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The Internal Revenue Code and other legal tax guidance make up one of the most complex and lengthy areas of law, so it’s no surprise that having a few degrees under your belt can advance your career as a tax lawyer. If you like the challenge of analyzing the consequences of business transactions, creating estate plans or want to work for a government agency, you may find all of the education worth it.
Whether you went straight to college out of high school or decided to enroll as an older adult, majoring in tax or a related area isn’t necessary. The important thing is that you complete a bachelor’s degree or at least get close to it. This is because getting into a quality law school that’s approved by the American Bar Association requires, at a minimum, completion of at least three-fourths of the coursework necessary to complete a bachelor’s degree. In some states, it’s actually possible to become a licensed attorney without completing any college courses, but if you want to practice tax law at a large firm or government agency, you’ll likely compete with job applicants who’ve completed an undergraduate program.
A Juris Doctor is the degree you’ll earn after completing a law school curriculum, which generally takes three to four years to complete, depending on whether you attend full- or part-time. Earning a law degree is essential and, in most jurisdictions, the only degree requirement you’ll need to satisfy if you want to call yourself a tax lawyer one day. Before you start applying to law schools, you may want to evaluate the tax course offerings at each institution. Some law schools, such as New York University, are highly regarded for the quality of their tax programs and tend to offer a large number of tax courses you can take advantage of. However, the basic requirements for becoming a tax lawyer are earning the Juris Doctor and passing a state bar exam.
Master Of Law (LLM)
Tax law is one of the few practice areas, if not the only, where it’s almost essential to continue your education after law school and complete a Master of Law (LLM) in taxation. Unlike other types of graduate programs that enroll students from different academic backgrounds, the LLM in taxation is only offered to law school graduates. It generally takes two academic semesters to complete the program full-time, though many law schools offer flexible part-time programs so you can work during the day.
Other Tax Degrees
Though never a requirement, there are a few other degrees that can bolster your credibility as a tax lawyer. As an alternative to the LLM, some tax lawyers enroll in a master's of science in taxation programs at a graduate business school. Moreover, given the overlap between accounting and tax, a master's of science or master's of business administration program in accounting not only opens up opportunities for you in accounting firms and corporations, but it may also satisfy the educational requirements needed to sit for the certified public accountant exam – a credential that’s not uncommon for a tax lawyer to have.
Michael Marz has worked in the financial sector since 2002, specializing in wealth and estate planning. After spending six years working for a large investment bank and an accounting firm, Marz is now self-employed as a consultant, focusing on complex estate and gift tax compliance and planning.