The average tax attorney makes between $80K and $146K. That is a wide range. Find out how the average tax attorney salary varies based on the level of experience and education. We will also look into what it takes to become a tax attorney and this career’s earning potential with similar careers.
Maybe you’re just out of high school and trying to choose your first career path as you enter college. Perhaps you’re an experienced adult thinking about a career change. Either way, one career you may wish to consider is that of tax attorney. If you have an interest in the law and taxes, or if you think you could acquire such an interest for the right price, this lucrative career path deserves serious thought.
What is the salary of a tax attorney?
The average tax attorney makes between $80K and $146K. A lot depends on the experience and training of the tax attorney. See below for a detailed analysis of the different salary brackets of tax attorneys.
Why do tax attorneys charge so much money? Because they save their clients a whole lot more.
Tax attorneys are specialized attorneys who focus on tax policies and tax liability at different levels of government, both federal and state. They normally work at law firms, at tax relief firms, or on a consultant basis. If shopping for a tax relief company, consider firms that have tax attorneys on staff, such as Optima Tax Relief, Justice Tax, and Community Tax. Their tax law expertise makes them a hot commodity in the work of auditing and in litigating with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These tax attorney professionals may also draft documents for estate planning or any other types of legal documents that could be affected by tax laws.
The median salary of a tax attorney who holds a bachelor’s degree is $73,000. In contrast, a tax attorney who possesses a master’s degree will typically earn right around $101,000.
Because typical tax attorneys do so many important things, they get paid well. They get paid so well, in fact, that you may be considering becoming one yourself. To help you decide, this article will tell you how much an average tax attorney earns in salary. It will also tell you the amount of school you will need to complete in order to get your law degree. And it will describe the different career industry options open to you once you’ve completed your education.
Reasons to be a tax attorney
As long as complex taxes exist, there will be a need for tax lawyers. After all, as the old saying goes, the only two things for sure in life are death and taxes. Unless the U.S. tax code gets radically simplified in coming decades, this will be a great specialization for any attorney. There is a constant need for tax law expertise, and tax attorney services are relevant year-round. Since taxes don’t take a break at any point in the year, tax-related legal services are a recession-proof career. Lawyers who specialize in tax law have been known to have great stability throughout their careers. This is on top of a great salary.
Everyone is subject to tax law, people and companies alike. What this means is that, as a tax lawyer or attorney, you can find work in almost every sector of the economy. Tax lawyers can work in both law and accounting firms, as well as with both federal and state governments. Different areas to work in may include anything from litigation to real estate to estate planning. And the list only grows from there.
Tax lawyers have reported working fewer and more consistent hours than their professional peers in other legal areas of expertise. Yet they’ve also reported making similar amounts of money with their annual salary. Tax lawyers do tend to put in more hours during tax season, which is February to Mid-April, of course. But, in general, they do not have to put in the kind of hours other legal professional often do. This makes it much easier to take vacations, spend time with family, and do whatever else you might want to do outside of work — all while maintaining a high-paying career as a lawyer.
Although we’ve already noted this, it deserves emphasis. As a tax attorney, you will make a good salary. Depending on which sector you end up working for (real estate, education, litigation, etc.), your tax attorney salary may be somewhat higher or lower. But your salary will be a good one regardless of sector. More on this later.
You can make a difference
As a tax attorney, you can make a real difference for many different people in all areas of tax. Taxes can be extremely confusing, and your guidance as a tax attorney can help keep businesses afloat or a family’s finances stable and intact. As a tax attorney, you may work with taxes at pretty much any level in both the public and private sectors, making it very easy for you to use your legal expertise to make a difference however you choose. Your annual salary might be different depending on what you decide to specialize in, but lawyers at all levels can make a difference.
You’ll do interesting work
Working as a tax attorney might not sound extremely exciting. But the tax code affects so much in the U.S. that even small changes — to the code or to how it’s interpreted — could have a large effect on a large number of people. As a tax attorney, you could be on the cutting edge of some of the United States’ most influential laws.
