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December 20, 2022 The Tax Lawyer

A Study of Tax Lawyers Discussing Duties

Vol. 76, No. 1 - Fall 2022

by Michael Hatfield and Michelle Kwon


This Article reports the first qualitative empirical study of U.S. tax lawyers. We interviewed women lawyers who were tax planning specialists. Though this is the first such study of U.S. tax lawyers, this methodology has been used often to study the professional ethics of other tax practitioners around the world. We had three research questions that we sought to answer through dynamic conversations on topics such as the distinctions between good and bad tax plans and good and bad tax lawyers and also the joys and stresses of tax practice. Our first research question was as to the make-up of the U.S. tax bar. The bar was described largely as very smart, team-playing puzzlers. We did not hear concern about widespread failures of professional responsibility. Our second research question was about how U.S. tax lawyers experience ethical tensions. We heard about the tension involved in determining and communicating the right advice, managing clients, and billing. Our third question: how do U.S. tax lawyers discuss their professional duties? We heard about competence, diligence, and other duties from the ABA Model Rules. We did not hear tax-specific language like “substantial authority” or “realistic possibility of success.” We also did not hear about a special duty to the tax system. We conclude the Article with pragmatic suggestions for state bar tax sections, tax law professors, and academic researchers. 

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