Over the last few years, there has been renewed discussion in the larger legal community about the role of non-lawyers. As a tax attorney, I can only laugh. I have always competed with certified public accountants (CPAs) and other non-attorney tax professionals. Prospective clients regularly ask me, “Why should I hire a lawyer to handle my tax problems? Why not let my accountant deal with it?”
It’s a fair question.
A Tax Attorney Has Unique Skills
The obvious difference between a tax lawyer and a non-attorney is that I can go to court to fight for my clients, but few cases go that far. What really gives me an edge is my training and education. The skills I’ve developed to zealously represent my clients in court also translate directly to zealously representing them before the tax bureaucracy.
Skills such as:
Non-lawyers usually rely on books about tax law. Tax lawyers use those books too, but we often look past them and rely on the tax law itself. Unlike an accountant, we can read and interpret the Tax Code, IRS regulations, and other sources of the law. The IRS can ignore a legal textbook, but they cannot ignore statutes and case law!
I apply my legal research to the nuanced facts of my client’s tax situation and determine how the law applies to them. What non-lawyers may deride as “hair-splitting” is identifying risks to, and opportunities for, successfully representing my client against the tax bureaucracy.
Lawyers are trained to advocate zealously, professionally, and intelligently for their clients in court. We are not afraid to disagree or argue when defending our client’s rights and interests. That same zeal is just as important when dealing with the IRS and the tax bureaucracy.
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Knowledge of Procedure
At trial, lawyers must not only know but also expertly navigate the procedures of the courtroom. Success depends on knowing the right moment to make the right argument to win the case. The tax bureaucracy has its own procedures, and I apply my training in procedure to pick the right time and place to make the winning argument for my client before we go to court.
Understanding of Evidence
Lawyers are extensively trained in the laws of evidence. An experienced attorney knows how to prove a relevant fact to a court, who will not just accept your word for it. The tax bureaucracy is similarly jaded. I apply my training to identify and present the best evidence to prove to the government that my clients are entitled to the tax benefits that are rightfully theirs.
Lawyers are trained to use arguments of fact and law to persuade others to agree with them, and that includes the tax bureaucracy. In one instance, I stopped an audit of my client’s business dead in its tracks because I persuaded the auditor that the law he was relying on did not apply to my client after all!
The Bottom Line: Tax Professionals All Play Different Roles
I respect other tax professionals; they have different skills than I do, and do certain things better than I could. You certainly do not need to hire a lawyer to prepare a simple tax return. But if you are being audited, owe back taxes, or need guidance and zealous representation, you need my services.
4 Situations Where You Need a Tax Attorney
So, what are the situations where you really need a tax attorney? You can handle some tax issues on your own, but if you find yourself in any of these scenarios, you need to seriously consider seeking my help.
You’re Being Audited
At the beginning of an audit, the IRS will conduct an initial interview and ask you an extensive series of questions. Your answers to these questions will determine how the rest of the audit proceeds. Half of the referrals to the IRS’s criminal investigation division (CID) come from these initial interviews. When you hire an experienced attorney, you can feel confident that your rights are being looked after during this critical first interview and at every step of your audit afterward.
You’ve Been Accused of Tax Fraud
It should go without saying that if the IRS accuses you of income tax evasion or tax fraud, you need to hire an attorney right away. If you’re facing criminal charges, then your assets, your livelihood, and even your freedom can be on the line. Only a tax attorney is qualified to represent you in a court of law and provide you with legal advice and guidance.
When you work with an attorney, you also receive the protection of the attorney-client privilege, which means all the information you discuss with your lawyer will remain confidential. This isn’t true with a CPA, so the IRS can subpoena your own accountant to testify against you!
You Need Someone to Help You Communicate With the IRS
An attorney who focuses their practice on tax problems knows exactly how to deal with the IRS and protect your rights. Generally, our clients never have to meet or speak with the IRS after we get involved.
A tax attorney also knows how to get you the lowest possible settlement. If you need to secure an installment agreement or an offer in compromise (OIC), the process can require a fair amount of negotiation with the IRS. When you hire a tax attorney to help you through this process, you get their experience, knowledge of the law, and negotiating skills on your side, and you put yourself in the best possible position to secure a favorable resolution.
The IRS Says You Owe a Sizable Tax Debt
The Internal Revenue Service frequently makes mistakes. Besides the unavoidable factor of human error, the IRS relies on outdated computer systems that are very prone to errors.
So, when the IRS says you owe an outstanding tax debt and related penalties, you shouldn’t just take their word for it. An experienced tax attorney can apply their knowledge of the tax code to save you thousands in unnecessary and inaccurate tax payments. CPAs and attorneys who don’t specialize in tax matters rarely have this same knowledge, so it’s important to hire an experienced tax attorney when dealing with major tax liabilities.
Need Help With a Tax Issue? Contact S.H. Block Tax Services
If you have any questions or concerns about an outstanding tax debt or any other tax matters, please contact the experienced tax lawyers at S.H. Block Tax Services. Our skilled attorneys have experience working with the IRS to resolve tax issues and protect taxpayers’ rights.
Schedule your free consultation today by calling (410) 872-8376 or completing the brief contact form on this page.
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