How to Select a Tax Attorney

Gray Reed
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Gray Reed

Understanding the IRS and the tax laws is very difficult and confusing.  When a taxpayer has a tax controversy matter with the IRS, selecting a tax attorney may be just as confusing and complicated.  Not all attorneys are created equal when it comes to the tax laws and representing clients before the IRS.  Dealing with the IRS can be risky and confusing for someone, including an attorney, if that person is not familiar with IRS procedure.  Clients seeking a tax attorney when they are having problems with the IRS must be careful to select someone who understands this unique area of the law.  Challenging the IRS requires an attorney with special expertise and experience.

Expertise and Experience

The client must realize that, depending on what is involved, the client may end up in court with the IRS.  The client should seek an attorney who specializes in tax controversies with the IRS, and who has tax litigation experience.  Since litigating with the IRS is different from a normal lawsuit, even the most experienced litigators may not have the required experience to deal with the IRS.  The client should inquire as to whether the attorney has handled the same or similar issues.  Generally, a good tax attorney can handle almost any tax issue, even though it is not one that he or she has handled before.  What clients must realize is that the IRS raises many different issues, and in many cases, it may be difficult to find a tax attorney who has handled the precise issue.  What the client is seeking is a tax attorney who has a wide range of experience in dealing with the IRS, and who is not afraid to challenge the IRS and fully represent the client.

Fees

Legal fees are always a concern when selecting a tax attorney.  Generally, legal fees for tax matters can be substantial.  The client must realize that while a less experienced attorney could be retained for less cost, the less experienced attorney may not be able to accomplish the client’s goals or effectively deal with the IRS.  Most likely the less experienced attorney, who charges a lesser fee, may take many more hours to solve the problem than would an experienced tax attorney.  Thus, the fees paid to the less experienced attorney may equal or exceed the fees that would have been paid to an experienced tax attorney, and the client may not achieve the desired results.

There are many ways to pay attorneys.  While paying by the hour is the most typical, a fixed fee may work best for the taxpayer.  With a fixed fee, the client is assured that the fixed fee is the total amount that will be paid for the tax attorney to handle the matter.  There are many creative ways for a client to pay legal fees other than the hourly basis or a fixed fee.

Referrals and Next Steps

One of the most effective ways to locate a competent tax attorney is to inquire of others who have dealt with an experienced tax attorney.   Find out from these individuals what tax attorneys they have worked with or know by reputation.  The client should make an appointment with the tax attorney to explain the tax matter for which the client is seeking representation.  Most tax attorneys will charge for this meeting, and if they do, the client should expect to obtain good legal advice about the tax matter.  If the first appointment is free, generally the client may not obtain good legal advice.  Inquire of the tax attorney about the merits of the issues involved and what action the tax attorney would recommend.

There is no substitute for an experienced tax attorney when challenging the IRS.   If the attorney is doing work in other unrelated areas in addition to tax, this is probably not the attorney to retain for tax advice.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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