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Tax Attorney Career Guide

What is a tax attorney?

A tax attorney is a legal professional specializing in complex tax laws. They are experts in the intricate and detailed world of federal, state, and local tax regulations, and they provide advice and representation to individuals, businesses, and organizations with tax-related matters.

This role is necessary for helping clients navigate the often complicated world of taxation. They can provide valuable guidance on tax planning strategies to minimize tax liability and represent clients in disputes with taxing authorities.

Duties and responsibilities

The primary responsibility of a tax attorney is to provide legal advice, including advising on tax planning strategies to ensure compliance or reduce tax liability and interpreting complex tax laws and regulations.

These attorneys often assist with estate planning, advising on structuring an estate to minimize inheritance and estate taxes. They also help businesses understand the tax implications of business decisions, mergers, or acquisitions.

Professionals in this role represent clients in disputes with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or state taxing authorities, including negotiation, court representation, or helping clients navigate audits.

Work environment

Tax attorneys work primarily in office settings, including law firms, corporate legal departments, or government agencies. They typically work a standard business week, but longer hours can be required, particularly during tax season or when preparing for a court case.

Their work can be intellectually challenging, given the complexity of tax law. It requires strong analytical skills, attention to detail, and the ability to explain complex legal and financial concepts to clients.

Typical work hours

The hours for tax attorneys vary, but most work full-time. Extended hours are typical during tax season or to manage complex cases. Tax law is an intellectually challenging and rewarding career that significantly impacts clients’ financial health and business success.

How to become a tax attorney

To pursue this career, you must complete a rigorous educational path, gain practical experience, and understand tax laws and regulations. The following career guide section covers the steps you’ll need to take to become a tax attorney.

Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree

Begin by pursuing a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a related field such as accounting, finance, economics, or business administration. A relevant major can provide a solid foundation in the financial and legal concepts needed for a career in tax law.

Step 2: Attend law school

You must obtain a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from an accredited law school. Law school typically takes three years and covers many legal topics, including contracts, constitutional law, civil procedure, and legal writing. During law school, consider focusing on tax law courses, such as income taxation, corporate taxation, and estate and gift tax, to gain a deeper understanding of the subject.

Step 3: Pass the bar exam

After graduating from law school, you must pass the bar exam in the jurisdiction where you plan to practice law. The bar exam is a rigorous, multi-day test that assesses knowledge of general and state-specific legal principles. Passing the bar exam is required to obtain a law license.

Step 4: Gain practical experience

Once licensed, seek opportunities to gain practical experience in tax law. Options include working as an associate at a law firm specializing in tax law, joining a corporation’s in-house legal team, or working for a government agency such as the IRS. Hands-on experience is essential for developing the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in this role.

Step 5: Obtain a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in taxation (optional)

While not required, many tax attorneys pursue an LL.M. degree in taxation. This advanced degree can enhance expertise in tax law, broaden career prospects, and increase marketability to potential employers. The program, taking one to two years, focuses on specific tax law topics, such as international taxation, state and local taxation, and tax policy.

Step 6: Network within the legal community

Building a solid professional network is vital for career success as a tax attorney. Attend legal conferences, seminars, and networking events to connect with other tax law professionals and potential clients. Join professional organizations, such as the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Taxation or your state’s bar association, to access resources and networking opportunities.

Step 7: Continue professional development

Tax laws and regulations are constantly changing, making it essential for these professionals to stay current with new developments. Engage in ongoing professional development by attending workshops, conferences, and continuing legal education (CLE) courses. Stay informed about the latest changes in tax law to maintain your competence in this role. 

Continue your education online by taking these excellent courses:

  • Coursera’s AI and Law course explores how artificially intelligent technologies (AI) affect the practice and administration of law. 
  • Demystifying Cryptocurrency: Understanding Bitcoin and Beyond, offered by Skillshare, explains the blockchain environment, reviews current digital currencies, and shows how Bitcoin has transformed the financial ecosystem. 
  • Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have become a digital income stream for artists. NFT Bootcamp explains minting and selling digital art so you can better understand your client’s income stream and any tax implications. 

How much do tax attorneys make?

The salary of a tax attorney can vary significantly depending on several factors, including experience, geographical location, the size and type of firm, and the complexity of cases. Those with extensive experience or handling more complex cases often command higher salaries.

Attorneys working in areas with a high cost of living or a high concentration of law firms, like major cities, often earn more than their counterparts in other regions. Additionally, larger firms or high-revenue industries typically pay more. 

Highest paying industries

  • Legal Services – $140,055
  • Federal Executive Branch – $138,780
  • Management of Companies and Enterprises – $145,710
  • Securities and Commodity Contracts – $142,795
  • Insurance Carriers – $140,225

Highest paying states

  • District of Columbia – $173,432
  • New York – $150,070
  • California – $145,190
  • Massachusetts – $140,580
  • Illinois – $135,035

Browse tax attorney salary data by market

Types of tax attorneys

This career guide section explores the different types of tax attorneys, highlighting their specific responsibilities and areas of expertise.

