|Career Development Office||Faculty|
Lawyers who choose a career in the practice of tax law can engage in different types of work in many different subspecialty areas. This overview will focus on (1) the type of work and (2) the type of employer.
Type of Work
Tax practice can be broken down into three types of work: planning or transactional, controversy, and compliance.
Planning or transactional work focuses on structuring business transactions and business operations to minimize tax costs. Examples include advising a client who desires to acquire a corporate business on whether to acquire the corporation’s stock or instead the individual assets of the business. Similarly, if a joint venture is contemplated, the tax attorney advises as to the best entity form to utilize, such as a corporation, partnership, or limited liability company.
Controversy work focuses on helping clients resolve disputes between taxing authorities, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or New York’s Department of Revenue, and taxpayers. Unlike planning or transactional work, which focuses on prospective transactions, controversy work focuses on prior transactions and the tax treatment challenged by the taxing authority or authorities. The attorney assists clients during audits, negotiates with tax authorities, and prepares memoranda or other persuasive documents in attempts to settle cases. This work also involves litigating tax controversies that are not settled.
Compliance work focuses on preparing and filing tax returns and related documents with federal, state, and local tax authorities. Accountants often perform such work, but tax attorneys also engage in it. A business’ in-house tax department or CPA firms are key employers of both accountants and attorneys who work in tax compliance. The big four accounting firms have large compliance departments that employ significant numbers of tax attorneys.
Type of Employer
Law firm tax practice generally varies with the size of the firm. The large, “elite” law firms typically advise sophisticated clients on large transactions. A junior associate is generally assigned to research specific areas or issues.
The work at medium and smaller law firms usually is less specialized than at large firms. The deals and issues are smaller and the junior associate likely handles a larger piece of the overall transaction. An associate likely works his/her way up to handling entire transactions or issues more rapidly than an associate at a large firm. Some related corporate-type work such as negotiating and drafting documents also may be encountered.
All of the largest (“big four”) accounting firms and many of those in the tier below hire tax attorneys. The type of work depends on the specific division to which an individual is assigned, such as state and local taxation, international tax matters, mergers and acquisitions, etc. Some compliance work likely may be encountered.
Many large and medium sized businesses hire tax attorneys in their tax or legal departments. The nature of the work varies with the employer involved. Many of these positions are for attorneys with several years of experience, though some employers have entry-level positions.
The federal government employs a number of tax lawyers at the Treasury Department, including the IRS, the Tax Division of the Department of Justice, and several other agencies. While many government tax positions require or prefer employees with some experience, entry level positions are normally available at the IRS Office of Chief Counsel. Those employed at field offices located throughout the country are engaged in tax controversy work, litigating in the United States Tax Court and other courts (i.e., collections work). Those employed at the National Office in Washington, D.C. research tax issues and provide written guidance to the IRS and taxpayers in various forms, including revenue rulings. The IRS offers such other tax attorney positions as Revenue Agents, Tax Examiners, etc.
The Treasury Department sometimes also hires entry-level tax attorneys who draft regulations, assist with negotiating tax treaties, and work on various matters of tax policy.
States and certain cities also hire tax attorneys for their Department of Taxation or Department of Revenue. The type of work varies with the position.
All are strongly recommended and should be taken early in the upper-level years.
Advanced coursework that will build your substantive knowledge in this pathway.
Externships place students in a wide variety of not-for-profit, government, public interest, and private organizations and firms, where they work directly under the supervision of a practicing attorney. The external placements are bolstered by an in-school seminar in which students analyze their practical experiences and gain skills necessary for the profession. Sample placements in this pathway include:
Students should seek out connections with practitioners and other students, both internally and externally. Adjunct professors can be an excellent resource both for guidance and for employment opportunities. The professional bar associations also welcome student participation and offer reduced membership rates for students. Some bar sections and committees look for students to provide research or other assistance on projects. St. John’s faculty are also an essential resource. Students should make an effort to get to know faculty who teach and have experience in their chosen areas. Finally, students should connect with other students who share similar interest through student organizations and attendance at Law School events.
- American Bar Association – Section of Taxation
- Brooklyn Bar Association Taxation Committee
- Federal Bar Association – Section on Taxation
- National Association of Bond Lawyers Tax Law Committee
- New York City Bar Association
- Nassau County Bar Association Tax Law Committee
- New York County Lawyers Association Taxation Committee
- New York State Bar Association Tax Section
- Westchester County Bar Association
- Tax Law Section
- Tax Certiorari and Condemnation Law Committee
Part-time students should spread out the suggested path below to account for their expected date of graduation.