Difference Between Being Represented by a Tax Attorney vs. an Enrolled Agent or a Certified Public Accountant

With myself being an E.A. or Enrolled Agent one of the most frequent questions I am asked is, "what is the biggest difference between hiring an Enrolled Agent or a tax attorney"?  I decided to put together a post to discuss the advantages and disadvantages each may have over the other, or where one CLEARLY has the advantage when considering who to hire.

Pros-Cons Hiring a Tax Attorney; TRUTH: A non-tax attorney may know about as much as you know about handling Tax Debt-Don't Buy the Hype! 

When I speak of a tax attorney I am not talking about one of these large "tax debt relief" companies such as Tax Masters who employ "attorneys"; just because someone is licensed as an attorney does not mean they have a tax background, let alone a LLM (Masters of Law) which provides an attorney to focus on a specific topic of law, such as tax law. Those three years of law school will not do their tax debt clients much good unless they also acquired knowledge through an LLM in taxation.  A regular attorney does not know more about taxes then anyone else.   A real tax attorney will work for a tax firm, you can tell the difference in a few ways, one being if you are called out of the blue by someone  that says they see a tax lien was filed against you and that they can help-attorneys and law firms and other tax professionals do not cold call people to solicit business, that's what salespeople do (i.e. Omni-Financial, 20/20 tax resolution, Berkshire Capital Partners, Clear Creek Consulting, etc., etc., etc., ).

If you have been accused of a tax felony such as tax evasion- which is distinguished from attempts to use interpretation of tax laws and/or imaginative accounting to reduce the amount of payable tax (i.e. WorldCom, Arthur Anderson, Wesley Snipes, to name a few) then you need a LOCAL tax attorney, as only someone is is licensed in your state can represent you; felony cases are handled at the District and Superior level (i.e not the federal tax court-where non-criminal cases are heard).  

Many attorneys are not even licensed by the tax court (i.e. tax disputes concerning notices of deficiency, notices of transferee liability, certain types of declaratory judgment, readjustment and adjustment of partnership items, review of the failure to abate interest,administrative costs, worker classification, relief from joint and several liability on a joint return, review of certain collection actions), most attorneys who work for tax debt relief firms are simply attorneys from other fields who are down on their luck and need some money to hold them over until they find something else, I know, I have worked with over 50 different attorneys over the past 10 years in this industry (and yes some of them are still my friends, albeit I wonder for how much longer with posts like these!). 

To recap, the pros and cons of hiring a TRUE TAX Attorney over an Enrolled Agent, as follows:


If the government has served you with court papers stating that they are going to seek CRIMINAL charges, then you better contact a tax attorney as no one else will be able to represent you in District or Superior Court (an Enrolled Agent can represent you in tax court if they are also licensed with the federal tax court, which allows non-attorneys to represent taxpayers before the court after passing the tax court exam).


Cost.  You are more likely to pay to a licensed tax attorney much more than an Enrolled Agent. If you do not need to go to court, there is no need to spend big money for the same service you can get from an Enrolled Agent.   I have also found that attorneys do as little work as possible, just enough to collect a check.  An Enrolled Agent always feels, at least in my case, that they have to earn your business whereas an attorney feels "entitled" to have your business and are use to people kissing their feet not the other way around.

Nicholas Hartney, E.A.