Tax Attorney Career Overview

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Updated September 28, 2022 · 6 Min Read

A career as a tax attorney can be lucrative and rewarding. Find out more about what tax attorneys do, how much they can earn, and how to get started in the field.

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Tax attorneys help guide individuals and corporations through legal matters related to taxes. Like many accounting professionals, they need a strong understanding of finance, accounting, and taxation law.

Helping taxpayers or companies meet their required tax obligations and filings while optimizing possible credits or deductions to lower those obligations are primarily what a tax attorney does. They help clients understand their options and make sense of complicated tax codes.

The career offers a diverse range of job opportunities. Tax attorneys can work in consulting or as in-house employees at corporations and law firms. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 10% employment growth rate from 2021-2031, indicating strong job prospects and security.

This guide provides an overview of the tax attorney career path, including education requirements and salary potential.

What Does a Tax Attorney Do?

Tax attorneys help their clients navigate the complex tax codes at federal, state, and local levels. They advocate on behalf of their clients with tax agencies when needed. Tax attorneys stay up-to-date on the latest tax issues and laws to act as a resource for their clients. Common responsibilities for tax attorneys include:

  • Legal Research: Tax attorneys must conduct the necessary legal research to understand tax law and policy. Since laws change frequently, tax attorneys should know how to find and reference the latest legal codes.
  • Drafting Documents: These professionals create and maintain many types of documents, including wills, employment-related agreements, court briefs, and tax forms.
  • Handling Tax Disputes: Tax attorneys help their clients handle disputes related to tax obligations. They may negotiate on behalf of their clients with the IRS.
  • Representing Clients in Court: A tax attorney may defend or advise clients in courtroom settings as needed.
  • Advising Clients on Legal Matters: Clients commonly seek guidance on tax-related matters such as retirement, mortgages, and income.

Read about other tax professions:

Key Hard Skills for Tax Attorneys

  • Legal Knowledge: Tax attorneys must possess a strong understanding of taxation laws and regulations. This knowledge is generally measured through the bar exam.
  • IRS Requirements: Possessing a clear understanding of IRS forms, procedures, and filing policies is key for tax attorneys.
  • Accounting Skills: Tax attorneys should have a practical understanding of accounting principles and procedures.
  • Legal Research Skills: Strong research skills allow tax attorneys to locate all relevant texts, cases, or filing requirements. This includes the ability to use legal databases such as Lexis or Westlaw.

Key Soft Skills for Tax Attorneys

  • Communication: Tax attorneys need to clearly explain complex concepts and findings to their clients. They may also speak in court or write motions.
  • Negotiation: At times, tax attorneys negotiate with the IRS or other agencies on behalf of their clients.
  • Critical Thinking: Tax attorneys use critical thinking skills to properly evaluate and analyze tax-related problems or questions to find the best solution.
  • Attention to Detail: A career as a tax attorney is a great option for people that enjoy digging into the fine print and analyzing details. Tax attorneys pay close attention to tax code details and client data.

Tax Attorney Areas of Expertise

Tax attorneys can work as generalists or specialize in specific areas of tax law. Two popular specialties for tax attorneys are corporate tax and estate planning.

Corporate Tax

Corporate tax attorneys help corporations handle tax requirements, commercial transactions, and compliance matters. Corporations are often subject to different tax codes and filing requirements than individuals, so these tax attorneys must have a strong understanding of corporate tax law.

Corporate tax attorneys may also advise on the financial or tax implications of business mergers, sales, and acquisitions. They commonly provide guidance on commercial real estate purchases or other asset purchases that may affect a company's taxes.

Common Job Titles

  • Tax attorney
  • Corporate tax attorney
  • Corporate tax lawyer
  • In-house corporate counsel
  • Corporate counsel
  • Compliance attorney
  • Tax controversy attorney

Estate Planning

Estate planning tax attorneys help clients and their families create trusts and make arrangements for a person's money or other assets when they die.

