General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionTechnology & Practice GuideThe Compleat Lawyer, Summer 1996, Vol. 13, No. 3
Resource Roundup Where to go to get information on tax lawBY KIMBERLY SANCHEZ
Kimberly Sanchez is a freelance writer in Chicago, Illinois.
Books, computers--even ouija boards--provide quick answers to some of life's most difficult questions. But when it comes to taxes, lawyers need information that is both fast and reliable.
With the rise in popularity of on-line services, it seems natural to turn to your computer for help. These services can provide forums for communication and act as research tools to help lawyers stay up to date on current changes in tax law.
"It's a good way to have reliable access to publications without going to the library," said Beverly Helm, chair of the General Practice Section's Tax Committee. "It is very important for remotely located practitioners. It's very advantageous."
Lexis-Nexis provides services that make a lawyer's search easier and cheaper. For a flat rate, Lexis MVP offers sole practitioners and small firm lawyers unlimited access to state case law and statutes and administrative decisions and filings (rates are as low as $100 per month in some states; 800/262-2391). Lexis MVP also offers a tax program for a flat rate of $165 per month that includes federal and state case law.
Counsel Connect provides a legal connection for lawyers to access a library of seminars and to communicate with one another ($16.50 per month plus $16.50 per hour up to six hours, then $2.95 per hour; or a flat rate of $89 per month; 800/455-4354). CLE credit is available for some of the seminars and forums. If you already have a commercial provider such as America Online or CompuServe, a third-party access rate is available for a $39 flat fee per month.
Using the World Wide Web
Lawyers may also want to use the Internet to access the World Wide Web, which includes a variety of tax-related sites. From reading about current tax legislation to downloading actual IRS forms, the Internet provides lawyers with a plethora of information.
"A major resource is becoming the IRS's Website--it's one that ought to be looked at," said David Beckman, a tax attorney with Hirsch & Beckman in Burlington, Iowa. "It's got all the tax forms on it and all the tax sources. We used to pay a lot of money to get all those things, and now it's free."
By accessing the IRS homepage (http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/prod/), lawyers can download publications, forms, access codes, and regulations. Several states also provide the same service.
Beckman says he still refers to manuals, too, but using the Internet is becoming more popular. "The thrust is more and more in the Internet," he said. "What's new and hot and different is clearly the Web services."
One problem is that Web services can provide you with too much information. The IRS's homepage can take you in several different directions, and unless you know specifically what you are looking for, you could be searching for hours. If you've ever browsed the Web, you know how easy it is to get sidetracked as you open different mailboxes.
"There's too much and it's not well organized--that's the problem," Helm said. "It works well if you have a computer where you have your cup of coffee. But how much time do you have in your practice to play with it?"
CD-ROMs: A More Economical Alternative
Because of this time dilemma, Mike Stein, vice-chair of the General Practice Section's Taxation Committee, says using an on-line service could become cost prohibitive.
"If you're doing tax research on any of these on-line services--Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis--you're paying a search charge," he said. "If you're not doing tax that frequently...the most inexpensive package for a general practitioner is a CD-ROM. It is the most cost-effective tax source."
He suggests either Tax Analyst's InfoTax OneDisk ($99 annually, $149 quarterly, or $249 monthly; 800/955-2444), or Kleinrock's Tax Library ($195 quarterly, $275 monthly; 800/678-2315).
Both provide IRS regulations and publications, settlement guidelines, court decisions, IRS announcements, and other revenue procedures on a quarterly or monthly basis.
"This would be a good tool for general practitioners to have--it's quick and easy to research with up-to-date information," Stein said. "I recommend it pretty heavily because it gives everyone an idea of what they need. If you're trying to find some general idea and you get on Lexis, you can spin your wheels."
In addition, the Research Institute of America offers a variety of CD-ROMs such as TaxDesk ($895) and the more detailed OnPoint ($1,295) that offer information about federal, state, and local tax laws, current regulations, cases, and rulings (800/431-9025, ext. 3).
Paper: The Original Reference Material
For lawyers who don't like to touch that hulking beast on their desk called a computer, there are some useful resources on hard copy. Electronics have not replaced paper completely--yet.
