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Tax Attorney: What Tax Lawyers Do, When to Hire One

A tax attorney or tax lawyer is a professional who can help guide clients through tax-related issues such as IRS disputes, settlements, estate planning and more.
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Written by Tina Orem
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What does a tax attorney do?

A tax attorney is a lawyer who specializes in tax law. They help people arrange their finances to optimize their tax situations, comply with tax rules and handle disputes with the IRS or other tax authorities. Some specialize in areas such as estate taxes, business taxes, international taxes or tax debt.

Tax attorneys often practice at law firms or accounting firms. Some may be solo practitioners, meaning they own their businesses and work for themselves.

Tax lawyers at law firms tend to advise clients about how to get favorable tax treatment in various situations. They may draft contracts or other legal documents needed to make it happen, and they may represent clients in tax court or elsewhere. Tax lawyers at accounting and consulting firms tend to help clients with tax rule compliance.

When to hire a tax attorney

Not sure if need to hire a tax attorney or another pro? Here are some situations that may be especially suited for hiring a tax attorney.

Estate planning: A tax attorney can help you devise estate planning strategies and handle the paperwork involved in minimizing estate taxes, transferring assets to family members, setting up trusts and other tactics.

Starting a business: A tax attorney may be able to help devise tax-smart strategies for starting, buying, selling or expanding a business.

Tax debt relief: If you have an outstanding balance with the IRS or other tax authority that you want to negotiate or contest, a tax attorney may be able to help you pursue options such as:

Tax disputes: If you're being audited, have a tax dispute, want to sue the IRS, the state, or a local tax authority over a tax matter, or if you want a hearing before the U.S. Tax Court, a tax attorney can help.

How to find a tax attorney near you

When searching online for a tax attorney, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the number of results. Here are four steps you can take to narrow your search and find a tax attorney who meets your specific needs.

1. Know where to look

Check your state bar association website. Most state bar association websites have directories to connect lawyers with residents looking for legal help. Look for a "find a lawyer" tab, and from there, you'll likely be able to filter your search by practice area. This method ensures the attorney you're considering has valid credentials and specializes in tax law.

Consider word-of-mouth recommendations. If you have a trusted friend, family member or colleague who has worked with a tax attorney in the past, that suggestion could be a good place to start. Similarly, if you've worked with a financial or an investment advisor before, consider asking them for help in your search, but still do your own research before committing to an attorney.

Visit the IRS directory. If you've ever vetted a CPA or other tax preparer, you might be familiar with the IRS' online database that helps you verify the credentials of tax professionals. You can narrow your search to specifically look for lawyers by checking the "Attorney Credential" box.

2. Verify their credentials

A few qualifications to look out for when vetting a tax attorney include:

A law license. An attorney must have a law license to practice law. You can verify whether a tax attorney has a license to practice law in your state by searching your state’s bar association website.

Signs of advanced education or specialization. In most states, you must also graduate from law school in order to get a law license. Some tax attorneys have a master’s degree in taxation (called an LL.M.). Some tax attorneys also have CPA licenses, which means they are also certified public accountants.

A preparer tax identification number (PTIN). Anybody who prepares tax returns in exchange for compensation must have a preparer tax identification number from the IRS. The preparer must sign your tax return and provide a PTIN.

3. Ask questions

Before committing to a tax attorney, it's a good idea to schedule a consultation first to ensure they're the right person for you. Factors such as experience and communication style may affect your choice. Here are a few questions to ask:

  • What are your credentials?

  • What's your level of experience?

  • What area(s) do you specialize in?

  • How will we communicate?

4. Review their fees

In general, legal work can be costly. Depending on their fee structure or the services they provide, tax attorneys may charge either a flat fee or an hourly rate.

According to the 2023 Clio Legal Trends Report, tax law firms charge an average hourly rate of $369, while individual tax attorneys charge an average of $409 per hour

Clio. 2023 Legal Trends Report. Accessed Mar 28, 2024.
. An attorney's location and length of experience can also affect pricing.

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You might be able to get free or low-cost help from a tax attorney by visiting a low-income tax clinic, known as an LITC, in your area. These clinics represent people with income below certain levels and who need to resolve tax problems with the IRS. LITCs can represent you in audits, appeals and tax collection disputes before the IRS and in court. LITCs can also help people respond to IRS notices or fix account problems. You can locate a local clinic on the Taxpayer Advocate Service website.

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