All you have to do is look at a federal or state tax form and the instructions that go with it and you'll see instantly how complicated tax law is. When it comes to taxes, there's rarely anything simple or easy. And tax problems and issues come in all hundreds of shapes and sizes - from preparing complex tax returns to fighting an IRS audit.
As a business owner, you may need help with a tax problem and decide you need a lawyer. But where do you start? Here are some things that will help you find the right tax lawyer for you.
Focus on the Problem
Not all lawyers handle all types of tax matters, so a good first step is to narrow down as best you can what you think your legal problem is. Ask yourself: What type of taxes are you dealing with?
If it's payroll or employment taxes, you may want an employment or labor lawyer. If it's sales, use or excise taxes, a business law lawyer may be your answer. 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 some 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 that 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 and others 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 business associates. Someone you know may have hired an attorney to help with a tax issue. Check with your accountant, too. Most do a lot of work with attorneys and tax attorneys in particular
- 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 that offers free or low-cost tax legal help
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 they've been practicing law, how much tax-related work they do, etc. Ask if the attorneys or law firms have brochures 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 the lawyer knows his business
- If you call an attorney for more information, ask if she's a member of any national, state or local associations for tax attorneys. It's a good indication the lawyer focuses on tax matters and works hard to keep up with the many changes in federal and state tax laws
- Look for information on a lawyer's 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.