The federal tax code is thousands of pages long, full of rules, exceptions to the rules and penalties for violating them. So, you're not alone if you have questions and problems, whether you're dealing with income taxes, estate and gift taxes or an IRS audit.
If your research efforts aren't enough and you realize you need help, selecting a good tax lawyer will make sure your tax problems are handled properly. But where do you start? Here are some things to help you find the right tax lawyer for you.
Focus on the Problem
Not all lawyers handle all types of tax matters, so try to narrow down as best you can what you think your legal problem is.
If it's income taxes, like preparing returns, taking deductions and credits, etc., then a general tax lawyer may be who you're looking for. If you have estate and gift tax issues, you probably need a lawyer who works in that area of law. If you have a good idea of what your specific problem is, your search for the right legal help will be much quicker and efficient.
Find One, or Two or Three
The first step in your search is to find the names of a few attorneys. In the beginning it's always a good idea to talk to more than one attorney. This way you can comparison shop to find one you like and trust. Here's where to look:
Lawyers.com is a great place to start. A few short clicks will get you a list of tax attorneys in your area complete with telephone numbers, background information and more
- Contact the local bar association in your area
- The American Bar Association has tools and information to help you find an attorney
- Talk your family, friends and co-workers. Someone you know may have hired an attorney to help with a tax issue
- Check your local telephone book for tax lawyers
- If you don't think you can afford an attorney, there may be a program in your area offering free or low-cost legal help with taxes
Once you have the names of a few attorneys, it's time to find out as much as you can about them. Here's where to look and some things to look for:
- If you used Lawyers.com, you already have a lot information at your finger tips. Read the information given by the attorney explaining what he does for a living, and visit the attorney's web site to learn even more
- Run internet searches on the attorneys' names. You may find news articles about them, legal cases they've handled, or legal articles or blogs they've written. This type of information can tell you a lot about the attorneys' experience and reputations
- Make some phone calls if you can't find enough information online. Most attorneys gladly take the time to talk to potential new clients and answer any general questions, like how long he's been a lawyer, how much tax-related work he does, etc. Ask if the attorney or law firm has a brochure or literature that can be mailed to you
- Check with your state's bar association and your local bar association to see if the attorneys on your list have ever been disciplined and if they're licensed to practice law in your state. If you discover a problem, scratch the names from your list, or feel free to ask the attorneys themselves about it if and when you meet with them
- In some states, attorneys may be certified by the state bar association as specialists or experts in tax law. This usually means they have advanced training and experience. It doesn't necessarily mean they're the best in the field, but it's a good indication they really know their business
- If you call attorneys for more information, ask if they're members of any national, state or local associations for tax attorneys. It's a good indication they focus on tax matters and work hard to keep up with the many changes in federal and state tax laws
- Look for information on a lawyer's work history. Many tax lawyers have previous experience in other areas of law that can benefit you. For example, a tax lawyer who once worked for the US Attorney's Office or the IRS may have invaluable experience and contacts if you have a tax problem dealing with the federal government
- Check for specialized education. It's not uncommon for a tax lawyer to also be a CPA or an accountant, or to hold a masters legal degree in law (called an LLM) or a masters degree in business administration (MBA)
- Consider the costs. Depending on your case, an attorney may charge you an hourly fee where you pay a certain amount for each hour she works on your case. Some attorneys may charge a flat fee - a preset price to work on your case from beginning to end. As you research the attorneys on your list, look for information about how they typically charge their clients and consider which fee arrangement best fits your budget
After your research is complete, narrow your list to three or four attorneys and start making phone calls to set up meetings to talk about your case face-to-face. If you did your homework, you should be well on your way to finding the right attorney to handle your case.