As a tax attorney, your work can range from interpreting newly passed legislation to applying long-standing law. The skills that you will develop from this will certainly make you a valuable asset at many firms and businesses. And your annual salary will certainly reflect this over time. In any event, your work will be interesting and will have a profound influence on your clients. And it will definitely make for interesting conversations with your legal peers.
Plenty of variety
There is much more variety in taxes than most people expect. The U.S. tax code is extensive and complex, and it is unlikely to become any less so in the future. This means legal advice surrounding it will always be a valuable commodity, and being a lawyer is a great way to stay involved. From individuals to small businesses to large corporations, everyone needs to deal with the tax code. If you become a tax expert, these people will come to you when they need help complying with the law.
You can specialize
Since this type of law is fairly niche, you can also specialize within tax law. This way, you can make sure you work with the area of law that most interests you as an attorney. As an attorney, specifically looking at laws relating to tax, you can practice law in the following areas:
- Audits and appeals law
- Corporate tax
- Employee benefits
- Estate planning
- International tax and laws (if the U.S. tax code isn’t complex enough for you)
- Litigation law
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Real estate law
- State and local taxes
- Tax-exempt organization law
As you can tell, there is no shortage of specializations to choose from when you become a tax attorney. Not only that, but as you specialize in a certain practice or industry, your annual salary as a lawyer will also rise. Some industries pay more than others, however. For example, the average civil litigation lawyer’s annual salary in the state of California is just under $150,000. In contrast, taking employee benefits into account, the average lawyer’s annual salary in the same state is $100,000. If money is a big motivation for you, then you should consider each specialization’s average annual salary before you choose one.
Tons of opportunity for growth
As an attorney focusing on tax, you can be sure that your mind will be firing on all cylinders. The tax code is challenging, and there are always new regulations to stay on top of. This means that there are tons of opportunities for growth.
You can also boost your tax education with continuing education, earning an LLM (Master of Laws) degree in taxation. Since this is such a high-demand legal specialty, that credential can supercharge your job prospects as an attorney.
Sometimes moving to a new area can also give you access to more growth opportunities. What if you were to leave your home state to join a more prestigious law firm in New York or California, for example? In addition to increasing your chances of landing a higher paying job, this move would put you in a state where lawyers make more annually to practice.
Finally, you can make a name for yourself in the field, sharing your expertise on taxes and building your reputation as a tax attorney, by writing articles and making presentations at conferences or other professional speaking events.
Years of schooling
To become a tax attorney, you must go through years of schooling that involve getting a bachelor’s degree, completing law school, and passing the bar exam for whatever state (or states) that you wish to practice tax law in. All in all, the schooling to become a tax attorney takes about seven years on average.
When deciding between law schools, be sure to research schools on a national scale, or even an international scale. Some schools like those in London, England, are prestigious institutions and have garnered attention from leaders in the legal field worldwide.
Salary and job growth
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs for attorneys to increase 4% over the decade from 2019 to 2029. (This is down a bit from its 2018–2028 projection of 6%.) The Bureau also shows that lawyers earn a median annual salary of over $125,000.
Because specialists are always in greater demand than generalists, job growth and annual salary will almost certainly be higher for tax attorneys than for attorneys in general. As of May 2020, the yearly median salaries of attorneys in leading industries ranged from over $91,000 to over $150,000. These industries include various levels of government and firms providing legal services. Law-field salaries more generally range from around $58,000 to $208,000. Depending on experience level, tax attorney salaries range from $84,000 to $154,000, according to PayScale.
There are several factors that can influence your earning potential as an attorney. Things like work experience, degree, location, and certifications can all alter how much you earn. Generally speaking, the normal starting salary for a tax attorney is around $80,000 per year. As attorneys gain experience, establish their skills, and get more certifications, their pay may progress well into the six-figure range. The figures below outline the average salary that tax attorneys may earn as their careers progress.
|Experience level||Average Tax Attorney Salary|
|Entry level (0-12 months)||$80,000|
|Early career (1-4 years)||$87,000|
|Mid-career (5-9 years)||$125,000|
|Experienced (10+ years)||$146,000|
Entry Level (0–12 Months)
The entry-level tax attorney salary averages $80,000. For some careers, this is extremely high. But in the tax attorney field, this is just getting started!
