Tax Attorneys: Everything You Need to Know

As we all know, the tax landscape is complicated. In fact, the word “complicated” may really undersell the reality of the IRS and state tax codes! Regardless, taxes provide a pretty significant challenge to most people, even during the regular tax filing season. And that challenge seems to multiply tenfold when you’re faced with a more complex or dire tax issue. Or, worse: a legal one. In these cases, you might (correctly) start to assume you should start looking into tax attorneys.

Unfortunately, this decision doesn’t come all by itself. Usually, when faced with the decision to hire a tax attorney, you also have a million other questions racing through your mind. Questions like:

  • “How bad is my legal trouble?”
  • “How much do I owe in tax debt?”
  • “Can I lower or eliminate my tax bill?”
  • “Should I worry about going to jail?”

These questions tend to stack up to a height that looks completely intimidating—and certainly insurmountable. In some cases, this can lead you to procrastination or total inaction. And these only result in higher tax debt and worse consequences once your tax issues start to crash down around you.

Tax attorneys can offer expert legal understanding to your tax case. Depending on the issue at hand, hiring a tax attorney can totally transform your outcome—and tax future. But they aren’t always actually necessary!

We think a good tax attorney is worth more than their weight in gold, but we’d be lying if we said you absolutely always need to hire one. For some tax situations, they definitely fall into the category of “overkill.” Nonetheless, they do a lot more good than harm. And you deserve an understanding of what, exactly, they do.

As a full-service tax representation and mediation firm, we’ve literally seen it all. And after nearly two decades of handling our tax clients’ issues, we’ve learned a lot. One of the biggest issues we see, time and time again, is simply a lack of understanding about taxes and how the IRS works. If you’re considering hiring a tax attorney, you need a good understanding of what they do, which situations call for them, and the next steps you should take for your tax case.

That’s exactly what you’ll find below. In this guide, we hope to clarify some of the basics about tax attorneys. We’ll explain what they do and the qualifications they hold. Then, we’ll go over the types of situations that might call for tax attorneys and the questions you should ask a tax attorney before hiring them. We’ll wrap up with some frequently asked questions about tax attorneys.

What is a tax attorney?

Tax attorneys are lawyers specialize in tax law. (Revolutionary definition, we know.)

Let’s add a bit more detail to that. Tax attorneys are legal specialists in state and federal tax codes—they handle issues that specifically relate to the IRS and a range of tax issues for individuals and businesses. They handle a range of tax issues, ranging from tax relief to business tax planning and advising estate planning.

They aren’t the only people who deal with and dispute legal issues with the IRS, but they are among the groups of professionals who perform this work. And they also carry a few specific qualifications that can set them apart from other tax professionals.

Qualifications of Tax Attorneys

Tax attorneys must have a couple of qualifications under their belt in order to practice tax law. First off, a tax attorney must have a “J.D.”, or a Juris Doctor degree. Unlike a Bachelor’s Degree might have a “Minor” focus, a Juris Doctor doesn’t have a degree focus; it’s just the degree one earns upon successfully completing law school. Additionally, a tax attorney will have passed a state bar exam in whatever state they practice, and thus be admitted to the state bar.

Without those two qualifications, a person literally cannot call themselves a “tax attorney.” (Not that it stops some unscrupulous folks looking to make a quick buck. More on that below.) With that said, some tax attorneys may have additional educational and professional qualifications that could aid their work. For example, a tax attorney may supplement their general law degree with another degree, like a “LL.M.” (master of laws) degree in taxation.

Depending on their specific focus, some tax attorneys also hold professional degrees in accounting or qualify as Certified Public Accountants, or CPAs. Of course, all these qualifications provide their own specific advantages and expertise to your tax attorney. Later, we’ll walk you through the exact questions you should ask a tax attorney to check for their qualifications.

Types of Tax Attorneys

Not all tax attorneys have the same training or professional focus. This means you can’t just look up “tax attorney” in the phone book or on Google, pick the first result in your area, and make a call. Tax attorneys specialize in specific types of tax law and tax issues, so you’ll want to get an idea for the types of tax attorneys out there first.

1. Tax Planning

We could probably describe this category of tax attorney as tax attorneys who don’t go to court. Essentially, this type of tax attorney might work more on the proactive upkeep and maintenance of your taxes. They may help you file your taxes or answer questions about your tax return. They may help you file your tax return or perform general consultations for clients. And they might also identify professionally as a CPA.

Typically, these attorneys don’t get into thornier tax issues that pop up with the IRS. They probably don’t deal with issues like tax relief, appeals, or litigation.

