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Does anyone have advice for someone looking to become a tax lawyer? Are there particular experiences or education I should be seeking out?

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Many tax lawyers have accounting backgrounds prior to entering law school (including quite a few who were CPA's). Education/experience in accounting is not required to become a tax lawyer, but it certainly helps. Once you're in law school, take all of the available tax law courses and excel in them. 

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Tax planning or tax litigation? Planning requires a lot more accounting knowledge. Litigation requires some knowledge but more advocacy skills.

You can get either without any accounting background.

Edited by AnonLaw

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I might know a handful of tax lawyers with accounting backgrounds - most don't have one and certainly it's not needed, tax law is not the same as accounting.  Whatever accounting knowledge you might need, you can pick up readily enough. 

There's no magic - you take all the tax courses you can in law school make sure you have a sound understanding of commercial/corporate/trust law (the Tax Act isn't a complete code and draws on corporate/commercial/trust law concepts), and maybe take some tax policy courses (often offered both in law schools and economics departments)  Beyond that, it wouldn't hurt to join the Canadian Tax Foundation (they have a cheap student rate) or the tax section of the provincial bar association. 

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My BF says an engineering/technical background is good too because it teaches you to work through a problem logically and methodically.

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What Bob said, that's what I did. When I've spoken to people, I've reminded students that it's almost impossible to article in tax so there's no need to focus your efforts on tax. I think only Thorsteinssons and some of the accounting firm captive law firms. At the big national firms, you can at most do a few tax files or perhaps a rotation at most.  So 99% of tax lawyers articled doing something other than tax (likely corporate) and getting hired into the tax group or finding a tax position afterward. I would add considering clerking at the Tax Court, especially if you're thinking litigation. I found it to be a great experience. 

 

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Just now, Chambertin said:

What Bob said, that's what I did. When I've spoken to people, I've reminded students that it's almost impossible to article in tax so there's no need to focus your efforts on tax. I think only Thorsteinssons and some of the accounting firm captive law firms. At the big national firms, you can at most do a few tax files or perhaps a rotation at most.  So 99% of tax lawyers articled doing something other than tax (likely corporate) and getting hired into the tax group or finding a tax position afterward. I would add considering clerking at the Tax Court, especially if you're thinking litigation. I found it to be a great experience. 

I think it's fair to say that you likely won't article exclusively in tax (and shouldn't because, you need the exposure to other areas of business law to be an effective tax lawyer). That said, if you want to practice in tax at national firm, it's good to signal early on that you're interested and try to get as much exposure as possible, even if it's doing non-tax work on tax related files (e.g., drafting share transfer agreements as part of a tax motivated reorg, digging up cases, doing non-billable work) - the pool of people who are genuinely interested in practicing tax law is small, so people who demonstrate genuine interest are likely to get noticed.  

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Get comfortable with excel. Though this may be advice that's more applicable to any law & numbers game rather than specific to tax.
 

Edited by Myrand

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2 hours ago, maximumbob said:

I think it's fair to say that you likely won't article exclusively in tax (and shouldn't because, you need the exposure to other areas of business law to be an effective tax lawyer). That said, if you want to practice in tax at national firm, it's good to signal early on that you're interested and try to get as much exposure as possible, even if it's doing non-tax work on tax related files (e.g., drafting share transfer agreements as part of a tax motivated reorg, digging up cases, doing non-billable work) - the pool of people who are genuinely interested in practicing tax law is small, so people who demonstrate genuine interest are likely to get noticed.  

Exactly, my point is simply that not summering/articling in tax doesn't put you behind the eight ball in any way, as bob says, it's preferable.

As far as signalling interest in tax, I haven't worked at a national firm, but signalling your strong interest in tax can backfire. If they don't need a tax associate, and you've sent too strong a signal it's tax or bust, it's not rocket science what they're going to do on hireback. 

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11 minutes ago, Chambertin said:

Exactly, my point is simply that not summering/articling in tax doesn't put you behind the eight ball in any way, as bob says, it's preferable.

As far as signalling interest in tax, I haven't worked at a national firm, but signalling your strong interest in tax can backfire. If they don't need a tax associate, and you've sent too strong a signal it's tax or bust, it's not rocket science what they're going to do on hireback. 

Well, the thing is, if you don't sent a strong message, they're not going to know.  And if it really is tax or bust, sending the message at least means that they can say something good about you when you're interviewing elsewhere.  I mean, that is a question I've been asked for former articling students applying for tax jobs, and it helps if I can honestly tell the employer that, yeah, so and so was a really tax nut, we just couldn't accommodate them. 

