Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Heather Field (UC-Hastings) presents Aggressive Tax Planning and the Ethical Tax Lawyer at Toronto today as part of its James Hausman Tax Law and Policy Workshop Series:
[H]ow should a tax planner, who wants to engage in “permissible tax planning” but not cross the line over into “unethical loophole lawyering,” exercise her discretion and judgment? This paper seeks to answer this question by drawing on both (a) the extensive literature on lawyering and professionalism and (b) the social science literature regarding factors that contribute to biased decision-making and unintentional lapses in judgment. The explicit incorporation of these strands of literature into the discourse on tax ethics helps each tax planner operationalize, on an individual basis and in a way that aligns with her values, both the general and tax-specific rules of professional conduct. The existing tax ethics literature primarily focuses either on how to comply with the rules governing practice or on how the rules should be improved. Thus, this paper contributes to the literature by focusing on the issues that the rules leave to the discretion of the tax practitioner (rather than on the issues that the rules address) and by approaching the discussion from a lawyering perspective20 (rather than from a policymaking perspective).
Specifically, this paper argues that a lawyer seeking to pursue a career as an ethical tax planner should identify and implement her philosophy of lawyering to help her make difficult discretionary decisions in a principled way, and when implementing that approach to lawyering, she should work to counteract the subtle factors that can skew her professional judgment. ...
Ultimately, this paper argues that an important part of being an ethical tax planner, particularly when dealing with contestable tax positions, includes being deliberate about how one approaches the task of giving tax planning advice and being self-aware about the ways in which one exercises judgment. By fleshing out the concept of ethical tax planning, I hope to give our students confidence and guidance as they embark on (hopefully, ethical) careers as tax planners, and I hope to ease the tension between tax academics’ scholarly work condemning aggressive tax planning and their classroom work, in which they often teach students how to use those same tax planning techniques. And perhaps this limited defense of the ethics of the tax planning profession can help to rehabilitate the public image of tax lawyers.