Understanding the Role of Tax Attorneys

There is often some confusion around the role of a Tax Attorney. They are not CPAs or Accountants, but rather they are attorneys that specialize in tax law and legislation.

Recently, we’ve seen the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) legislation, which is the biggest change to America’s tax law in 30 years. With these wide-ranging revisions, 2018 is proving to be an interesting (and busy) time for legal professionals dealing with tax law. Could this be a good path for you?

What Does a Tax Lawyer Do?

Attorneys working specifically on tax-related matters may serve in government bodies, nonprofit organizations, corporations, or law firms. Whatever the context for their work, however, these professionals all help clients manage issues related to tax law. In general, they provide services that may include:

  • Researching tax laws that could influence an organization’s business strategy
  • Advising clients on how to structure transactions in a way that provides tax advantages
  • Choosing a business form (LLC, S-type corporation, etc.) for a new business — and creating the documents necessary to create that legal entity
  • Managing the timely filing of all paperwork required for compliance with state, federal, and (if necessary) international law
  • Representing client interests in court and in communication with the IRS or other relevant regulatory/enforcement bodies

Common Tax Lawyer Titles and Positions

Not surprisingly, many legal positions in this field are designated by tax-specific titles such as:

  • Tax Attorney/Associate/Analyst/Advisor
  • Tax Director
  • M&A Tax Lawyer
  • Manager of Tax Services

Since tax laws and policies encompass so many aspects of life (governmental, commercial and personal) however, tax-related legal positions also are found under a wide range of other titles. For example:

  • Investment Funds Lawyer
  • Banking/Finance Lawyer
  • Bankruptcy Lawyer
  • Estate Planner
  • Trust Counsel
  • Transactional Attorney
  • General Counsel, etc.

Credentials for Tax Law Professionals

Entry-level qualifications for tax lawyers include a JD and admission to the bar. Where tax lawyers can differentiate themselves, however, is in the “portfolio” of relevant educational and vocational credentials they assemble. Among these additional qualifiers:

  • BA in accounting, finance, or a related field Master’s degree in taxation
  • LLM with a specialty in tax law

In a competitive job market, a candidate’s relevant employment experience can also impress prospective employers. A stint in Big Accounting, for example, is widely regarded as a solid way to augment your credentials for tax law positions. Think, too, about the attention-getting value of having this organization on your list of past employers: Internal Revenue Service.

“Future-Proof” Your Tax Law Career

The future for tax law professionals is dynamic, evolving and hard-to-predict. That said, there’s a reason for the cliché that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. After all, government entities require money—and taxes will remain a key source for those funds. So let’s assume that tax lawyers are likely to have employment opportunities for many years to come. In this environment of steady employment demand, however, some tax lawyers will set themselves apart by cultivating capabilities and skills such as those listed below.

International Capabilities:

International taxation is a growing practice area. For international corporate restructuring, cross- border and multi-jurisdictional financial problems, etc., companies must have informed, up-to-date counsel on tax codes and treaties that could impact these transactions.

Analytics Skills:

The use of predictive analytics and related machine-learning technologies will shine a light on complex data sets relevant to tax strategy, compliance and enforcement. Technological advances and automation can also foster lawyers’ abilities to provide professional services in a cost-effective manner.

“Soft” Skills:

Much of the work done by top tax lawyers requires exceptional skills in collaboration, interpersonal relations, judgment and the ability to communicate complex information in a clear and non- threatening manner. Whenever tax-related decisions impact corporate (or personal) risks and rewards, a lawyer’s “soft” skills will be much in demand.

A Tax Law Professional Considers the Client Perspective

Attorney Michael Koznitsky—a partner in Pillsbury Law’s tax practice—wrote a blogpost offering advice on how to choose a tax lawyer. Although his essay is written for prospective clients, it offers a useful perspective to those considering tax law as a profession. Among Attorney Koznitsky’s key points:

  • “Tax lawyers get paid for knowing where the law is going, not where it is.”
  • “A good tax attorney should have a sense of proportionality and be able to assess the risks of particular strategies.”
  • “A good tax lawyer is a good communicator who can explain these strategies without jargon or arrogance.”
  • “Clients need to understand enough of the details to assess the relative costs, risks and complexities of different approaches.”
  • “The tax attorney’s job is to explain, politely and clearly, the risks of these strategies in the context of the client’s true objectives.”
  • “The job of the tax lawyer is to decipher the client’s real wants and needs from what he says, and then articulate suggestions that achieve reasonable goals.”
  • “It’s easy to tell a client what he wants to hear, but a good tax lawyer tells a client what he needs to hear.”

Want to read the entire article? You’ll find it on the Pillsbury Law website: A Tax Lawyer’s Manifesto

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