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Do You Need Specialized Training to Practice Tax Law?

Brandon King

Do You Need Specialized Training to Practice Tax Law?

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Young lawyers starting to practice tax in a law firm are, of course, both excited about the job and worried about the many new areas of tax law we will encounter. One of the biggest concerns is training: we know that we will need assistance as we learn the ropes of our new positions, and we are eager for that assistance to help us understand how to be better tax lawyers. There are many different types of training available. It’s worth thinking about those types and how best to take advantage of them.


In law school, we found one or two professors who served as mentors. We could turn to them for guidance and advice about our careers as tax lawyers. Those professors are still there and often quite willing to provide guidance and mentorship to graduates who have started their careers. Colleagues are a great source of guidance and mentorship—particularly senior associates. They are often very understanding and know that you will have questions that seem too basic to ask a senior partner.

In-the-Weeds Training

Mentorship doesn’t always provide the in-the-weeds training that you need, however. Experience is often the best teacher in tax law, so researching, writing, and working with colleagues to solve challenging and complex tax puzzles is valuable training. Besides day-to-day client projects, authoring an article on a specific topic can give you critical insights into a discrete subject. Writing articles also offers you the opportunity to get publicity both internally and externally and the potential to make new client connections.

Attending a CLE program is another excellent way to get in-the-weeds exposure to a specific topic. Most law firms hold in-house CLE sessions that discuss various practical tax topics (e.g., choice of forum for tax litigation, the intricacies of international tax, or ethics for young tax lawyers). Along the same lines, panels, trainings, and webinars (in-person and virtual) can be excellent sources for rich information and training. I always carve out one to two hours per week to attend such sessions to stay informed on current developments.

Finally, obtaining an LLM, or even just auditing a tax class, to gain more technical knowledge of the code is a great way to get more in-depth exposure to challenging technical questions. I still refer to some of my LLM class notes for some of the trickier points of international tax planning.

Hands-On Training

As soon as you can take full responsibility for a project and get hands-on training, you absolutely should. Consider taking on a pro bono project to gain substantive experience and new skills you might not otherwise get from a billable matter. Some pro bono projects may allow you to draft an appellate brief or even perform an oral argument—roles almost always reserved for more senior attorneys for billable client matters.

You could get involved with a law school clinic. Clinics routinely handle tax matters for low-income individuals and are often looking for outside volunteers to help. You are much more likely to gain hands-on advocacy experience representing an individual before the IRS or even in a court.

Also, take advantage of opportunities for smaller, hands-on projects that help build useful skills. For example, taking on a knowledge management project can help the lawyer learn how to handle certain documents, such as opinion letters or Kovel agreements.

Bar Associations

You must also understand the broader context of tax law and how various provisions of the code fit into the big picture. One highly valuable resource is bar associations and industry groups. For example, the ABA Section of Taxation hosts numerous in-person meetings and webinars throughout the year, giving young lawyers a chance to learn about the most exciting and new tax issues out there and network with other attorneys and discuss these issues. These sessions are worth their weight in gold—they keep you connected to the broader tax community, allow you to form valuable new connections with other practitioners, and expose you to some of the most challenging and most important issues in the field.

Articles and Blogs

In-person meetings don’t happen every day, however, which is why you should take some time each day to read tax news articles and blogs. Tax Notes, Bloomberg, Law360, and other resources send daily email updates of tax law’s latest developments. A good habit is to allocate the first 20–30 minutes of the workday to reading updates in these publications. (Bonus tip: staying informed on current developments is also a great way to impress tax partners!) Similarly, staying abreast of legislative and regulatory updates is useful. The tax publishing services usually publish notices of proposed rulemaking and promulgated final regulations, and send email alerts.

The Tax Community

Don’t forget to speak with your colleagues and peers. The tax community is just that—a community. No one knows everything, but everyone knows something about some part of tax law. Taking the time to network and speak with other lawyers within and outside the firm can serve the dual benefits of staying informed about current events and learning about other lawyers’ practice areas.

Your experience and training will happen both on and off the clock. Finding additional ways to gain substantive skills will make you a more well-rounded, knowledgeable, and satisfied tax lawyer. Perhaps the most crucial piece of advice is to remember that the practice of tax law is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes years of practice, dedication, and learning. So why not start today?

This is an edited and abridged version of an article that was published with the title "The Young Lawyer’s Perspective on Tax Practice." It originally appeared in the ABA Tax Times, volume 39, number 2, spring 2020. 

©2020 by the American Bar Association Section of Taxation. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder. 

Learn more about membership and pro bono opportunities in the Section of Taxation.