How to Find a Reputable Tax Attorney or Other Tax Professional
So you’ve finally found a tax attorney you’re considering hiring, and you’ve scheduled an initial consultation. In all likelihood, you have never met with a tax attorney in this setting and have no idea what to expect. That’s perfectly okay.
Start by observing the office. Is it clean and tidy? Well-decorated? Are you greeted upon walking in? All of these things might seem minor, but attention to detail is important in tax matters and these might be an indication that such attention is lacking.
When you actually sit down to meet with the tax attorney, consider asking these seven questions before you decide to hire them:
#1: How much of your practice is devoted to solving tax problems?
This one is a sure way to separate the dedicated tax controversy practices from the general ones. The dedicated tax controversy practice will devote a substantial part, if not all, of their practice to handling tax controversy and tax debt relief cases. This is who you want handling your case.
#2: Who will do the work on my case? A licensed attorney, CPA, or an EA?
This is an important question to ask, especially if you are dealing with larger firms or tax debt relief companies. In most of these, the person you meet with for the initial consultation will not be the person who ultimately handles your case on a day to day basis. That task will be delegated to someone else in the firm, usually of lower credential and experience than the person you’re meeting with today. This gets back to the bait and switch tactics discussed in Beware of Tax Debt Relief Scams. So, make sure if your case is delegated to someone else in the firm, that he or she is well credentialed and experienced. You don’t want to pay for a tax attorney but have an enrolled agent work on your case.
On the other hand, this is less likely to happen at smaller firms or with solo tax attorneys. With these, the person you meet with is very likely to be the person who is going to handle your case from here on out. But be wary — even solo practitioners might have paralegals handling some of their caseload, so you want to ask regardless.
#3 Do you offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee?
First, notice that you are asking for a satisfaction guarantee, not a guarantee of the outcome. A true tax attorney will never guarantee a certain result from your case. However, they may offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee of their services. This would allow you to get a refund of your fees if they become inattentive to your case, fail to communicate with you on a regular basis, or otherwise do not live up to your expectations. We’ll warn you now: not many tax professionals offer such a guarantee, but it’s worth finding one that does.
#4 How do you bill for your services?
This is an awkward subject for most people. However, you are potentially looking at several thousand dollars worth of fees, so it’s prudent to make sure you understand how those fees will be incurred. Here are some more direct questions to ask:
- Do you bill on a flat fee basis? If so, what is included in the flat fee and what is not?
- Do you bill on an hourly basis? If so, what is your hourly rate?
- Do you require an initial retainer up front? If so, is any part of it considered non-refundable? (this is a big one, head for the door immediately if the retainer is nonrefundable)
- Do you charge for incidental costs like copying and postage?
- Do you charge for administrative support costs? If so, how are those costs calculated?
#5 How will you keep me informed about my case?
This is an extremely important question. The bad tax attorneys are notorious for poor communication with clients, so you want to make the professional you’re meeting with has a clear policy for communicating with clients. He or she should say that they will give you monthly updates and always return client phone calls or emails within 24 hours.
#6 Why do you work in this area?
Technically speaking, there is no right answer to this question, but it will give you a great deal of insight into the type tax attorney you are hiring and their philosophies about tax controversy work. Most will be caught off guard by this question and will hem and haw for an answer. The good ones will be eager to tell you that they tax controversy gives them an opportunity to help someone who is going through one of the most difficult times of their life. Unlike tax preparation or tax planning, tax controversy (especially tax debt relief) involves solving the gut wrenching pain of real people. We’ve had grown men sob like babies in our office due to the stress tax debt was causing on their marriage and home life. Helping these people get rid of their tax debt is a noble pursuit, and anyone who overlooks that connection and does it for the money will not care enough about your case.
Avoiding the bad tax debt relief services is difficult, but asking the above questions can help give you an idea if the person you’re talking to runs an honest business.