Early Career (1–4 Years)
As you truly get going in your tax attorney career, you can expect a salary increase. The average salary in your early career is $87,000.
Mid-Career (5–9 Years)
Once you truly get established in your career as a tax attorney, you can expect your average salary to be much higher. $125,000 is the average pay at this point.
Experienced (10–19 Years)
As you get into the later stages of your career as a tax attorney, you can expect to be making the most in your career. The median salary at this point is, on average, $146,000 in the United States.
The median salary you can expect will be determined by a number of factors. But one thing is certain: lawyers who choose to stay in the legal practice make considerable salaries over time.
Average attorney salary by degree
Depending on the level of schooling that tax attorneys complete, their salary can be much higher or lower than the average. There is not a reliable one-to-one correspondence between education level and annual salary, however. When setting an attorney’s annual salary, employers may factor in work experience, certifications, or other data. So, depending on various factors, attorneys with roughly the same education may receive significantly different salary offers.
On average, though, the median salary of a tax attorney who holds a bachelor’s degree is $73,000. In contrast, a tax attorney who possesses a master’s degree will typically earn right around $101,000.
Entering into the law field as a tax attorney is a rewarding way to gain great work experience and get a much better understanding of tax law in general. Professionals can use their skills as tax attorneys to pursue career advancement, which will usually result in higher salaries and additional benefits. If you decide that you don’t want to be a tax attorney your entire career, your legal skills will position you well to transfer into another field. There are other jobs into which tax attorneys’ knowledge and skills translate well. Such jobs can be found in multiple fields and industries.
Potential next steps and salaries
As previously discussed, typical salaries for legal professionals like tax attorneys average anywhere from $58,000 to $208,000. However, if you decide along the way that being a tax attorney might not be for you, then you should look at other jobs and career opportunities that can use your tax expertise within the legal field. Even outside of being a lawyer, you can still earn a high annual pay in related industries at firms that work in other areas of tax.
A tax manager can find employment in multiple fields, not just in law. This is a great alternative career for anyone who is an expert in taxes and tax law. This is why many tax attorneys turn to this career. Tax managers can expect to make an average salary of $96,000. While this might not be as high as other salaries for a lawyer, it is still a considerable average salary that does come with less stress and fewer hours.
A corporate counsel is a different type of attorney than a tax attorney. A corporate counsel offers legal expertise to one client and only one client. This makes the client relationship much closer than that between clients and the attorneys at a law firm. Corporate counsel offers legal advice on multiple things, not necessarily just tax law. This makes a corporate counsel career great for tax attorneys who want to broaden their legal horizons. The median salary in the United States for corporate counsel attorneys is $115,000.
Even if you are a corporate counsel, you can still be looked at as a lawyer who specializes in taxes. So if you want something a bit different but within the same realm, this could be a viable option.
What are the top states for tax attorney pay?
When it comes to tax attorney salaries, some states pay much more than others. Some of the top states for tax attorney salaries include California, New York, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia. These states offer higher than average salaries, making them highly sought-after locations for tax attorneys. Below is the average salary for tax attorneys in each of these states in the United States.
States with top tax attorney salaries
- California: $171,550
- New York: $167,110
- Massachusetts: $165,610
- District of Columbia: $192,530
While some of these states do pay higher than the average salaries, you should also consider the cost of living when deciding where you want to practice. States like New York and California are among the costliest places to live in the country. This is part of the reason why being a lawyer and having a job at a legal firm pays so much better in these states.
Top paying industries for tax attorneys
Something that isn’t commonly known is that you can act as a tax attorney in different work sectors. Many different companies and areas of work are always looking for tax attorneys and will pay top dollar to get a tax expert in their corner.
