The CPA Board of Accountancy vs. Tax Attorney (Board-Certified)

The CPA Board of Accountancy vs. Tax Attorney (Board-Certified)

What Does Being Board-Certified in Tax Law Mean?

While both CPAs and attorneys may handle tax matters, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or Enrolled Agent (EA) is not the same as a tax attorney. The roles of non-legal tax professionals (CPA and EA) are different than the role of an Attorney. Beyond these designations, some tax lawyers are also licensed as Board-Certified Tax Law Specialists, which means they are licensed by at least one State Bar’s Board of Legal Specialization.

Recently, we have had taxpayers let us know that they had engaged in an initial consultation with a law firm that claims to have Board-Certified Tax Lawyer Specialists on staff — only to learn that there are no attorneys at the firm who are licensed as a Board-Certified Tax Attorney Specialist by any State Bar in the United States. 

The firms claim they are “Board-Certified Tax Law Specialists” because they may have a CPA on staff. Preposterous. The only way to become a “Board-Certified Tax Law Specialist” is for an attorney to complete additional years of specialized tax education, pass a rigorous examination, and officially receive the designation from the State Bar. Many CPAs have no background at all in tax and just because a lawyer obtains a CPA designation does not mean they can call themselves “Board-Certified.”

Why is any of this important?

Board certification is not easy to achieve. Obtaining a specialized designation is quite difficult and clients can be confident that their attorney has completed the necessary training and testing. Designations are earned. How can you trust an attorney who is lying about their background? If a lawyer is willing to make false claims about these types of designations, then perhaps they are also willing to take some unethical leaps with billing?

Let’s look at the difference between a CPA, who is an accountant certified by an ‘Accountancy Board,’ vs. a ‘Board-Certified Tax Attorney.’

First, How to Protect Yourself

The easiest way for taxpayers to protect themselves when engaging a firm that claims to have Board-Certified Tax Law Specialist on staff is to simply ask for the name of the Board-Certified Tax Law Specialist Attorney and which state this attorney is licensed. Then, the taxpayer can check the name of the attorney to confirm that the attorney is a Board-Certified Tax Law Specialist through that State Bar.

Licensed as a CPA

CPAs are accountants. There are many different areas of accounting and many CPAs do not practice anything tax-related, but instead focus on accounting.

Let’s take a look at what the California “Board of Accountancy” provides as its main function:

      • The California Board of Accountancy (CBA) regulates the accounting profession for the public interest by establishing and maintaining entry standards of qualification and conduct within the accounting profession, primarily through its authority to license. The CBA currently regulates approximately 115,000 licensees, the largest group of licensed accounting professionals in the nation, including individuals and CPA firms.

An Attorney ‘Board-Certified’ By the State Bar

Being a Board-Certified Tax Lawyer means not only is the Attorney licensed by the State Bar, but they have also met additional requirements to become ‘Board-Certified’ as well. Here is what the California Bar Provides about becoming a Board-Certified Tax Law Specialist:

      • The State Bar certifies attorneys as specialists who have gone beyond the standard licensing requirements.

      • California Rule of Court 9.35 served as the basis for the creation of the State Bar Legal Specialization program. The program was intended to provide a method for attorneys to earn the designation of certified specialist in particular areas of law, increasing public protection and encouraging attorney competence.

      • The program was the first of its kind in the United States, and it has served as a model for other state programs for certifying legal specialists around the nation.

      • The general requirements to become a certified specialist include:

          • passage of a written examination in the legal specialty area

          • practiced law continuously for at least five years, spending at least 25 percent of the time given to occupational endeavors practicing in the specialty area

          • completion of continuing education in the specialty area greater than that required of general licensees of the State Bar

          • demonstration of a broad-based and comprehensive experience in the specialty area based on completion of a variety of matters in the specialty area

          • favorable evaluations by other attorneys and judges familiar with the attorney’s work in the specialty area of law

What if the Attorney Is Not a ‘Board-Certified Specialist’ But Claims to Be?

Taxpayers who retained a Tax Lawyer who claims to be a Board-Certified Tax Law Specialist but is not Board-Certified by any State Bar, should reach out directly to the State Bar in which the attorney is licensed to report the Attorney and Law Firm.

Golding & Golding: About Our International Tax Law Firm

Golding & Golding specializes exclusively in international tax, specifically IRS offshore disclosure

Contact our firm today for assistance.