Are you passionate about both accounting and the law? Do you want to build a long-lasting career navigating these vitally important and ever-changing sectors?
If so, consider becoming a tax attorney.
Tax attorneys are responsible for providing legal guidance on complex tax matters to individuals, businesses, and organizations and play a crucial role in ensuring their clients are compliant with state and federal tax laws, minimizing tax liabilities, and resolving disputes with tax authorities.
This guide will walk you through the steps necessary to become a tax attorney. It outlines the necessary education, training, exams, certifications, credentials, and skills for success in this challenging yet rewarding field.
What is a tax attorney?
A tax attorney is a legal professional who specializes in tax law. They provide tax-related legal advice and representation to individuals, businesses, and other organizations. They can practice in a variety of settings, including:
- Law firms
- Accounting firms
- Government agencies
- Solo practitioners
Tax attorneys within law firms typically advise clients on how to structure transactions so they will receive the most favorable tax treatment. This may involve analyzing the tax implications of various business deals, mergers and acquisitions, or estate planning.
However, tax lawyers who work in accounting and consulting firms tend to help clients comply with tax rules and regulations. They provide guidance on how to prepare and file tax returns, help with tax audits, and offer tax planning advice.
Solo practitioners, meanwhile, have their own practices and work for themselves. They often choose to specialize in a particular area of tax law, such as international tax, estate planning, or corporate tax.
What does a tax attorney do?
Tax attorneys have a wide range of responsibilities, whether they work for a law firm, an accounting firm, or are solo practitioners. Their main priority is to help clients navigate the complex world of tax laws and regulations.
In other words, to ensure ongoing compliance while maximizing their benefits.
Attorneys specializing in tax law are often called upon to represent clients in disputes with tax authorities. This can involve anything from responding to an audit notice to fighting a tax assessment in court.
Thanks to their rich knowledge of tax laws and regulations, tax attorneys play a vital role in helping their clients avoid or resolve disputes with tax authorities.
Tax attorneys also provide additional value-add services beyond just appearing in court to defend their clients. For example, they offer invaluable behind-the-scenes assistance, regularly advising clients on the tax implications of various activities.
This might include estate planning and transfers, property acquisitions, starting a business, or business transactions. Tax attorneys might help a client structure a business transaction to minimize tax liabilities, or help them understand the tax implications of selling a property.
Tax attorneys can also advise on tax relief programs, such as instalment agreements, offers in compromise, and penalty abatements. In many cases, not only do they advise clients about eligibility, but they also help them apply.
Overall, as a tax attorney, you will have a diverse range of responsibilities. You will be expected to:
- Stay up-to-date on changes to tax laws and regulations
- Communicate effectively with clients
- Provide sound legal advice to help clients make informed decisions
Skills required to be a tax attorney
Tax attorneys require a detailed understanding of federal, state, and local tax laws. This knowledge should include familiarity with tax codes, regulations, and tax-related court cases.
Other skills vital for tax attorneys: research. They need to be able to research the latest regulations and frameworks before providing clients with accurate, clear advice. This requires strong attention to detail and an ability to sift through large amounts of information.
Tax laws often change—so learning about the relevant rules and regulations isn’t a ‘set it and forget it’ activity. Even the most experienced tax attorneys must stay up to date with the latest changes in their jurisdiction.
Tax attorneys must also be expert problem-solvers. Clients often come to tax attorneys with complex issues that require creative solutions. As a result, tax attorneys need to be able to think outside the box, develop and implement novel strategies, and explain outcomes clearly and concisely to clients.
It’s also important that a tax attorney possess excellent tech skills, including proficiency in legal practice management software. Having a legal practice management software that provides them with the ability to manage their client’s trust accounts is crucial for streamlined day-to-day.
For instance, Clio has extensive document management capabilities that allow tax attorneys to keep track of trust accounting as well as important legal documents with minimal effort. Meanwhile, its online payments feature enables tax attorneys to receive payments from clients easily and securely.
By developing these skills and staying informed, you can provide clients with the guidance they need to navigate the complexities of tax law.
Interested in learning about different practice areas? We cover nine other career pathways you can take after law school. Take a look at our resources hub for more.
The five steps to becoming a tax attorney
Becoming a tax attorney requires plenty of dedication, education, and experience. It’s not an overnight decision. You need to commit years of your life to pursuing this goal—and it can be a costly endeavor.
However, if you successfully qualify as a tax attorney, you’ll soon pay back these costs in no time.
There are four main steps that all budding tax attorneys must follow.
1. Bachelor’s degree
Aspiring tax attorneys should consider a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, economics, or business administration. Some law schools may also require applicants to have completed certain undergraduate-level courses, such as income tax, business law, and accounting.
2. Law school
After completing undergraduate studies, the next step is to attend law school. It’s critical to attend a law school with a strong tax law program or to choose tax law courses as electives.
Many budding tax attorneys decide to earn a master of laws (LL.M.) degree in taxation. This advanced degree is not necessary, but provides additional training and expertise in tax law, making you a more competitive candidate in the job market.
Tax attorneys can get practical experience by interning with tax law firms or tax-focused lawyers. Internships are also a great way to make your resume stand out from the crowd when applying for a full-time job after you pass the bar exam.
During this time, you should also get familiar with the different technology systems tax lawyers use. Legal technology is increasingly pivotal in all areas of the law—so it’s worth getting up to speed as quickly as possible.
4. Passing the bar exam
After completing law school, the next step is to pass the bar exam in your state. Some tax attorneys are also certified public accountants (CPAs).
This means they’ve taken the required number of college semester hours (usually 150) of accounting courses and passed the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination. This is a rigorous accounting test administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Most states require CPAs to also complete at least 80 hours of continuing education every two years.
5. Apply for jobs
Last but not least, the final step is to apply for jobs. Create a resume that brings your experience, passion, and attitude to light.
Be sure to highlight both your soft and hard skills. Many firms have transitioned to a more modern practice, thanks to the ABA’s duty of technology competence guidelines. Because of this, technical skills like working with a computer or understanding cloud-based legal practice management software have become more desirable.
Having soft skills such as being detail-oriented, easy to work with, and adapting to changing situations are also important for being a successful lawyer.
If you’re truly invested in forging a career as a tax attorney, then you should have no problem attracting job offers—whether you want to work for a law practice, accounting firm, or find clients on your own as a sole practitioner.
Final notes on how to become a tax attorney
Becoming a tax attorney is a great career choice for those interested in tax and the law. There’s constant demand for work, it requires creativity and intelligence, and tax attorneys are paid handsomely.
That said, it’s not for the faint-hearted. You’ll have to gain a bachelor’s degree, go to law school, and might even have to become a CPA before you can practice tax law. Understand that it’s a multi-year commitment.
If you’re considering becoming a tax attorney then make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. Consider signing up for Clio’s Academic Access Program to gain access to sector-specific experts and instructional courses.