GPSolo Magazine - October/November 2006
As Ben Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” If that is true, then tax law is a niche practice area that will always have work. Few law students, and even fewer attorneys, seem to like tax law. In fact, one tax attorney claims to say that when asked why he wanted to practice in the field, he would reply, “because you don’t want to.”
Seriously, when a law student or new attorney asks me what is the best area of law, I reply an area that is specialized in which few attorneys practice. For me, that area of practice has been tax law. I have been practicing tax law since graduating from law school 12 years ago and have thoroughly enjoyed the practice area.
What Is Tax Law?
Although it may seem to be a narrow practice area, tax law is very broad, with many varieties of practices. In terms of jurisdictions, there are state and local tax areas, federal tax, and international tax. Within each jurisdiction, there are many subspecialties.
Tax attorneys can be found in many employment settings, in both the public and private sectors, including large accounting firms. Clients can include individuals, government bodies, and private or public businesses ranging from small family businesses to Fortune 500 corporations. Tax attorneys often work closely with attorneys in other practice areas, as well as other professionals such as accountants and financial advisers.
Virtually everything an attorney does for a client will have a tax consequence, from dissolving a marriage to drafting a last will and testament to advising and executing complex commercial transactions. Whether the client is an individual or a huge corporation, the tax attorney’s goal is to maximize the preservation of assets and the positive impact on the bottom line. Tax attorneys accomplish this through careful tax planning and advising clients on the tax implications of financing such as public and private offerings, debt instruments, equity stakes, and other investments.
Path to Tax Law
What initially attracted me to tax law was my business and accounting background. In law school, tax law courses were easier for me because there was always a clear answer to a given problem. Although these solutions can be very intricate, there are no wishy-washy answers as in other areas of the law. You looked to the tax code, regulations, or maybe a case.
Many tax attorneys have undertaken special coursework or training to become familiar with the many substantive areas of tax law. A master of laws degree (LL.M.) in taxation is common among tax lawyers and is considered a “must have” credential for many firms’ tax practice groups. In addition, an LL.M. in tax law can allow a student or new lawyer to become well versed in tax law quickly. There are more than two dozen law schools throughout the United States that offer an LL.M. program in tax law.
There are literally hundreds of treatises and resources available to tax attorneys. Because tax law is a rapidly changing practice area, there are dozens of tax journals and periodicals providing updates on the latest tax legislation and rulings. Most tax attorneys read or subscribe to at least one resource to keep up to date with tax developments. There are also numerous online resources, including the IRS Tax Professionals’ website, www.irs.gov/taxpros; the ABA Section of Taxation Tax Links Index, www.abanet.org/tax/sites.html; and BNA Recent Tax Developments, www.bna.com/tm/developments.htm.
The ABA Section of Taxation offers dozens of subcommittees focusing on different areas of tax law. The Section publishes the Tax Lawyer, a scholarly law journal, as well as several newsletters. The GP|Solo Division also has a Taxation Committee. In addition, nearly every state and local bar association has a tax section or committee where tax attorneys can share resources and advice. Some bar associations’ tax sections even have a mentorship program where new attorneys and law students can be mentored by experienced tax attorneys.
Parag Patel is a tax attorney practicing in a small firm in Iselin, New Jersey. In the 2005-2006 bar year, he was a GP|Solo Division Diversity Fellow. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.