2. Tax Controversy

When you’ve run into an issue with the IRS or a state tax authority, you may find yourself in need of legal representation in front of that entity. When you find yourself in hot water with the IRS, some attorneys specialize in helping to get you out of it.

These tax attorneys may help you defend an audit (though some lawyers who specialize in tax planning will see a tax return through to the end, even if it results in an audit). These lawyers may also help you navigate a criminal investigation by the IRS, defend a case—or come clean—when you’ve committed tax fraud, or file an appeal or lawsuit against the IRS.

3. Other Tax Issues

At, we specialize in managing tax issues involving the IRS. But plenty of other types of tax issues exist out there! For example, certain tax attorneys specialize in bankruptcy. Others deal with property taxes involving real estate properties.

While a general attorney might be able to provide you with some basic insights, these differences matter. You’ll do a lot better to reach out to a tax attorney who specializes in your specific tax issue.

Tax Attorneys vs. CPAs: Which Should I Choose?

Tax attorneys and CPAs both can offer a lot of value to taxpayers, and for that reason, people tend to lump them into the same professional category. Now, there’s some good reason for this: They both can communicate with the IRS, and they typically will also have a good understanding of local and federal taxes! But the differences, well, make the difference. Here’s what to keep in mind.


Much like tax attorneys, Certified Public Accountants put a lot of work into their degrees. They have notched at least 150 hours of education, they pass an exam, and they complete quite a significant amount of continuing education every three years. CPAs have a lot of expertise and general financial understanding, which makes them a popular option for folks dealing with the IRS.

CPAs regularly deal with complex financial situations. And indeed, the higher a person’s income and net worth, the more likely they have a CPA managing their finances. Typically, CPAs work with their clients year-round, including during tax season. With an in-depth knowledge of both taxes and your finances, many CPAs will develop long-term relationships with clients. And should the IRS decide to audit a client, a CPA will typically manage the audit process.

Tax Attorneys

While CPAs might work best for proactive, ongoing maintenance of your financial records and tax prep, tax attorneys excel in situations where CPAs do not. Specifically, tax attorneys have the know-how and background to handle legal tax matters. So, they can work to settle issues like back taxes, unfiled tax returns, removing wage garnishments and liens, and a lot more.

When considering whether you should choose a CPA or a tax attorney, you should think along these lines. CPAs and tax attorneys can both handle the basics, like tax planning. So, would you consider the issue at hand to be proactive or reactive? Are you looking to find deductions, maximize your refund, and file your tax return? Then a CPA might serve your needs just fine. Are you reacting to a tax bill from the IRS? Did you just learn the IRS has levied your bank account and you want to get the levy removed? A tax attorney will be your best choice.

Situations that Might Call for a Tax Attorney

A good rule of thumb: If you have to ask whether or not you contact an attorney, you probably should. And that sage advice also applies to most tax cases. The reason? Most serious tax situations result from taxpayers simply failing to take action. You might see a notice from the IRS and think it’s fake. Or you think it will go away if you ignore it. Perhaps the thought of facing your tax debt is just too scary, but your fear got the best of you.

However you’ve gotten into this unsavory tax position, you can get out. And the earlier you reach out to a tax attorney or tax professional for help, the more you can minimize the consequences. Early intervention is key. So, what kind of tax situations might call for a tax attorney, anyway?

1. Unfiled Tax Returns

Many tax issues start with—or are compounded by—neglecting to file one’s tax returns. Often, people forget or neglect to file for a number of years. And when the IRS comes to collect their back taxes, these individuals may have years of tax returns and income to account for. A tax attorney can help you understand what you have to file and which documents you might need.

2. Wage Garnishment

When the IRS garnishes your wages, you can find yourself in a financial bind that puts even more stress onto your family’s lives. Removing that wage garnishment can take some negotiating and a serious understanding of tax code. A tax attorney can help with this mediation.

3. Tax Liens

Much like wage garnishments, tax liens put your daily life into serious danger. The threat of the IRS taking possession of your property—your home, car, boat, or something else—may overwhelm you a bit. And you can get that tax lien removed, possibly even at a lower total than your current tax bill. But you should always trust this work to a tax professional, like a tax attorney.

4. Bank Levies

In some cases, the IRS may attempt to seize funds directly from a financial account. But tax attorneys can help intervene in this process through a number of tax relief options. When you get legal assistance, you can make an informed decision tailored to your tax debt and financial situation.

5. Business Taxes

Any of the above issues we mentioned can apply to businesses, as well. Whether the issues deal with payroll taxes, unfiled returns, or tax audits, a tax attorney will give you the legal knowledge you need to resolve your tax issues. And they’ll help you get your business back on track.