Tax attorneys may help clients create living trusts or wills. They advise clients on how to minimize tax obligations when transferring assets to their relatives. Tax attorneys can also assist in creating directives for end-of-life care.

Common Job Titles

  • Estate planning attorney
  • Trust and estate attorney
  • Tax attorney
  • Estate planning lawyer
  • Trust and estate planning lawyer
  • Senior estate planning attorney
  • Senior trust and estates attorney

How to Become a Tax Attorney

Becoming a tax attorney requires a lengthy education. Aspiring tax attorneys will need to first earn a bachelor's degree — many pursue bachelor's degrees in accounting.

Then, they take the LSAT exam and attend law school to earn a juris doctor (JD) degree. Earning a JD generally takes three years. To practice law, tax attorneys must pass the bar exam after finishing school.

Tax Attorney Salary and Career Outlook

Attorneys enjoy a positive job outlook. The BLS projects a strong 10% employment growth rate for lawyers from 2021-2031 — twice the average projected growth rate for all careers of 5%.

The average base salary for tax attorneys is $101,550, according to September 2022 Payscale data. Tax attorneys may earn additional compensation through bonuses or profit-sharing opportunities. Income can vary based on factors such as job location, specialization, and experience level.

Career Spotlight: Heather Leggiero, JC, CPA

Why did you become a tax attorney? What initially interested you about the field?

I was practicing as a certified public accountant (CPA) in taxation and wanted to learn more about tax law. I received my master's in accountancy with a concentration in taxation and loved the challenge of a constantly changing career.

What education did you need to pursue this career? How did it prepare you for your current role?

I received my bachelor's degree in accounting but needed a fifth year in Florida (where I resided) to take the CPA exam. Instead of getting my fifth year, I got my master's. Getting my master's from the University of South Florida really exposed me to many areas of taxation — personal and different types of business.

Pursuing my law degree helped me in other areas, such as estates, gifts, and tax-exempt organizations. It also helped me learn how to research and understand case law.

What was the job search like after graduating with your degrees?

I was already on the partner track at the CPA firm where I was working and intended to stay in the CPA industry rather than switch to law. I did not pursue a law position after graduating.

“The field is constantly changing with new statutory laws, regulatory guidance, and case law.”

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

Every day is different, whether helping clients with questions or reviewing tax returns. I also help colleagues within Bonadio that have tax questions from their clients.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of working as a tax attorney? Some of the most challenging aspects?

I am not a tax attorney but rather a CPA with my law license. However, the most rewarding aspect of my role is helping clients and colleagues with their tax questions and problems. The most challenging aspect of my role is keeping aware and up to date with all the new tax laws and regulatory changes.

What do you think is the most important skill tax attorneys need to succeed?

Tax attorneys/tax CPAs must have a desire to learn. The field is constantly changing with new statutory laws, regulatory guidance, and case law.

What advice would you give to students considering your career?

If you have a desire to learn and be challenged, this is a field for you. Assisting clients with questions and tax problems is very rewarding.

Portrait of Heather Leggiero, JC, CPA

Heather Leggiero, JC, CPA

Heather Leggiero, JD, CPA, is a partner on The Bonadio Group's Tax Team, former Albany Tax Team Leader, and current lead tax partner in charge of the not-for-profit Tax-Exempt Group. She has over 22 years of experience in tax compliance and consulting services in public accounting. Her degrees in both accounting and law make her an integral part of their client service team.

Questions About What Tax Attorneys Do

What does a tax attorney do?

Tax attorneys help their clients navigate legal issues related to taxes. They may provide legal assistance to corporations or individuals on tax-related matters.

Where does a tax attorney work?

Tax attorneys can work in law firms, government agencies, accounting firms, policy or advocacy centers, or in-house at corporations.

Is tax law a good career?

Tax law can be a rewarding career with great job prospects and earning opportunities. However, some may find the high-stakes, complex nature of the work to be stressful.

How difficult is tax law?

Tax law is a complex field that requires a firm understanding of laws and accounting processes. It is difficult, but the right education can help prospective tax attorneys learn these concepts and enter the field.

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