Sunday, March 24, 2013
New York Times: The Ethicist: A Tax Lawyer’s Quandary:
I am a tax lawyer. Is advising wealthy companies of ways to reduce their tax bills through sophisticated legal structures ethically permissible? The structures take advantage of legal loopholes in the tax legislation. NAME WITHHELD, NEW YORK
The ethics of specific professions create unique realms of responsibility. In the same way that a defense attorney is ethically obligated to give his client the best possible defense — even if he’s convinced of the individual’s guilt — your principal responsibilities lie with the company hiring you. You need to do your job to the best of your abilities, within the existing rules. You should, however, voice your moral apprehension about the use of such loopholes to the company you represent.
(Hat Tip: George Yin.)
Update: Jack Townsend (Houston), Ethicist Question About Tax Professionals Exploiting Loopholes:
[F]or those tax professionals engaging in such transactions that they know violated a known legal duty, their conduct is illegal and unethical. For those transactions engaging in such transactions where they don't know (perhaps are willfully ignorant) that the conduct is illegal (ultimately most of the bullshit tax shelters are found to be illegal), then at least the ethical issues arise. These are smart professionals, paid (supposedly) to predict what a court will do with the bullshit tax shelter. Yet, in the prominent civil cases that swat down bullshit tax shelters, they fail miserably in their predictions. (Which may suggest that their more-likely-than-not opinions were motivated in significant part by some form of willful ignorance seasoned with greed seasoned further with selling insurance for the taxpayer's risk of civil and criminal penalties.