Like us, you’ve probably heard your share of jokes about the trustworthiness of lawyers. Law is like any field—there are honest practitioners and dishonest ones; the trick is discerning between them.
Fortunately, there are some proven strategies to help you find an upstanding tax lawyer. We’ll uncover them in this blog.
Let’s start broadly with the two critical qualities of a trustworthy tax lawyer:
- Moral competence
- Technical competence
Moral competence without technical competence.
You don’t want to hire a lawyer who is full of integrity but who doesn’t have experience and training in tax law. Consider the case of Uncle Al.
Uncle Al. He’s loved you since you were three. He was at your wedding. You know he’d do anything for you, and he’s a lawyer. What kind? Hey, it doesn’t matter, at least you can trust him, right?
Some people gravitate to lawyers who are related, but other people gravitate toward lawyers for similarly non-technical reasons. “He’s a young father, like me.” “She went to my undergraduate.” “He has a great laugh.” “She just seems so put-together.” “I can tell he really cares.”
Uncle Al might be a perfect Thanksgiving guest but pause before hiring him to resolve tax problems. If he doesn’t know tax law, he may end up taking six hours to accomplish something that would take a tax specialist a few minutes. Or, even worse, he may botch your legal issues without even realizing it. Getting poor legal advice might cost you thousands of dollars and the time and stress of drawn-out legal proceedings.
Technical competence without moral competence.
This lawyer joke illustrates the problem of technical competence without moral competence:
The lawyer’s son wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, so he went to law school and graduated with honors. Then he went home to join his father’s firm.
At the end of his first day at work, he rushed into his father’s office and said, “Father, father! In one day I broke the Smith case that you’ve been working on for so long!”
His father yelled, “You idiot! We’ve been living on the funding of that case for 10 years!” (source)
The father possessed enough technical competence to understand the client’s case, but not enough moral competence to keep him from taking advantage of the client. Technical knowledge of tax law is not enough to make a trustworthy tax attorney. Moral competence and technical competence are equally crucial qualities in a tax attorney.
So, now that you have a clear idea of what you want – a tax attorney with both moral competence and technical competence – how can you find one? Despite the number of lawyer jokes in circulation, America has a low level of legal corruption and many industry safeguards in place.
Using these basic tips as well as some common sense should allow you to rest at ease with the tax lawyer you choose:
- Hire a tax attorney that works in an office that specializes in tax law. Tax law is considered one of the most complicated legal specialties, and you need to hire someone who has enough training and experience to get the best result.
- In an office that specializes in tax-related matters, work with a tax attorney that specializes in the area of tax that applies to your needs. For example, find a real estate tax lawyer if you are investing in property, but a sales tax lawyer if you are a small business owner with an inventory.
- Look for an attorney with an LLM (Masters of Laws) in taxation. This academic credential shows a commitment to the field of tax law.
- Lawyers should be in good standing with the Better Business Bureau. You can quickly check any company’s rating by going to the Better Business Bureau’s webpage and searching by city, state, zip code, and profession.
- Lawyers should be in good standing with the state bar. The American Bar Association maintains an online listing of each state’s lawyer disciplinary agency.
- Meet your lawyer and make a personal assessment of the professionalism of both the lawyer and the office staff.
- Observe the oral and written communication skills of your lawyer. He or she needs to be able to explain complicated issues in a clear manner in order to represent you well. Your lawyer’s job is to act as an intermediary between you and the tax authorities. Having a persevering and unflappable personality may help a lawyer find success in the detail-rich field of tax law.
- Assess the responsiveness of the legal firm in which the lawyer works. Are the staff members professional in all aspects? Do you receive satisfactory responses to your queries within 24 hours of your initial contact?
Thankfully, the legal industry has a number of standards devised to protect the reputation of lawyers and law firms who demonstrate an enduring commitment to professionalism. With a minimal amount of research and common sense, you will be able to find a tax lawyer who has both moral competence and technical competency in tax law.
Knowing what makes a good lawyer—whether it be an income tax lawyer, tax relief lawyer or some other kind of specialist—is a critical component of getting the tax representation you need. Contact us at The Tax Defenders for more information about our team of attorneys and their reputation for integrity and expertise.