Some of the industries offering opportunities for entry-level and other tax attorneys include the oil and coal industries, motor vehicle manufacturing, and computer equipment manufacturing. Since these industries have ever-changing policies and laws, many companies are willing to pay top dollar for a tax attorney. Below is the average salary for tax attorneys in each of these industries in the United States.
Industries with top tax attorney salaries
- Cable and Other Subscription Programming: $234,310
- Pipeline Transportation of Crude Oil: $215,700
- Motor Vehicle Manufacturing:$205,610
- Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing: $204,710
- Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing: $200,830
Are tax attorneys in high demand?
The short answer is yes. Tax attorneys, like many tax professionals, are in high demand across the United States. Since laws regarding tax are constantly changing at both federal and state levels, tax attorneys are constantly in demand across the county.
Historical career growth
Careers for tax attorneys continue to grow because most industries need legal experts to review almost everything they do. Everything from entering new markets, filing legal documents, or disputing fines requires expert legal advice. Tax attorneys need to be able to meet many different educational requirements, making this workforce specialized and competitive. This is also why average salaries for attorneys stay much higher than those for other career paths. (To date, no one has figured out how to provide these legal services with AI.) Some specific states have seen higher career growth historically. These are states where large legal firms are more prominent. California and New York are two examples.
Future career growth
As noted earlier, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the job market for attorneys to continue to grow at a rate on par with other professions. However, even though tax attorneys can expect positive career growth, job competition will remain high. Why? Because more students are graduating from law school every year than there are entry-level jobs available in the law fields.
The are a few ways to get ahead of this and make yourself more competitive. One is to specialize in a certain industry earlier in your career. Another is to get a masters degree to go along with your law school degree. Yet another is to look for businesses that are known for giving more chances to applicants fresh out of law school.
The top states for job growth
If you want to be a tax attorney, then it is important for you to know the top states for job growth. Long-term projections indicate positive growth for tax attorney jobs in numerous states. The top states for job growth include Utah (22.5%), Nevada (21.3%), Colorado (18.7%), and Texas (15.4%). Tax attorneys have seen and are expected to continue to see job growth in those states.
Just keep in mind that while these states are seeing the most growth on average for legal careers, this doesn’t mean that the salaries you would be offered are on par with the national pay scale. Do your research to make sure that any job you are considering has an annual pay structure that aligns with what you want or need.
How does being a tax attorney compare to other accounting careers?
Tax attorneys are considered to be highly specialized types of accountants. The work that they do is more specialized and typically requires additional education or experience. For example, most accounting careers only require a bachelor’s degree and possibly passing the CPA exam. However, to be a practicing tax attorney, you must complete your bachelor’s degree, pass the LSAT (Law School Admission Test), complete law school, and pass the bar exam for where you want to practice. This is also why the average salary for tax attorneys is much higher than in other industries.
It is also different than other accounting careers in earning potential and job growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants and auditors earn an average salary of $73,560 and have a 2019–2029 job growth projection of 4%. Though job growth in this industry used to be higher than that in law, it is now about the same. Tax attorneys’ can still expect higher average salaries than accountants and auditors. Still, both options offer rewarding careers. Individuals should consider their goals before selecting a path.
Is being a tax attorney right for you?
Because there are so many high-paying areas within tax, plenty of law students get hooked while they are in college or law school. So if you love being an expert, solving problems and puzzles, and doing research on new things — and if you’re naturally curious — then you may love working as a tax attorney. You don’t need to have an accounting degree from college, and you don’t even need to be a numbers person. But if you have a background in business and you’re considering going back to college for your law degree, then you might want to consider pursuing a career as a tax attorney.
You can find strong law degree programs that specialize in tax by looking into law schools that offer tax-related extracurricular activities, expert faculty with related experience, and tax clinics. It can also help to look for a law degree mentoring program that will place you with professional tax experts who do what you want to do.
Once you’ve found the right program, all you need to do is figure out how to fund your education. One of your options in addition to federal aid is a private student loan.
