How do I Become a Tax Attorney?

J. Reyes
J. Reyes
Prospective tax attorneys need to pass the bar exam.
Prospective tax attorneys need to pass the bar exam.

There are many steps involved if you want to become a tax attorney, and a person could reasonably take many different paths to achieve that goal. The most direct method would be to complete law school with a certification in tax law. You then could apply for a tax-related position after passing the bar exam. In reality, the process typically is much more involved.

Applying to law school typically is a more detailed process than is required for most undergraduate programs. Many of the attributes that make a person an attractive applicant for college admission will be even more significant when applying to law school. The law school admissions staff usually will place a high degree of importance on recruiting a diverse population of students who are active in their community. They typically are looking for students who will be likely to use their law degree to make productive contributions to society and be positive role models as alumni.

It usually is less important what students actually studied while undergraduates, as long as their transcript represents challenging courses and academic success. For a student who wants to become a tax attorney, it generally is not a requirement to study tax and accounting as an undergraduate; however, it could be beneficial to have that foundation in place. In addition, your degree would serve to demonstrate commitment to your goals and capability in the field of tax.

Before you can actually apply for law school, you must take the Law School Admissions Test™ (LSAT™). This test is given four times per year and it is recommended that undergraduates take it in June following their junior year. This way, students will have their scores in time to apply for law school during their senior year.

Much like the American College Test (ACT) and SAT™, law schools have acceptable ranges for LSAT™ scores, so you must determine the ranges of the schools where you want to apply. In addition to LSAT™ scores, explore the tax courses offered at each school. Most law schools offer certification programs in various areas of law; for someone who wants to become a tax attorney, look for a school with a tax certification.

Acquiring a tax certification typically means taking foundational tax courses with an additional number of tax electives, all which must be completed above a defined overall grade point average (GPA). Tax certification programs can also include required tax internships or a defined number of hours that must be spent calculating and filing taxes. Almost all law schools host open houses and offer interested students the opportunity to observe lectures or talk to current students and professors. You could also talk to current tax attorneys about the process that led them to their jobs and about the possibility of doing an internship with their firm during the summer while you are in law school.

Once you have completed your legal education, you must sit for the bar exam and pass in order to receive your license and become a tax attorney. Federal income tax law is not on the bar exam and it is possible for a law student to complete their law degree without ever taking a tax course, though most schools highly recommend taking at least one. If you are currently an attorney who wants to expand your area of expertise, contact your state bar association about continuing education courses.

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    • Prospective tax attorneys need to pass the bar exam.
      Prospective tax attorneys need to pass the bar exam.