Clifford Ribner

Clifford N. Ribner serves as a tax attorney in Tulsa, Oklahoma. For more than 28 years, he has helped people with serious tax problems fight the government and win. If you're in danger of losing your business because of tax problems, visit him online at

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What You Should Look for in a Business Tax Attorney

Recovering from IRS difficulties

Clifford Ribner

October 10, 2007

3.7/5.0 (3 votes total)

No one plans to rack up tens of thousands of dollars of debt with the IRS when they open their business. Most of these problems start small. Little things, like maybe forgetting taxes for one or two payroll periods. Eventually things spiraled out of control. Now you're up to your eyeballs in debt to the IRS with no idea where to turn for help.

For serious tax problems, including large IRS debts, payroll and other employment tax problems, you need a tax attorney. Here are some tips for finding an attorney who can successfully go to bat for you against the IRS.

Why you can't go with a typical lawyer

Tax law is one of the most complicated fields of law. Taking one or two tax law classes in law school doesn't give an attorney the training or experience necessary to represent you effectively against the IRS. It would be like going to an obstetrician for brain surgery. They're both doctors, yes, but with very different specialties.

Good tax lawyers know the IRS's rules, and they can use those against them. They have specialized data bases/libraries they subscribe to and know how to utilize to have access to the very complicated, and constantly changing, laws and rules governing tax laws and procedures. The stakes are too high to gamble on a lawyer without these specialized tools, training and experience in tax law. If things go wrong, the business you've worked so hard to build could be shut down. You personally could even go to jail.

Your CPA can't help you, either

CPAs know the day-to-day accounting stuff needed to run a business and to file its tax returns. But when it comes to actually going head-to-head in controversies with the IRS, you need someone with both real litigation training and experience and a broad knowledge of how to deal with tax problems.

Also, be advised: you have no confidentiality privilege covering potential criminal liability with your CPA. In fact, your accountant is required by law to disclose certain accounting errors, which may land you in even bigger trouble. Consider the ramifications of having your CPA called in as the star witness against you if your case goes to trial.

Look for specialized education

Diplomas don't lie. Look for specific tax experience and training. Look for a lawyer that specializes in tax law, and preferably one who graduated from a highly-rated law school, such as NYU School of Law. Try to find a lawyer with a Master's law degree specializing in tax law (LL.M. in Taxation).

Make sure they are staying current in their field as well. Laws constantly change, and you want to make sure your business doesn't suffer with a tax attorney who's behind the times.

References count

Ask around. If you know a good lawyer or judge you trust, ask if he or she knows someone who specializes in tax cases who he or she feels comfortable recommending to you. Peer-reviewed ratings, like Martindale-Hubbell, can also give you an idea of what other lawyers are saying about the one you're considering hiring. Ask what the Better Business Bureau has to say about the lawyer.

Field experience is absolutely necessary

Any time you have a controversy or a fight, you want a litigator. If you have a dangerous or complicated controversy with the IRS, your tax lawyer should also have extensive litigation experience, though very few do. You need someone who has real training and experience in dealing with conflicts and proceedings with someone who's after you.

A significant reason why the IRS settles is because they have to consider the hazard of litigation. They are going to want to get things settled and avoid a lengthy court battle -- but only if your case poses a risk to them. You need a credible threat of being able to go to court and really stand up to the IRS to get leverage to make them settle.


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