Income tax attorney

Income tax attorneys specialize in the laws and regulations related to income taxes. They assist individuals and businesses in understanding their tax obligations, planning finances to optimize tax outcomes, and resolving any issues or disputes with tax authorities.

Business tax attorney

Businesses face complex tax issues, including corporate income tax, sales and use tax, and employment tax. These attorneys help companies to navigate tax laws, plan strategies, and handle disputes.

Estate tax attorney

The estate of a deceased person cannot be distributed to heirs until estate taxes are paid. Estate attorneys assist clients in planning estates to minimize taxes and help with administration after death.

International tax attorney

International tax attorneys specialize in tax issues that arise in international business and finance. They deal with complex laws governing international income tax, tax treaties, cross-border transactions, and international business structures. 

Tax controversy attorney

Tax controversy attorneys work to resolve disputes as favorably and efficiently as possible for clients. These professionals specialize in disputes with tax authorities, including audits, appeals, and litigation. 

Tax fraud attorney

Tax fraud claims occur when an individual or business is accused of intentionally deceiving tax authorities to avoid paying taxes. Fraud attorneys defend clients against these serious charges, which can result in significant penalties and even jail time.

Property tax attorney

Property tax attorneys specialize in local taxes on real estate. They help clients understand and manage property tax obligations, challenge tax assessments, and represent clients in disputes with tax authorities.

Tax planning attorney

Clients routinely want to plan their finances and business operations to minimize tax liability and take advantage of tax benefits. These attorneys deeply understand tax laws and regulations and proactively approach tax management.

Top skills for tax attorneys

Tax attorneys must deeply understand the constantly changing tax laws, regulations, and policies at local, state, federal, and sometimes international levels. This knowledge allows them to provide accurate advice, identify potential tax benefits or liabilities, and ensure compliance with all relevant tax laws.

Financial data and legal documents are often complex but must be analyzed accurately and quickly. They need to draw logical conclusions and devise strategies based on analysis. Strong analytical skills lead to better advice, informed decisions, and effective representation. 

Complex issues and disputes require innovative solutions. This process involves identifying the root cause, considering possible options, and choosing the most effective solution. Attorneys with strong problem-solving skills help their clients navigate tax challenges and achieve the best possible outcomes.

Tax attorneys must also convey complex tax laws and concepts in a way clients can understand. Necessary skills include active listening to understand a client’s situation, clearly and concisely explaining the advice or strategy, and strong writing skills for drafting legal documents. Effective communicators can build strong client relationships, enhance satisfaction, and provide better representation. 

Finally, these professionals need negotiating expertise to work with authorities or opposing parties on behalf of their clients, including advocating for the client’s interests, persuading the other party, and reaching a favorable agreement. Attorneys with strong negotiation skills can help clients resolve tax disputes more favorably and efficiently.

Tax attorney career path

Becoming a tax attorney starts with a foundational role in law, often as a law clerk or paralegal. These roles provide valuable experience in legal research, writing, and understanding the workings of the legal system.

Upon passing the bar examination, individuals may start their career as associate attorneys, gaining hands-on experience in various areas of law, including tax law. Specializing in tax law may require further education, such as an LL.M in taxation.

After gaining experience and demonstrating expertise in tax law, the next step is becoming a tax attorney. This role includes advising clients on tax-related issues, representing them in disputes with the IRS, and assisting with tax-related litigation.

With a solid record of success in handling complex tax cases, these professionals may advance to senior roles within a law firm, such as a senior associate or partner. In these roles, attorneys handle high-profile cases, supervise junior attorneys, and contribute to the firm’s strategic direction.

Some attorneys may open a law practice specializing in tax law. Others may move into executive roles within law firms or corporations, such as a managing partner or general counsel.

The role of tax attorneys is evolving due to changes in tax laws, technological advancements, and shifts in the business environment. One key trend is the increasing complexity of tax laws and regulations, both domestically and internationally. As governments adjust tax laws to meet changing economic conditions and businesses engage in more cross-border transactions, the demand for professionals with in-depth knowledge of complex tax issues is growing.

Another significant trend is the digitalization of tax administration and compliance. More tax authorities are moving toward electronic filing and digital communication, which requires these attorneys to be adept at using digital platforms and understanding digital tax issues.

The growing emphasis on tax planning and dispute resolution shapes this role. Businesses increasingly seek advice from tax attorneys on tax planning to minimize tax liabilities and representation in disputes with tax authorities.

Employment projections for tax attorneys

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide specific data for tax attorneys. They fall under the broader category of “Lawyers.” According to BLS projections, employment in this category is expected to grow by 10% through 2031, faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is driven by the demand for legal services in various areas, including tax law. Job prospects should be best for those with strong legal and analytical skills, specialized knowledge in tax law, and relevant experience. Competition for jobs is intense because more students graduate from law school each year than jobs are available.

Tax attorney career tips

Understand your clients’ industries

It’s essential to understand your clients’ industries. This knowledge can help to provide relevant advice and identify potential tax issues or opportunities specific to those industries.

