, we provide instructors, administrators, and students in clinical and classroom settings a leg up with free access to our cloud-based practice management software. Sign up here for our Academic Access Program.

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