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The Place Between Tax Accountants and Tax Attorneys



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As featured in DICTA.

At any moment I could have veered away from the field of accounting; my one single biggest attempt to do so was attending law school. Nevertheless, it became clear as early as my first year of legal education that my accounting background with a taxation focus was here to stay. My current position wholly demonstrates this. I am a Senior within the Tax Services division of the CPA firm LBMC. Explaining my position within a CPA firm is a common conversation with the usual exchange beginning with “Wait, but I thought you were an attorney?”

What some individuals outside the practices of law and accounting are unaware of is that the fields are dramatically interrelated. Many, if not all of us within the KBA, are aware of this basic principal. However, to a layperson needing a common tax return prepared or requiring court representation is normally unaware of the extent to which these fields cross.

Take for instance a typical client seeking professional tax advice. They will consider whether to approach either a tax attorney or an accountant. Both will be able to provide tax advice and planning strategies to individuals and businesses. Further, the U.S. Tax court allows attorneys and certain non-attorneys, including qualified accountants, to represent clients in cases. But where does this potential client go to get their advice?

Accountants usually have an edge in financial planning, and knowing the tax regulations and codes may give them an edge in financial strategy. Moreover, if the client is looking for tax preparation assistance, tax prevention planning, or information on incorporation strategies for a new business, a tax accountant may be most suitable. On the other hand, if the client’s questions are more complex, involving possible litigation or liability issues, and/or involve multiple parties or organizations, they would be advised to contact a tax attorney. This is due to attorneys’ emphasis on studying case law, legal writing, and research, which equip them with an edge on specialized tax litigation and liability issues. There are a growing number of professionals out there who can take the pressure off potential clients as to whom to approach. I am simply aspiring to be one of those accountants/lawyers who have studied and are able to practice in both fields.

I do not specifically specialize in an area of tax law or particular industry or business. Instead, I deal with an assortment of issues that East Tennessee companies and individuals are dealing with to manage their tax situation. It could be as straight forward as preparing a tax return for an individual, partnership, S-Corporation or C-Corporation.Or it could be a higher level engagement involving possible litigation or liability issues. At times I am utilized most effectively as a researcher. Instead of farming out this research service to a partner level expert within our firm or another attorney outside of our practice, I am able to provide efficient answers or assurances as to a particular stance. This provides our clients with a value-added end product. Furthermore, I regularly receive and respond to tax claims against our clients.

I have been working in this field for almost ten years now through a variety of positions. Stints included working for a publicly traded company’s tax department, the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, a large law practice and regional CPA firms. The great part about each of these places was the wealth of experience and knowledge surrounding me. To put into practice both my legal and accounting education has been, and continues to be, a daunting endeavor. Nonetheless, I have been fortunate to have great coaching and leadership at the various positions to help me through.

Take for instance LBMC. With its family of companies ranging from accounting, healthcare consulting, corporate tax, finance, human resources, investment advisory, IT security, staffing, healthcare, and audit and technology, LBMC encompass the resources to take care of relatively any client need. Furthermore, as a practitioner I can rely on the firm’s extensive resources, which foremost are its people. While our main office is in Brentwood we have a sizeable office in Knoxville that includes professionals from six different LBMC divisions. Over the past two years with this firm I have benefited by the wealth of experience and knowledge surrounding me.

In this day and age, everything is done from a computer, thus most professionals, including attorneys, are becoming less and less what they used to be. Adaption from the traditional practice of law is only increasing. Does this mean the majority of future law graduates cannot be successful with a traditional legal career? I do not believe so. However, there are careers and employers for which our services and skill sets are in demand. I believe that is the whole point of this monthly article, “Beyond the Firm.” It displays where else those with legal backgrounds can achieve. This monthly publication has featured attorneys within the banking industry, trust and estate field, electronic discovery consulting, contract review and legal research, corporate education, and the fashion business. In other words, occupations all over the place are possible. I suppose you can add an attorney within the tax department of a CPA firm to the list. All in all, looking back on my relatively brief career it feels like I fell into this profession, but in reality I chose it. Every day I am learning and helping others, and this is what keeps me engaged.


DICTA - The Knoxville Bar Association