The prospect of hiring an attorney for a complex tax matter can be intimidating, particularly if you’ve never had to hire an attorney before. A top-flight tax attorney isn’t necessarily the attorney who works as part of a large big-city firm.
A top-flight attorney is an attorney who is familiar with your tax matter, and who is accessible and willing to answer your questions. Their rates are within your budget and they are willing to communicate with you during each phase of your case. Outstanding tax attorneys can be found within tax firms or as sole practitioners.
Knowing what to look for in a tax attorney is the first step in seeking the resolution you need for your tax matter.
Where to start
In addition to Yelp reviews, seek recommendations from colleagues, neighbors or friends that have retained a tax attorney. Contact the state bar association for referrals to a tax attorney in your community. The bar association can also refer you to low-cost attorneys if you are of limited means.
Once you have several referrals, contact each attorney. Some will offer a free consult, while others will charge for their time, even if you decide not to hire them.
Make the most of your free consult time. Focus your questions on the following areas besides your tax matter:
Experience: Besides length of time in practice, has the attorney worked with clients in situations similar to yours? What was the outcome? How many similar cases has he or she handled?
Knowledge: Does he or she specialize in taxation, real estate and/or small business matters? Are they familiar with the precedent cases that pertain to your case, and do they have extensive knowledge of IRS tax code and regulations?
Your attorney’s degree of knowledge will directly affect the outcome of your case, so choose wisely.
Communication, availability and rapport: Will your attorney communicate with you directly, or will your case be managed by a paralegal staff during the initial stages? Will it be easy to reach your attorney quickly if you need to?
Does their communication style and preference match your own (if you prefer email/text communications for non-secure conversations, look for an attorney who is comfortable with those means of communication).
Is your attorney willing to meet with you in person? If you prefer face-to-face interaction throughout all stages of your case, look for an attorney who will be willing to accommodate communication preference.
Are you at ease in speaking with the attorney, or do you feel intimidated or rushed? You want an attorney where there is an easy rapport with clear communication.
While no two tax attorneys are alike in their communication style or level of experience, there are several fee structures that are common in the legal field:
Flat fee: You will pay the attorney a set fee, based on the nature and complexity of your case.
Payment arrangements: Mutual agreement between you and the attorney whereby you pay a set amount each month until the bill is paid in full.
An ethical tax attorney realizes that legal costs can create a hardship for most consumers. To that end, ask about alternative pay structures such as reduced retainers or applying your tax refund to your legal costs.
If the attorney or law firm is unwilling or unable to accommodate your income limitations, ask for a referral to a lower-cost attorney or firm or contact the local bar association for a referral.
Facing a complex tax issue that requires legal counsel is stressful and time-consuming, particularly if you’ve never had to hire an attorney. By contacting several attorneys and asking pointed questions, you will find the best attorney for your tax case.