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Tax Attorney Vs. CPA

Both tax attorneys and certified public accountants (CPAs) work with clients to minimize financial liability, but their education and interaction with the federal government are different.

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Comparing Tax Attorneys to CPAs

Certified public accountants (CPAs) prepare taxes for individuals or businesses. Tax attorneys advise their clients about the tax laws in different states or countries. Both professions work with clients to optimize their financial bottom line, but their education, income and level of job complexity differ considerably.

Job Title Minimum Education Required Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Tax Attorney Doctoral or Professional degree $118,160 6% (lawyers)
CPA Bachelor's degree $68,150 11% (accountants & auditors)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of a Tax Attorney vs. a CPA

Tax attorneys usually work in a law practice with other attorneys while certified public accountants are employed by public accounting firms or have their own businesses. Both professions serve individuals or work with business clients. CPAs evaluate the tax advantages of specific business practices while tax attorneys interpret tax laws to help businesses comply with IRS rules when selling or distributing products in multiple states. When working for individuals, CPAs help document income and exemptions for yearly tax returns. Depending on their employer, tax attorneys can represent or prosecute individuals when there is a court question about the amount of taxes owed.

Tax Attorney

Reviewing legal documents and negotiating settlements are standard practices for lawyers, and tax attorneys are lawyers that specialize in tax law. This specialization is the result of years of schooling beyond an undergraduate degree and requires passing an exam from the American Bar Association. Tax attorneys often solve problems concerning financial obligations to the internal revenue service (IRS) by interpreting laws for clients. They are qualified to confer with judges in the state where they are licensed and develop settlements when there is a dispute. Tax attorneys are often hired by corporations to avoid conflicts with the tax code.

Job responsibilities of a tax attorney include:

  • Researching legal precedents
  • Presenting evidence to a court during trials
  • Documenting financial transactions
  • Writing legal briefs to submit to appeals courts

CPA

Most states require that CPAs complete a 150-hour bachelor's degree before sitting for the national exam and getting licensed by the state in which they are employed. The certification means they are able to accurately analyze assets such as property and income and determine taxes owed to federal and state governments. They can prepare tax forms for individuals or advise businesses on strategies to manage resources. A certified public accountant can file reports with the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) and therefore work with companies who trade on the stock market. These companies are required to submit annual and quarterly financial reports prepared by a CPA. The disclosure of financial reports is important for investors and the integrity of the economy.

Job responsibilities of a certified public accountant include:

  • Developing bookkeeping strategies to meet the needs of a business
  • Analyzing long-range tax or estate plans
  • Complying with procedural standards for reporting finances
  • Using computer software to calculate and record costs versus profits

Related Careers

Those interested in the legal profession might also want to explore the job of a bankruptcy lawyer, which also requires a solid understanding of finances. Individuals who are considering a career as a CPA to evaluate costs and analyze investments might also want to check out the duties of actuarial analysts who work with insurance industries to develop investment plans.

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