How to Find an Experienced IRS Voluntary Disclosure Attorney
If you have recently learned that you have not been properly reporting or disclosing your foreign income, assets, investments, or accounts to the Internal Revenue Service, you may be researching what your different options are.
IRS Voluntary Disclosure
At the end of the day, you will find that there are only a few options available, and the main (legal) options are:
- Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP)
- Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (SDOP)
- Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures (SFOP)
- Reasonable Cause
- Delinquency Procedures (if you have no unreported income)
Inexperience is Costly
We are a Board Certified Tax Law Firm that focuses exclusively on IRS Voluntary Disclosure.
Each month cases are referred to us from clients who first utilized less experienced attorneys (who baited the client with artificially low fees or by touting trumped up former experience) — only to learn that the attorneys nearly ruined their case and brought them dangerously close to criminal trouble with the IRS.
By the time the Client retains new counsel, they end up spending double, if not triple of what they would have spent had they retained an experienced attorney to begin with.
We are finding the same few attorneys running the same few scams, so we put together a list of warnings to help you better vet out potential voluntary disclosure Attorney to help you determine whether they really know what they’re doing.
Recent Example of Unethical Lawyering
About a year ago we had a client contact us to let us know that they were deciding between streamlined and OVDP. They had spoken with a junior attorney during a free initial consultation who did not have much experience representing his own clients in OVDP or Streamlined. (Less than 15 years of attorney experience and less than 5 years of law practice experience.)
The Attorney Reverse Baits the Individual
To quickly sell the client before he could speak with more experienced Attorneys, this Attorney told the client that he could go streamlined or reasonable cause because the amount of income was low. He told the client that anybody who told him to go OVDP was trying to scare him.
*This is done to try to avoid the Attorney speaking with more experienced counsel before making an informed decision.
The Individual Contacts our Firm
When we spoke to the client, we learned from the client that he was willful. He let us know he was willful, and although he thought OVDP was unfair (he had only been a U.S. Person for tax purposes for less than 5 years), he clearly did not qualify for Streamlined or Reasonable Cause. He had spoken with another experienced OVDP Attorney as well, who agreed he was willful.
In fact, just as with Manafort, he had received a questionnaire from his tax preparer and identified “No” on the organizer, even though he was aware he had the foreign accounts. He confirmed that he had no accounts with his CPA.
Worse yet, in further speaking with the individual, it turns out that he was willfully out of compliance in two different countries, and the other country was known for using criminal procedures to enforce tax compliance.
The Individual Went Against His Better Judgment
It turns out the client ended up retaining the Junior Attorney firm. We understood: they lied to him, and told him he could go streamlined since it was only a minimal amount of income. The fees are less, and the process is simpler.
But, if a person was willful (even if it was small amount of money or for only a few years) they are disqualified from the Streamlined Program or Reasonable Cause.
Fast forward to about a week or two ago and the Individual contacted us again in a complete state of panic, because he had allowed the other firm to sell him on the lower fees even know he knew he was willful. Like Manafort, he intentionally misrepresented his information to the CPA firm.
He didn’t know what to do, and since he has already submitted an intentionally misrepresentative Reasonable Cause Letter, stating he was non-willful — he may very well end up in very serious situation. He could be facing a potential IRS Special Agent Criminal Investigation and possible jail time.
Why? Because even though the amount of money with small, he knowingly and willfully made false statements to the IRS, which is a crime.
While the Individual will make a claim against the firm that goaded him into Reasonable Cause, it may not save him from the IRS.
5 Important Helpful Tips
Be Careful of Inexperienced Counsel & Misleading Former Experience
Every Attorney has to start somewhere, right? With that said, it should not be on your case.
Utilizing an attorney who has only had their firm for a few years, and practices several different types of tax law is not the Attorney you want handling complex matters such as IRS Voluntary Disclosure; it is a recipe for disaster.
From the majority of cases that get referred to our firm from prior counsel, many of them involve attorneys with little experience who bit off more than they can chew — and have less than 15 years of attorney experience representing their own clients as lead counsel.
They tout experience they do not have, and misrepresent prior experience to make themselves appear more experienced than they really are.
The Firm has Keyword Friendly Domain Names
Be sure to check the firm name and Attorneys online to see if they have purchased other domain names touting experience in other areas of law. This a common practice for newer attorneys trying to give the appearance that they specialize, by purchasing keyword-specific domain names. The reason is twofold:
– Each domain is “keyword friendly” to try to move up the SEO/Google rankings; and
– They want to trick you into believing they only practice in that one area of law, but then they have 10 other domain names for 10 different other areas of law as well. If you are searching only one area of law, they hope the other names will not pop-up in a search.
Make Sure Your Attorney is Experienced in All Types of Voluntary Disclosure Matters.