Managing law school debt
Before you may become an attorney and start practicing law for a law firm (or firms), you need to complete a considerable amount of schooling. Most lawyers need to get their bachelor’s degree, finish law school, and pass the bar exam before they may practice as a lawyer in any capacity. Because completing a degree and finishing law school may be expensive, attorneys who begin at lower salaries may find it difficult to manage their student loan debt. This can be especially true of attorneys who get their education at private institutions. The average law school debt for lawyers or attorneys was $145,500 as of 2015–16, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
The entry-level tax attorney salary averages $80,000. For some careers, this is extremely high. But in the tax attorney field, this is just getting started!
This statistic appears in a chart the NCES identifies as concerning people who have completed doctoral degrees. But its debt figures cover attorneys with both baccalaureate- and doctorate-level law degrees. Specifically, it includes debt held by lawyers with both Bachelor of Laws (LLB) and Juris Doctor (JD) degrees.
This level of debt results in a considerably high monthly payment. Lawyers who find themselves in this situation should consider their options:
Switch to income-driven repayment plans
After you complete law school and get your degree, you may choose among various loan repayment plans. One option is the income-driven repayment plan. This could shrink your monthly payments considerably while your salary is lower in the early years of your career. But there’s a downside to this. As your salary increases over time, so will your student loan payments. Still, this might be a good option if you need to be able to make ends meet early in your career, when your salary may be lower than the median in your area.
Apply for a Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP)
Many states and law schools provide LRAP funds to help lawyers with loan payments. Generally, you can qualify if you have a lower salary than the average. So if you’re in a high-paying state like California or New York, but your salary is far below the median, then you may utilize this program. Attorneys and lawyers can benefit from this because it will ease the financial burden from obtaining their law degree while allowing them to work full time for their corporate firm or firms.
Refinance your loans
If paying the standard amount is easy enough on your salary, then consider ways to pay less interest, such as refinancing your law school loans. If you were fortunate enough to get a high starting salary soon after completing your education and getting your law degree, then refinancing your loans to get a lower interest rate is a great way to pay off your education debt even faster.
Be warned — refinancing your loans may cause you to lose access to such benefits as income-driven repayment. But if you feel comfortable swapping out those options for better cost savings, then you should do so. This is especially true if your salary permits it early in your career, not long after completing your degree. And if you took out private student loans to complete your degree, refinancing to a lower rate has no downside.
When it comes to being a tax attorney, the salary that you get paid is going to be substantial, especially if you remain a full-time attorney your entire professional career. While your salary as an attorney can certainly vary depending on a number of different things, it is a viable option if you enjoy solving problems and helping others. Taxes have been around as long as governments have, so there is little possibility that they’ll go away anytime soon. And, as long as taxes are a factor in people’s lives, attorneys who specialize in taxes are going to be needed.
While being an attorney who specializes in taxes pays a good salary, there are other things you need to consider before starting the journey. These include the cost of getting your law degree and the overall cost of school in general. They also include the state that you live in and whether being an attorney there pays better or worse than elsewhere. How well an attorney’s salary in that state compares to the median salary for other careers you might choose is also important.
You should also determine how much time you will need to put into becoming an attorney before you can even start practicing. And you should thoroughly research jobs, salaries, skills needed, and the clients that you would be working with before taking the first steps down this career path. While you can always change your job down the road, you won’t want to put in all the time, effort, and years required if you think you might later decide that this career path isn’t for you.
View Article Sources
- Accountants and Auditors — Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- “Attorney” vs. “Lawyer”: What’s The Difference? — Dictionary.com
- Average Tax Attorney Salary — PayScale
- How Much Should an Entry Level Tax Attorney Get Paid? — Chron (Houston Chronicle)
- Lawyers — Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Tax Attorney Salary Guide — Accounting.com
- Trends in Graduate Student Loan Debt — National Center for Education Statistics
Scott Hickam is an accomplished finance writer and editor for SuperMoney. He provides actionable advice across many subject areas. With a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance from Fresno Pacific University and a MBA from Texas A&M University, Scott has credentials in investing, retirement planning, and personal finance.