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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tax Attorneys Are in No Rush to Leave the IRS

Tax AnalystsShamik Trivedi (Tax Analysts), As Economy Recovers, Attorneys Are in No Rush to Leave IRS, 137 Tax Notes 1147 (Dec. 10, 2012):

The chief counsel honors program is the primary way the IRS recruits entry-level attorneys. It accepts applications from third-year law students and graduating LLM students who have less than one year of post-JD legal work experience. According to the IRS, the program receives about 4,000 applications each year for positions available nationwide.

In the chief counsel's office in Washington, 10 to 20 law students and recent graduates are hired each year, the IRS said. ... A newly appointed attorney is expected to remain with the IRS for three years but can resign after the first year, according to the IRS's website. An early departure, however, may not be the best idea for an attorney seeking to one day return to the IRS. ...

Documents obtained by Tax Analysts showed that between 2004 and 2007, 57 attorneys were hired into the honors program in the chief counsel's office in Washington. Their average annual pay was $115,412, markedly less than what they could earn in the private sector but slightly higher than the national median wage for attorneys. ...

The gender of the attorneys was split almost evenly. Twenty-nine were male, and 28 were female. While the IRS did not provide information in the FOIA response about where the attorneys had gone to school, research conducted by Tax Analysts showed that attorneys with LLMs in taxation generally received the advanced degree from Georgetown University Law Center....

In the mid-2000s, the Office of Chief Counsel began trying to increase recruitment of talented law students. It dispatched then-Chief Counsel Donald Korb to dozens of law schools to pitch the benefits of working as an IRS attorney. Korb is credited with changing the office's recruitment procedures to mirror those of large law firms. ...

"When we started out, the theme was that the IRS was a great place to start your career," said Korb. But that changed quickly to "it was also a great place to build your career too," he said. "We wanted to focus not only on starting, but building a career over time. For a lot of people, that's exactly what it was."

The Service's goal was to recruit and retain talented lawyers, but even if they left after their three-year commitment, that wasn't so bad, Korb said. "We were trying to get the best people we could," he said. Even if attorneys left, they were well trained and understood how the government worked, he said, adding, "It would benefit the tax system as a whole."

Korb said he wasn't surprised that most of the honors attorneys were still with the IRS, even with the opportunity to go elsewhere. "The Office of Chief Counsel is a great place to work," said Korb, who began his own legal career as an honors attorney with the Service and is now a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP.

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And of course, it's not age discrimination. Just coincidence that they don't hire many lawyers past 40, with all that recruiting in law schools.

Reminds me of my days (before law school) at IRS when the District Director would complain about walking through the offices and not seeing enough brown and black faces.

Posted by: Bob | Dec 11, 2012 8:51:31 AM

$115,000 for working at the IRS? I'm not sure what private sector this article is citing, but I don't know of any attorneys that earn that much with the job security and benefits provided by a federal government job.

Posted by: Private Sector | Dec 11, 2012 12:59:45 PM

Well they may be book smart but they will never be as experienced or work with the variety of an outside tax attorney. The rookies are not able to make their own decisions and will never until they move up in about 10 or more years. I would never work for the IRS over 3 years. It is a place of process and no common sense .....too much over kill ....if an attorney stays too long he/she will never be able to adopt the efficient ways of outside attorneys... The reason they stay is the pension,401K plan and health insurance.....1% of final 3 years X number of years with COL increases...where can you get that????...a 40 year career = 40% of highest 3 years average plus COLA and then add SS you have almost 100% of salary and never worry about the stock market. The 401K matches the first 1% and 50 of the next 4%. The health plan is one of the best around and when you retire the government still pays the same part as when employed.the other reason is that you will very seldom find them in the office on weekends.

Posted by: Sid | Dec 11, 2012 6:28:54 PM

"...$115,412, markedly less than what they could earn in the private sector..."

Since the lawyers are not leaving, it is probably more true to say "...$115,412, markedly more than what they would likely earn in the private sector..."

Posted by: Yo Gabba Gabba | Dec 12, 2012 9:18:48 AM

I'm sure that ( tax attorneys get paid a lot of money for what they do. Pretty sure the government enjoys hiring them too. -Utah

Posted by: Bill Shields | Feb 5, 2013 5:25:03 PM