Keep up with tax law changes

Tax laws change frequently, so stay updated to provide accurate advice and ensure clients comply with all laws and regulations.

Develop strong negotiation skills

There may be times when you’ll need to negotiate with tax authorities on behalf of clients. Strong negotiation skills can help to achieve favorable outcomes.

Build a professional network

Networking with other professionals can provide learning, collaboration, and career advancement opportunities. Consider joining professional organizations related to tax law, such as:

  • American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Taxation
  • National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP)
  • American Association of Attorney-Certified Public Accountants (AAA-CPA)

Commit to continuous learning

Tax law is a complex and continually evolving field. Continuous learning is crucial for staying updated with changes in the law and enhancing effectiveness as a tax attorney. Here are some ways to engage in continuous learning:

  • Attend tax law seminars and workshops
  • Pursue additional certifications or degrees related to tax law, such as an LL.M. in taxation
  • Stay informed about the latest developments in tax law through industry publications and legal journals

Improve research skills

Tax law involves significant research, such as interpreting tax codes, reviewing court decisions, and analyzing legal documents. Improving research skills can enhance effectiveness in these tasks, enabling you to provide accurate and thorough advice to clients.

Develop excellent written communication skills

Tax attorneys often draft legal documents, such as tax opinion letters and court pleadings. Excellent written communication skills can help you create these documents effectively, ensuring they are clear, concise, and legally sound.

Cultivate a detail-oriented approach

In tax law, minor details can have significant implications. Cultivating a detail-oriented approach can help you spot important information and potential issues, enhancing the quality of your advice and reducing the risk of oversights.

Develop strong analytical skills

Part of this role involves analyzing complex financial data and legal information. Strong analytical skills can enhance the ability to interpret information and make informed decisions or recommendations.

Foster relationships with clients

Building solid relationships with clients can lead to repeat business and referrals. Understand your client’s needs, provide excellent service, and communicate regularly with updates about cases.

Where the tax attorney jobs are

Top companies

  • Internal Revenue Service
  • KPMG
  • Deloitte
  • PwC
  • EY

Top states

  • New York
  • California
  • Texas
  • Illinois
  • District of Columbia

Top job sites

  • Zengig
  • LinkedIn
  • Glassdoor
  • Simply Hired
  • LawCrossing


Is it necessary for a tax attorney to have an accounting background?

While having an accounting background can be advantageous, it is not required. Understanding tax law, regulations, and the Internal Revenue Code is more critical. However, knowledge of accounting principles can help these professionals better serve clients with complex tax situations.

What types of clients do tax attorneys typically work with?

Clients are diverse and include individuals, businesses, nonprofits, and government entities. Attorneys may also represent clients in disputes with taxing authorities, such as the IRS or state tax agencies.

How can a tax attorney help with IRS audits and disputes?

During IRS audits or disputes, tax attorneys help clients understand their rights, gather and present relevant documentation, negotiate with the IRS, and provide representation in court if necessary. They can also help clients navigate the complex appeals process and seek a favorable resolution.

What is the role of a tax attorney in tax planning and compliance?

For tax planning, clients are advised on the implications of various transactions and decisions, helping them minimize their tax liability while remaining compliant with tax laws and regulations. 

What are some ethical considerations specific to tax attorneys?

All attorneys must adhere to the same ethical rules and additional considerations specific to their practice area. These rules include ensuring competent representation, maintaining client confidentiality, and avoiding conflicts of interest. Tax attorneys must also ensure they do not assist clients in tax evasion or other illegal activities.

Can a tax attorney represent clients in tax court?

They can represent clients in tax, federal, and state courts that handle tax-related disputes. Their expertise in tax law and procedure makes them well-equipped to navigate the complexities of tax litigation and seek a favorable outcome for clients.

Can a tax attorney work remotely?

While some tasks, such as research, consultation, and document preparation, can be done remotely, other aspects of the job may require a physical presence. For example, attorneys may need to meet with clients in person or represent them in court or before tax agencies. The balance of remote and in-person work can vary depending on the specific role and employer’s policies.

What skills are most important for a tax attorney?

Essential skills include a thorough understanding of tax law, strong analytical and problem-solving skills for interpreting complex regulations and crafting tax strategies, and excellent communication skills for explaining tax issues to clients and advocating for them in disputes. Attention to detail is also crucial for preparing and reviewing tax documents.

How does a tax attorney assist businesses?

Tax attorneys advise on tax planning strategies, ensure compliance with tax laws and regulations, and represent businesses in tax disputes. They may also help with business transactions, such as mergers or acquisitions, by assessing the tax implications. In addition, attorneys may provide guidance related to corporate structure and employee benefits from a tax perspective.

What are the main challenges faced by a tax attorney?

The main challenges include interpreting complex and ever-changing tax laws, representing clients in disputes with tax agencies, and providing advice that balances legal compliance with financial efficiency. They must also keep up-to-date with changes in tax legislation or regulations and manage the high-pressure demands of tax season.