Tax Expert: When Tax attorneys market themselves as “experts” in tax law (especially FBAR or FATCA), there is always a cause for concern. To call oneself a tax expert is a pretty bold statement to make to the general public, especially when it is self-proclaimed. Over the years we have worked with some of the most talented tax, business, divorce, and litigation attorneys in various specialty and sub-specialty areas of law throughout the world. We can safely say that we have never worked with a single attorney (who we would absolutely consider to be an expert in their chosen specialty) ever refer to himself or herself as an expert.
Because there is no such thing as an Attorney Expert.
Tax Experts & Online Marketing
The Internet is a curious thing.
While a 35-year proven veteran of international tax law that we know of has always been skeptical to ever refer to herself as an expert (no matter how many other people refer to that attorney as an expert) there are attorneys with 10-15 years in private general tax practice (even less) who advertise themselves online as experts in FATCA, experts in OVDP, experts in FBAR, etc.
FATCA & FBAR Tax Attorney Experts?
As tax filing due dates approach (and anxieties rise) some tax attorneys get overly-aggressive, and make false representations to the general public.
This is especially true in the realm of offshore/foreign IRS disclosure: FBAR, FATCA, PFIC, etc.
Since the potential penalties involving offshore non-compliance are far more severe than the level of the non-compliance would presume the penalty would be, some attorneys use this as a way to fear-monger the general public and scare them about FBAR and other Penalties.
The general public then relies on these false misrepresentations – and oftentimes is placed into a WORSE position than before the client started the process.
A taxpayer reaches out to us after being continually frustrated with their current counsel.
The attorney advertised himself as an expert in FBAR & FATCA.
The attorney has not returned the client’s calls timely (of course, they are still billing her hourly for research and analysis.)
The Taxpayer then asks us a simple question about Stock Accounts, after having the following encounter with her FBAR Expert.
Client: Are Stock Accounts reported on the FBAR?
Attorney: No, Stock is not listed on the FBAR.
Client: Are You sure?
Client: But I read that stock accounts are reported, just not stock certificates?
Reality: While individually owned stock certificates are not reported on the FBAR, stock accounts are reportable.
Adding insult to injury: The Attorney charged her 3-hours for research —
We take a quick look and see the Attorney has 5 different tax websites, each one touting “Expertise” in a different area of law.
In this situation the (clearly) non-willful client wants to go Streamlined. She reaches out to a purported “Expert” on a free call.
Client: But if I am Non-Willful, can’t I Go Streamlined?
Attorney: Sure, if you want to end up in Prison.
Client: It was an account I inherited 3-years ago from my elderly Mom.
Attorney: But you should have reported it.
Client: I Told my CPA?
Attorney: Do you want to go to Jail?
Attorney: If you go Streamlined, you will End up in Jail and hit with $500,000 in criminal penalties.
Client: I am not sure, Let me speak with other counsel first.
Attorney: There is no time! Sign with me now, so I can keep you out Prison.
Of course, if you were willful, you cannot qualify for Streamlined, BUT not everyone is willful, and tens of thousands of non-willful individuals successfully complete the Streamlined Program without risking ending up in prison.
*Here is a case example of the danger of going streamlined when you were willful.
*Here are some clients (like you) we have assisted undoing the mess caused by the prior “expert.”
American Bar Association & Attorney Experts
Back in 2013 the American Bar Association published a great article “Think Twice Before Calling Yourself an Expert“ about how the going theme is that attorneys with about 10-15 years’ experience, and a focus on one specific area of law, will suddenly start referring to themselves as experts – and how it is very dangerous territory for the client and attorney.
Here are some of the key highlights:
“You have been in practice for 15 years. After starting out as a general practitioner, you found your caseload to be largely made up of employment law matters and after five years decided to limit your practice to that area. You have family who are union members, and word-of-mouth advertising has been positive.
Results from your work have been satisfying to clients, and your familiarity with the various laws relevant to employment matters is now solid. You teach a course at a local law school on employment law and frequently give workshops and guest lectures at seminars on the same topic. Can you now say you are an “expert” in employment law on your website?
“You should think twice before doing so.”
“Put another way, use of the term expert is a subjective claim that leaves much to the reader’s imagination. In doing so, it can easily cross the line into false and misleading communication. State bar ethics opinions are unanimous on this point….”
Risk of Discipline?
“Lawyers have been disciplined for making misleading claims of expertise. See In re PRB Dockett No.2002.093, 177 Vt. 629, 868 A2d. 709 (2005) (affirming discipline imposed upon lawyer who advertised in the local Yellow Pages as The Injury Experts and used a list captioned by the words “We are experts in” and listed several areas of law; court noted statements carried an “ implicit statement of superiority with a serious potential to mislead the consumer”); In re Wells, 392 S.C. 371, 709 S.E.2d 644 (2011) (lawyer publicly reprimanded and fined for, among other things, making claims of expertise in advertisements without having been certified as an expert); and In re Richmond’s case 152 N.H. 155, 872 A.2d 1023 N.H. (2005) (lawyer suspended for misrepresenting that he had expertise in securities law).”
Board-Certified Tax Law Specialist
The closest any Tax attorney can probably get to being hailed an “expert” is to become a Board-Certified Tax Law Specialist – and that still doesn’t make them an expert.
Becoming a Board-Certified Tax Law Specialist is a very difficult credential for a Tax Attorney can achieve – earned by less than 1% of tax attorneys nationwide.
Were you Misled by a Tax Attorney Expert
Good News for you!
You can probably sue the attorney, no problem – since they claimed to be an expert….so, any mistake they make is probably actionable.