What Should I Ask a Tax Attorney?
Dealing with tax matters requires knowledge and skill in tax laws and in negotiating with the IRS.
While you can represent yourself, represented taxpayers have higher chances of prevailing in full or in part in IRS cases.
While there are other professionals who can represent you, hiring a tax lawyer to handle these matters may be the best option.
By having a lawyer by your side, you will have a better assessment of the tax problems you’re facing and how you can respond to minimize damages on your part.
Finding the Right Tax Attorney
While there are advantages to hiring a tax lawyer, it’s crucial to find the right professional. Your task is to identify several candidates. There are a number of ways to do this.
You can ask people you know for referrals. You can check online reviews for recommendations. You can call other attorneys and ask for a recommendation. You can search for tax attorneys from a network or bar association.
When you have your list of candidates, the next step is to schedule an interview. This scheduling process will help narrow the list. Many tax attorneys will not even take your call or return your call.
At some point, you will have to talk to the tax attorneys. These conversations should be viewed as interviews. Put yourself in the shoes of an HR professional interviewing a candidate for a job. That is what you are actually doing. You have the work and you are interviewing the tax attorneys to see if they are a right fit.
This interview process is the only way to find the right tax attorney to help you with your case.
To give you some idea of what to ask your attorney, here are some questions you should ask.
1. What experience do you have with ______________?
You want to make sure that the attorney has experience dealing with tax matters similar to yours.
Your chances of success go up if the tax attorney has experience with your tax matter. This can be a difficult question to get a firm answer to.
The easiest way to get to the answer is to build your way up to the question.
You might start by asking direct questions about the candidate’s experience generally, the number of years they have practiced, whether they have actually worked for the IRS.
This should pave the way to the actual question about their experience with your matter.
The actual questions you might ask for this could include:
a. What kind of tax work do you handle?
b. What other types of cases do you handle?
c. How much experience do you have with [my problem]?
If you interview more than one tax attorney, you may get a range of answers.
As you consider the answer, you also have to factor in the unique nature of your case. Ask yourself whether others have faced the same problem or issue you have and with what frequency. For example, payroll tax problems are common. Most businesses have problems with payroll taxes. The same goes for criminal tax issues. Criminal investigations for tax issues happen quite often.
Compare that to an obscure tax issue. For example, the U.S. tax consequences of a trust unique to your home country of 50,000 residents are probably not very common. The tax attorney may not have direct experience with the tax issue in this example, but they still may be able to find the answer.
2. Do you have clients in the same industry?
If you are in business, it’s better to find a tax attorney with experience in the same industry since they know the ins and outs of your business. These tax attorneys may know the answers to questions you don’t even know to ask.
Tax attorneys cannot disclose the names of former clients. The attorney ethics rules generally do not allow this type of disclosure. But they can provide a non-specific history or cite projects that can help you gauge their experience.
The same can be said of a specialist in a particular tax matter. A tax attorney who focuses on “domestic taxes” may be hard-pressed to answer questions about “international taxes.” A tax attorney who focuses on bankruptcy may not be able to answer your bonus depreciation questions.
Tax resolution attorneys warrant extra care. Be wary of tax attorneys working with tax resolution companies and accounting firms. Attorneys comply with a legal code of ethics that imposes strict confidentiality and other rules, which may not really apply when the tax attorney is not really working as a tax lawyer.
You can usually identify these firms by their names. They often have names that suggest that they are skilled or are better than others in the field. For example, a tax resolution firm with the word “top” or “best” as part of their business names should be avoided. Can you think of any product or service you have purchased from a company that had to tell you in their business name that they are the top or best at what they do?
3. If you have an IRS dispute case, “what is your approach to resolving tax disputes with the IRS?”
Different attorneys may have different strategies for negotiating with the IRS, so it’s important to make sure that their approach aligns with your goals.
4. Who will be doing the actual work?
Realize that you are probably hiring a team, not an individual tax attorney.
Law firms typically have three types of lawyers–those who bring in new clients, those who take new clients while making existing clients satisfied, and those who do the actual work.
Tax attorneys usually also have accountants and tax preparers on staff.
When looking for a tax attorney, you want to find someone who has a team that you can work with. You should ask about the team and their experience. So you can and should ask about the team members and their experience. What role will they play in your case? Who will you communicate with the most?
5. What fees do you charge?
Eventually, the interview should discuss fees. This is not a taboo topic. You should ask.
You’ll want to make sure that you understand the attorney’s fee structure and that it is within your budget.
Asking how much it costs to hire a tax attorney will help you decide whether the tax attorney is within your budget, etc.
You should use this opportunity to clarify whether the candidate charges hourly or fixed rates and what services are included in those fees.
You may feel intimidated about consulting a tax lawyer because of how much they might charge. While hiring an attorney could be expensive, it could be worth the investment if you’re dealing with complicated tax problems. This has to be considered in evaluating the tax attorney’s responses about fees.
6. How do you communicate with your clients?
It’s important to understand the attorney’s communication style and preferences, to ensure that you will be able to stay informed about the progress of your case.
Experienced Tax Attorneys
If you have a tax question or problem, feel free to call us.
We are experienced tax attorneys located in Houston, Texas. We help clients with just about everything related to taxes.
We offer a free consultation and encourage prospective clients to use the consultation to explore their tax issues and, of course, to discuss the questions in this article.
Please call us at (713) 909-4906 or schedule an appointment to see how we can help you.