Tax law is complicated and the rules (and loopholes) are constantly changing. It takes a lawyer with special training and experience to face the IRS successfully.
What isn’t so obvious is how or where to find the right lawyer.
Use this guide to hire a reliable tax relief attorney. First, we will tackle the question of where to find a good tax attorney. Once you have a set of prospects, use our checklist to work out which candidate is right for you.
Tax relief companies and law firms
Tax relief companies that have tax attorneys on staff provide a convenient and affordable option for people facing tax problems.
- Have access to a large in-house team of tax attorneys, enrolled agents, accountants, and tax preparers
- Allow customers to pay in manageable installments with no financing fees
- Are accredited by the IRS
- Offer a money back guarantee
- Are members of the National Association of Tax Professionals and the National Association of Enrolled Agents
- Deal with thousands or tax relief cases a year
Go for tax relief companies and law firms that give the names and resumes of their lawyers. Optima Tax Relief, for example, publishes the names and credentials of 10 of their tax attorneys.
If you retain the services of a law firm, make sure a licensed tax attorney is taking care of your case. Many law firms advertise tax relief services but forward clients to shady businesses that don’t employ certified tax professionals.
Some law firms require clients to pay retainers before they consider a case. Attorney rates vary from $100 to $1,000 an hour depending on where the firm is located, and the expertise of their lawyers.
The best tax relief firms have tax lawyers and enrolled agents on staff, provide a money-back guarantee and charge competitive rates.
The advantage of hiring a professional tax relief company is you have access to tax attorneys without the expensive retainer fees.
Checklist for hiring the right tax relief attorney
Find out what type of tax professional you need
Just like nurses, doctors, and surgeons all have their areas of expertise, tax professionals typically work within a specialty. No tax attorney can be an expert in every field. Confirm your attorney has experience with your type of tax problem.
Businesses with complex payroll tax issues need tax attorneys who specialize in employment taxes. Having access to accountants and tax preparers with experience preparing business tax returns is also valuable. If the IRS is charging you (or could charge you) with tax evasion or fraud, you need a tax attorney with extensive courtroom experience that can go blow-to-blow with seasoned IRS prosecutors. IRS prosecutors don’t play around. In 2015, the IRS had a conviction rate of 96 percent on tax investigations initiated. (Source)
Credentials and education background
Go to the attorney’s state or local bar association and check their profile. This interactive map links to all state and local bar associations. (Source)
Look for tax attorneys that have an LL. M (Master of Laws) in Taxation. A Master of Laws is an advanced law certification recognized internationally. Lawyers with a Juris Doctor degree, JD, that have taken additional training in state and federal tax law are also a good choice. (Source)
Ask if the attorneys that will work on your case are licensed to practice law in your state. This is different than passing their state bar exam. If there is a chance your case will go to tax court, check whether the firm has attorneys who can practice in your local federal courts. Admission to federal courts is on a court-by-court basis.
If dealing with a tax relief firm or a law firm, ask if the IRS licenses them to train other tax professionals. This is another sign of a firm with a solid internal education culture.
Are they accredited by the Better Business Bureau? What is their rating?
Tax attorneys aren’t cheap. If you don’t have money set aside to pay for representation fees, consider firms that offer flexible payments.
Ask for a clear estimate of the fees they will charge and the services involved.
Do you have to pay an attorney’s retainer? What type of retainer is it? Is it refundable?
Clients use retainers to guarantee the availability and employment of an attorney. General retainers are not refundable, while special retainers are.
Choose firms that offer a money-back guarantee. These guarantees are typically good for a week or two. Check the fine print to see if the guarantee applies to your account.
How long has the firm been in business? Can they provide references and examples of their tax relief work? Choose tax attorneys who are part of a firm that deals only with tax related matters.
Can your attorney explain tax jargon and tax relief programs in terms you can understand?
One of the most important jobs of tax attorneys is to educate clients and give them a clear rundown of their options. Knowing every tax rule is great, but a great tax attorney also wants taxpayers to stay out of trouble once they comply with the IRS. Teaching a layperson about tax compliance requires excellent communication skills. Always talk with the tax professional who will take care of your case before you hire a firm.
The bottom line
Tax relief attorneys are a valuable resource. Choosing the right tax attorney can mean the difference between an affordable settlement and a tax court conviction. When shopping for a tax relief company, look for firms that have tax lawyers on staff, such as Optima Tax, Tax Hardship Center, and Victory Tax Lawyers.
These firms provide the advantages of hiring a tax attorney without the upfront fees. Regardless of which type of firm you hire, you need a system to find the right attorney for you. The checklist above can help you choose the right professional to represent you before the IRS.
Andrew is the managing editor for SuperMoney and a certified personal finance counselor. He loves to geek out on financial data and translate it into actionable insights everyone can understand. His work is often cited by major publications and institutions, such as Forbes, U.S. News, Fox Business, SFGate, Realtor, Deloitte, and Business Insider.