Board Certified Tax Attorney vs. “Lawyer Specializing in Tax” Marketing
Tax law is a very difficult area of law, mainly because tax law is so vast with what seems like an infinite amount of information.
Almost all activities involve some form of tax, whether it is income tax, employment tax, sales tax, excise tax, or any number of other types of different federal, state, or local tax.
The exam is offered in many states across the United States, and includes a comprehensive exam, along with additional ethical and experience requirements.
Becoming a California (Board Certified) Tax Specialist
Becoming a Board Certified Tax Specialist is a tough feat.
There are more than 200,000 attorneys in California, and tens of thousands of them practice in some area of tax.
Whether they are full time tax attorneys or they practice tax law as part of a bigger practice such as estate planning, real estate, divorce, corporate and business law, or acting as outside counsel — tax law is everywhere.
Less Than 400 Board Certified Tax Law Specialists in California
In California alone, there are less than 400 Board-Certified Tax Specialists. Why? Because the test is brutal.
It covers many different areas of tax, oftentimes areas which are not even included in the practitioner’s daily area of practice. Tax Specialist Exam study materials are scarce at best and basically the practitioner has to rely upon is his or her experience to complete the full day exam.
Less than 1% of Tax Attorneys Nationwide Are Certified Specialists
Sean M. Golding is one of less than 400 Attorneys (out of more than 200,000 practicing California Attorneys) to earn the Certified Tax Law Specialist credential. The credential is awarded to less than 1% of Attorneys.
The exam is widely regarded as one of (if not) the hardest tax exam given in the United States for practicing Attorneys.
Sean has accumulated nearly 20 years of legal experience and is also an Enrolled Agent, the highest credential awarded by the IRS (which authorizes him to represent clients before the IRS nationwide). Mr. Golding is also a licensed California Real Estate Broker.
Sean has served as a contributing author to the NOLO legal book series on issues involving U.S. and International IRS and State Tax matters for individuals and businesses.
He is frequently called upon to lecture and write on issues involving IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure.
Why Does This Matter?
It is important, because we are finding out through our clients that many practitioners who are not board certified are holding themselves out a specialists or “individuals who specialize” in an area of tax law (especially Offshore/Voluntary Disclosure) – where they do not have the proper experience or even actually specialize in any one particular area.
For example, at our firm, we specialize in IRS Offshore/Voluntary Disclosure of unreported income, assets, accounts, and investments.
Other firms will indicate they “specialize” in tax or even assert being an “expert” in Offshore/Voluntary Disclosure – but then handle 10 other different types of tax law, and sometimes even non-tax law representation.
It matters because oftentimes, the public will rely upon statements an attorney makes regarding his or her qualifications. Sometimes, you only get one chance at handling or resolving a legal issue. The problem is – if you use an inexperienced attorney who falsely holds themselves out as a specialist and they make a rookie mistake or two, it could have negative consequences on your matter that may cost you significant amounts of money to try to fix, if that’s even possible at that point.
Some Examples to Watch Out For
“Tax Law Specialist”
Anyone can hold themselves out to be a specialist, but what does that really mean?
“IRS Tax Law Specialist”
For example, a person can literally work for the IRS in the role of an IRS Tax Law Specialist and it is only just an entry-level position that does not require any tax law background or even a law degree. See here.
“Specialize in IRS Voluntary/Offshore Disclosure”
Anyone can represent that they specialize in IRS Voluntary/Offshore Disclosure, but some firms will say that they specialize in this area of law, and yet according to their website, they handle 10-20 other different types of tax and even non-tax related matters. They purchase multiple domain names with specific “keyword-friendly” domain-names in order to try give the appearance that they “specialize” or are a “specialist.”
Please see the ABA (American Bar Association) rules for more information. See here.
Yes, technically in some states, a person can market that they specialize in an area of law, but many times it is just a marketing ploy designed to build confidence to a potential client, when the attorney is actually not qualified to do so.
This is a misrepresentation to the public and since the public relies upon attorneys to handle very complex situations, it is important to try to work through the marketing ploys of attorneys and find actual board certified attorneys who can assist you properly in the particular area of law that you need help in.
“Super Lawyers,” Rising Stars,” “Top Lawyers,” and More
These are not credentials that an Attorney earns. Rather, these are forms of marketing and advertising — and various ethics committees warn attorneys about the representations they make regarding the nature of these “awards.” As provided by the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Attorney Advertising:
Some of these awards are the result of popularity contests – the lawyer “wins” the award when enough people email, telephone, or text their vote.
Other awards are issued for a price or as a “reward” for joining an organization. Still others are generated based in large part on the participation of the lawyer with the conferring organization’s website.
Please, Be Careful
When a person says they “specialize” but have not earned the Board Certified Legal Specialist designation, there is the concern that they are not really specialists. They have not met the board requirements for being a specialist. In other words, they want their cake and eat it too – without meeting the rigorous requirements of becoming Board Certified.
If you believe you were misled into believing an attorney was a specialist due to false or misleading advertising, you should contact your local state bar for assistance and resources.
Sean M. Golding, JD, LLM, EA – Certified Tax Law Specialist
Mr. Golding has been retained to represent clients in offshore disclosures matters with unreported accounts reaching nearly $40,000,000 in a single disclosure and has substantial experience with facilitating compliance of Foreign Corporations, CFC (Controlled Foreign Corporations) and PFIC (Passive Foreign Investment Companies), in all aspects of Offshore Disclosure.
Sean’s clients include U.S. and foreign businesses and families living throughout the states, as well as abroad. Past and current clients reside in Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bermuda, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Bulgaria, Canada, Cayman Islands, China, Costa Rica, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jersey Islands, Korea, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Philippines, Romania, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Taiwan, Turkey, and more.
Sean graduated from one of the nation’s Top Master of Tax Law Programs at the University of Denver, where he also received his Bachelor’s degree. He worked his way through school and earned Dean’s List distinction at both Whittier Law School and University of Denver.
- Certified Tax Law Specialist (Less than 1% of Practicing Tax Attorneys Nationwide)
- Member, State Bar of California, 1999-Present (Inactive 2004-2005 while launching NY practice)
- Member, State Bar of New York, 2004-Present
- Enrolled Agent, Federally Licensed Tax Practitioner (Highest Credential Awarded by the IRS)
- Admitted, United States Tax Court
- Real Estate Broker, California Department of Real Estate
Sean is originally from New York City and currently resides with his family in southern California. He is active within the community and serves on various legal panels. Sean is also a former ranked junior competitor Tennis Player in the Eastern Tennis Association (part of the USTA). In his free time, Sean enjoys traveling.