IRS Voluntary Disclosure is a specialty area of law. The firm you retain to handle your offshore voluntary disclosure matters should have voluntary disclosure as the primary area of law that they handle. Handing a few non-complex Streamlined Disclosure matters is only one small facet of IRS Voluntary Disclosure.
If you go to the doctor because you have a pain, the first place you go is a general practitioner, so he or she can give you a general assessment of what the problem might be. The general practitioner does not handle the specific surgery, and refers it to a specialist to perform.
The same holds true for IRS Voluntary Disclosure matters.
Interview Your Attorney & Your CPA/EA Handling the Taxes
In the end, you are paying an attorney to be joined at the hip with you and take you through the voluntary disclosure maze. It is not the time to be shy or bashful. It is the time to do your due diligence and ask the attorney the hard questions.
Just because an attorney handled a handful of non-complex streamlined disclosure cases does not make them a voluntary disclosure lawyer.
You should ask them:
– How many OVDP cases have they handled as Lead Counsel?
– How many OVDP Opt-Out have they handled as Lead Counsel?
– How many complex audits have they handled representing their own client?
– How many complex cases have they litigated?
– How many cases have they tried?
– Do they have an advanced credential such as being an Enrolled Agent or CPA?
– Have they followed-up their education by obtaining a Masters in Tax Law (LL.M.) which requires upwards of 15 to 20 graduate level courses in tax?
– Are they a Board Certified Tax Law Specialist?
Watch Out for Free Initial Consultations
These consultations are not really free, and they are simply designed to scare you into quickly signing with the firm – against your better judgment.
Recent Example of the Free Consultation “Scare and Sell”
A client contacted us to let us know that even though they spoke with one of these free initial consultation attorneys, that they did not want to use the firm and preferred to use our firm – but they were concerned.
We asked why they were concerned, and they proceeded to tell us that during the initial consultation, the attorney demanded highly confidential and completely unnecessary information during the initial call; the clients were scared, and they obliged.
When the client told the other attorney that they did not want to proceed with them, and that the client wanted the attorney to disregard the confidential information, the attorney refused to provide any assurances that he could do that (which of course sent the client into a panic because the attorney was tacitly making it sound as if he was not going to disregard that confidential information, or keep it safe.)
What you will find is that most experienced IRS Voluntary Disclosure Attorneys charge an initial consultation fee. That is because you are contacting the attorney to obtain information about what your options are.
The attorney is then using his or her experience to speak with you on a scheduled call, to provide you important information about how you can proceed, absent of any salesmanship.
Whether or not you retain the firm or not, and/or proceed with IRS Voluntary Disclosure — you will have been educated by an experienced attorney in this field of law on issues involving you and the IRS.
We hope that you use these different steps to help protect and guard you from the fear mongering and scaremongering that has been going on recently, especially with the upcoming termination of the OVDP program.
We Specialize in IRS Voluntary Disclosure
We have successfully handled a diverse range of OVDP cases. Whether it is a simple or complex case, safely getting clients into compliance is our passion, and we take it very seriously.
No Case is Too Big; No Case is Too Small.
We represent all different types of clients. High net-worth investors (over $40 million), smaller cases ($100,000) and everything in-between.
We represent clients in over 60 countries and nationwide, with all different types of assets, including (each link takes you to a Golding & Golding free summary):
- Foreign Mutual Funds
- Foreign Life Insurance
- Fixing Quiet Disclosure
- Foreign Real Estate Income
- Foreign Real Estate Sales
- Foreign Earned Income Exclusion
- Subpart F Income
- Foreign Inheritance
- Foreign Pension
- Form 3520
- Form 5471
- Form 8621
- Form 8865
- Form 8938 (FATCA)
Who Decides to Enter IRS Voluntary Disclosure
All different types of people submit to OVDP. We represent Attorneys, CPAs, Doctors, Investors, Engineers, Business Owners, Entrepreneurs, Professors, Athletes, Actors, Entry-Level staff, Students, and more.
You are not alone, and you are not the only one to find himself or herself in this situation.
…We even represent IRS Staff with getting into compliance.
Sean M. Golding, JD, LL.M., EA – Board Certified Tax Law Specialist
Our Managing Partner, Sean M. Golding, JD, LLM, EA is the only Attorney nationwide who has earned the Certified Tax Law Specialist credential and specializes in IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure and closely related matters.
In addition to earning the Certified Tax Law Certification, Sean also holds an LL.M. (Master’s in Tax Law) from the University of Denver and is also an Enrolled Agent (the highest credential awarded by the IRS.)
He is frequently called upon to lecture and write on issues involving IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure.
Less than 1% of Tax Attorneys Nationwide
Out of more than 200,000 practicing attorneys in California, less than 400 attorneys have achieved this Certified Tax Law Specialist designation.
The exam is widely regarded as one of (if not) the hardest tax exam given in the United States for practicing Attorneys. It is a designation earned by less than 1% of attorneys.
Our International Tax Lawyers represent hundreds of taxpayers annually in over 60 countries.