The Research Institute of America offers the Federal Tax Handbook, formerly the Master Tax Guide ($28.95; 800/431-9025, ext. 3)--a paperback research source. "That is low cost, and it covers the waterfront," said Bill Marutsky, a lawyer with Tressler, Soderstrom, Maloney & Priess in Chicago. "If you have a question, and you know what you're looking for, you want to go to one place and get it all." (The Federal Tax Handbook is included in the TaxDesk and OnPoint CD-ROMs.)
The Bureau of National Affairs offers the Tax Management Portfolio in paperback or CD-ROM, which Helm said could be useful especially if dealing with income tax, pensions, or fringe benefits. "It puts the IRS code into English," she said. (One-year subscriptions include about 300 publications for $3,272 in paper, and $2,200 on CD-ROM; 800/372-1033. BNA also offers the Tax Practice Series CD-ROM for $695.)
Warren, Gorham & Lemont publishing offers taxation journals that provide up-to-date information on a number of taxation issues ranging from partnerships to living trusts. While Helm warned that some of the journals may be too technical for general practitioners, she recommended Taxation for Lawyers ($115 per year for six issues) or Estate Planning ($195 per year for ten journals; 800/950-1205).
She also suggests copies of the Taxation Section's meeting materials to keep up with changing areas of the law. From international tax to local tax, two hardbound books totaling 700 to 800 pages are filled with meeting materials and selected committee handouts ($240 for three meetings; to order, call the ABA Service Center at 312/988-5522; refer to PC TX03).
The Taxation Section also provides TaxCite, a federal tax citation and reference manual. This 100-page spiral-bound book ($30; ABA Service Center at 312/988-5522; refer to PC 5470449) explains how to file briefs with the U.S. tax court and contains lists of more reference materials and tax periodicals.
Dennis Jacknewitz, a tax attorney with Jennings, Jacknewitz & Schrader in Belleville, Illinois, and a former IRS auditor, advises general practitioners to call their local IRS offices to request copies of general tax information. Bar associations and accounting firms also have helpful publications, he said.
Consider Attending a CLE Program
If you need a little more instruction to better understand taxation, the ABA hosts several CLE programs, such as "Consolidated Tax Return Regulations," offered on September 26-27 in Washington, D.C., or "How to Handle a Tax Controversy at the IRS and in Court," on October 17-18 in Chicago. For a course calendar of CLE programs, call 800/CLE-NEWS.
Because the Taxation Section sponsors several of these programs, general practitioners might be leery of the technical lingo used. If so, many universities also offer CLE tax programs. Stein suggested the University of Miami's estate planning institute, which is the largest estate planning seminar in the country. For the past 30 years, this program has been held annually during the second week in January for five days. In 1997, the program will be held on January 6-10 in Miami. The university also offers an international taxation seminar for two days during the second week in February. For more information, call 305/284-4762.
The University of Texas offers a three-day estate planning and real estate seminar. The location of this seminar varies, but it is usually offered in October. By the end of the summer, the time and date will be set. Call 512/471-3663 for more information.
In January, the University of Southern California offers a four-day conference on federal taxation, which covers corporate, individual, real estate, partnerships, and estate planning. The institute is held in Los Angeles. For more information, phone 213/740-2582.
The choice of CLE tax program hinges on individual interests, Stein said. General programs will cover general income tax, but state-oriented programs tend to be better for estate planning. National programs will explain federal taxes, but will not deal with state tax issues. So personal preference is key.
Look for the Perfect Resource for You
Regardless of which guides you use, understanding tax issues is not as difficult as it seems. Wes Hackett, a lawyer in East Lansing, Michigan, says that whether you conduct a paper search or technological one, an answer will ultimately surface.
"You may get a specific answer in any source, from a legal encyclopedia to a book on specific topics like bankruptcy," Hackett said. "But once I get the tax issue narrowed to a particular section of the tax code--I don't care how you get it--from osmosis, a ouija board, law notes, magazines, books--you can use that as a guide to get to other materials."
Sidebar 1: Useful Tax Sites on the Internet
All House and Senate bills, committee reports, etc.
Extensive lists of tax forms, IRS publications, etc. Searchable by keyword.
Income tax information in Internet page
List of all tax-related materials on Internet. Many links to other sites. Great site! Slow loading.
Ernst & Young Website
Geared to how great E&Y is. Some useful information.
Tax Prophet homepage
Useful newspaper and journal articles.
Tax site recommended by Steve Boner
Source: Paul Basile, certified specialist, taxation law