6. Criminal Investigations

If the police arrest you, you should get an attorney. If you hear from an IRS agent, you should get in touch with a tax attorney. While many criminal investigations may not ultimately result in charges, you need legal guidance to help you interact with the IRS and understand your rights. You shouldn’t face the IRS alone when a criminal investigation is involved. In these cases, your first call should be to a tax attorney.

Questions to Ask a Tax Attorney (Before You Hire Them)

Regardless of your tax situation, you should carefully consider your options before hiring a tax attorney. While tax attorneys have all have certain professional qualifications under their belts, not all tax attorneys have the specific expertise to handle your situation. And unfortunately, some people are less scrupulous than others; tax scams happen all the time.

A few questions can help up your chances of avoiding scams and finding the right tax attorney to help resolve your issue.

  • “In which areas of tax law do you specialize?” As we mentioned before, not all lawyers have the same knowledge base. Instead, they hone their legal focus during and after law school, through additional study, and over years of practice. Even within an area that may seem narrow, like tax law, a number of legal specialties abound. This question can help you determine whether or not a lawyer may serve as the right fit for your tax case—and vice versa.
  • “Are you admitted to the state bar?” A simple question, yes. But it’s always best to check to ensure the tax attorney you hire is licensed to practice law in your state. One reason for this? Avoiding tax scams. Another reason? Tax laws vary from state to state, and ensuring your tax attorney is admitted to your state bar also goes a long way to ensuring they understand the tax landscape where you live.
  • “Do you have any recommendations for tax attorneys who might help my case?” Not every tax attorney can help you resolve your tax issue, and the professional ones will tell you that up front. However, just because they can’t help, it doesn’t mean they can’t recommend someone who can. Tax attorneys often know many other attorneys within their networks, and they might know just the person who can help.
  • “What is your rate?” Not every attorney charges the same price for their services. While most tend to work hourly or on retainer, the price can vary from attorney to attorney. Not all will fall at the right price point. You should remember that some tax issues require hours upon hours of work on behalf of your attorney—certain tax services can cost thousands of dollars. And while that’s normal, you still need to have a full picture of the costs associated with working with a specific attorney. And the more information, the better.

FAQs about Tax Attorneys

Over nearly two decades, we’ve helped thousands of clients face their tax issues head on—and come out on top. As you’d probably expect, we’ve collected a number of frequently asked questions about tax attorneys along the way. Here, we’ll answer a few of them for you.

1. Are there free (or cheap) legal assistance options out there?

Unless the IRS formally charges you with a crime, you may have some difficulty finding cheap or free tax attorneys to provide you with legal assistance. But depending on the assistance you need, you may have affordable options available to you.

For example, basic tax planning needs—like tax preparation—can be handled by a tax attorney. But tax preparation services, accountants, and other professionals can fill the same role or answer the same questions at a better price point for you. And if you fall into certain groups based on your income, age, or background, you may have access to free tax return preparers through the IRS.

However, if your tax problem is more serious, you may just have to remind yourself of the value of tax attorneys in the long term. Because in the short term, you’ll have to pay. This can serve as another reason why you should understand your tax case. You may discover a tax relief company can more affordably serve your needs! Or you may learn that while a tax attorney is necessary, your case will be easier to resolve than you originally thought.

2. Are there good alternates to tax attorneys?

Yes. Much like we mentioned in the last FAQ, plenty of tax attorney alternatives exist. And depending on the exact details of your tax case, you may have good reason to pursue one of the alternates instead!

Whether a tax attorney, a CPA, or a tax relief firm, any qualified tax professional will have a thorough understanding of federal and local tax law. Tax attorneys carry specific advantages and benefits, like an ability to represent you in tax court, that a professional like a CPA might not. However, even most serious tax cases don’t go that far.

For example, at, we handle just about every kind of tax issue out there. Our expert team includes accountants, tax preparers, other tax professionals, and yes—tax attorneys. Together, they work to find creative solutions and apply their deep knowledge of taxes to get our clients results.

Choosing from the Right Tax Attorneys

As you move forward with facing your tax issues, adding the right professional to your tax team can make all the difference. And now that you understand a bit more about tax attorneys, you can make a confident decision about what makes the most sense for you.

Tax attorneys can offer in-depth expertise on legal matters of all shapes and sizes. However, you may not always need to foot the bill for a tax attorney when other tax specialists will do. When in doubt, we’d recommend getting in touch with a reputable tax professional (like a tax attorney). They’ll usually give you a sense of which issues they can—and can’t—handle.

Whatever the right course of action for you, just take action. Your tax issues only get worse the longer you wait. So, don’t! The sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you’ll find it.

Looking for an experienced tax attorney to help you settle your tax debt or remove a wage garnishment or tax lien? We can help. Get in touch with us today free with our live chat.

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