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13 minutes ago, maximumbob said:

Well, the thing is, if you don't sent a strong message, they're not going to know.  And if it really is tax or bust, sending the message at least means that they can say something good about you when you're interviewing elsewhere.  I mean, that is a question I've been asked for former articling students applying for tax jobs, and it helps if I can honestly tell the employer that, yeah, so and so was a really tax nut, we just couldn't accommodate them. 

You would know more than I. I suppose it depends if it really is tax or bust for the student, then might as well indicate as such and if the firm likes you but just can't accommodate you at the time, like you said, they will likely reach out to see if they can find someone who does need a tax associate. 

But if you'd like to do tax, but also would be interested in something else, that's different I think. I know some of my colleagues strongly wanted to do tax litigation but would have been happy litigating if they couldn't do tax litigation. For me, I only wanted tax, but was ok with planning or litigation or a mix. 

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2 minutes ago, Chambertin said:

You would know more than I. I suppose it depends if it really is tax or bust for the student, then might as well indicate as such and if the firm likes you but just can't accommodate you at the time, like you said, they will likely reach out to see if they can find someone who does need a tax associate. 

But if you'd like to do tax, but also would be interested in something else, that's different I think. I know some of my colleagues strongly wanted to do tax litigation but would have been happy litigating if they couldn't do tax litigation. For me, I only wanted tax, but was ok with planning or litigation or a mix. 

Yeah, I was thinking more of solicitor side - the hard core tax people that I've seen as articling students all ended up as hard core tax people.  You're right, for litigation, it's less categorical.  

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Note that you can always do tax on the side if you can't get a position at the usual suspects like Thorsteinssons. Once you're a 2nd or 3rd year lawyer you can do a lateral move. I wanted to do tax and only tax right out of law school, but the firm I articled wasn't doing well financially. It later folded. I took a job at a firm that does other kinds of litigation and have built up my own book of business of tax files so I can (1) keep doing tax and (2) be attractive in case I want to do a lateral move to a tax firm.

If you want to get ahead of the curve, here's some potentially useful advice to take in terms of courses, aside from "every tax course":

1. Take the administrative law course. Virtually everything the CRA does is an administrative decision and they have to follow their own policies. An example would be the CRA garnishing 100% of somebody's CPP, or them refusing to stop collection action on a director's liability assessment for unpaid GST. In both cases there is policy against it even if the CRA has the technical ability to do these things. Baker, Dunsmuir and Telezone are all important cases in admin that you should be very familiar with.

2. Learn the tax court rules and the federal court rules. They differ from the provincial superior courts in some important ways. Civil procedure courses rarely cover the federal rules.

3. Take the trusts course. Quite often a way to defeat some kinds of tax assessments is to say that no transfer of beneficial title occurred.

4. Not sure what course deals with this, but I once defeated a tax assessment because it was too unpalatable for the CRA to pursue it (battered wife was assessed for husband's taxes). Something on public policy?

5. Take whatever course teaches rectifications (contracts? trusts?). You can sometimes erase tax liability by getting an order rectifying an instrument that inadvertently resulted in tax liability, like a trust deed.

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1 minute ago, kurrika said:

Equitable remedies course should cover rectification?

I always wanted to take a course on inequitable remedies.  "Yes, the defendant intentionally drove his 1999 Pontiac up on to your lawn, into your house, and over your sainted 90-year old mother, therefore I hereby order that you are to pay him $1.3 trillion dollars for causing him to spill his beer on his pants".   

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4 minutes ago, maximumbob said:

I always wanted to take a course on inequitable remedies.  "Yes, the defendant intentionally drove his 1999 Pontiac up on to your lawn, into your house, and over your sainted 90-year old mother, therefore I hereby order that you are to pay him $1.3 trillion dollars for causing him to spill his beer on his pants".   

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pearson_v._Chung

 

67 million dollars.

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Thank you everyone for the replies.

I should have specified I am out of law school and presently articling. In law school I took tax and trusts, but mostly focussed on corporate law. 

It's only recently, through my articling experience, that I realized how much I love tax. 

Does anyone have experience with the job market for tax associates just finishing articles (should my firm not be hiring)?

I also was looking into the CPA In-Depth course. Is it worth it? 

Besides obtaining as much exposure to tax during articles as possible, is there any supplementary education/training etc that would make me a stronger candidate or perhaps showcase my genuine interest?

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Definitely go for the litigation side. The litigation side is always better.

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