Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

U.S. Tax Prof Presentations At Today's Tax Research Network Conference

U.S. Tax Prof presentations at today's Tax Research Network Conference in Edinburgh Law School at the University of Edinburgh:

Tax Research NetworkJeremy Bearer-Friend (George Washington; Google Scholar), Poll Taxes, Revisited:

The introduction of the Community Charge in Scotland in 1989 was one of the defining moments of modern UK politics. Famously defended by Nicholas Ridley, Conservative Secretary of State for the Environment, on the grounds that a Duke would pay no more than a dustman, the arrival of the unpopular form of tax in Scotland a year before its introduction in England and Wales inspired a mass non-payment campaign and helped to bring about the end of Margaret Thatcher’s career as Prime Minister. But it was not the first time a 'poll tax' had been introduced by a British or US government during the twentieth century.

Using the political ephemera and archive collections of the National Library of Scotland, Jeremy Bearer-Friend puts the Scottish anti-Poll Tax campaign into global perspective, exploring how the everyday act of tax filing can become both a tool of discrimination and a powerful forum for political expression. Looking at the introduction of the Community Charge in comparison with other poll taxes applied by Anglophone governments during the twentieth century, he examines the ways in which neutrality in statutory language can cloak the use of tax as a political and economic weapon, and argues for an enriched understanding of the relationship between taxpaying and citizenship that goes beyond voting rights.

Michael Hatfield (University of Washington; Google Scholar) & Michelle Kwon (Tennessee), A Study of Tax Lawyers Discussing Duties, 75 Tax Law. ___ (2022):

This Article reports the first qualitative empirical study of US tax lawyers. We interviewed women who are board certified tax lawyers. In these interviews, we discussed professional ethics issues. Though this is the first such study of US tax lawyers, this methodology has often been used to study the professional ethics of other tax practitioners. Empirical research has established, for example, how tax practitioners’ training and socialization affect their ethical reasoning and the effect on ethical reasoning of communicating professional standards to practitioners. There have been over 500 empirical studies of ethical decision making in business contexts, including more than 100 qualitative empirical studies.

Although the qualitative empirical methodology has not been used to investigate professional ethics and US tax lawyers, a great deal has been written on the topic. US tax lawyers have long debated their professional duties. The literature is more than seventy years old. The first casebook on professional ethics for any legal specialization was written for tax lawyers, and enough articles had been written on the topic that an anthology of articles was published fifty years ago. The tax lawyer standing between the client’s money and the government’s need for revenue focused tax lawyers on the ethical issues that seemed to them unlike those found by lawyers in other fields. The discussion about whether tax lawyers have a special duty to the tax system has been ongoing for sixty years. During those years, Congress enacted laws, the Treasury Department issued regulations, and bar committees provided formal guidance on the line between appropriate and inappropriate tax positions.

Given how much has been written about professional ethics and tax lawyers by academics, lawyers, bar committees, Congressional committees, and the Treasury Department, we set out to explore how these volumes have shaped tax lawyers’ experience and explanation of their duties and conflicts. We wondered, for example, whether tax lawyers use the terms of the statutes or formal bar guidance or whether they use more informal terms when discussing their duties.

We interviewed only board certified tax lawyers. This ensured our interviewees would all have verified tax expertise and experience. Given the low percentage of women who are board certified tax lawyers, we focused first on offering interview opportunities to them. These lawyers’ interest in the study was so great that our time for interviewing was soon filled. Thus, this first qualitative empirical study of US tax lawyers is one of women tax lawyers.

Our goal was not to serve as a pollster with a questionnaire, but rather to engage in dynamic conversation, a back-and-forth between the interviewer and the interviewee on topics such as the distinction between good and bad tax plans and good and bad tax lawyers. We heard about the never ending intellectual demands of tax practice, and how much the lawyers enjoyed solving the tax puzzles. We heard about the importance of teamwork in serving clients, and the importance of professional self-defense. We heard about specific frustrations with clients and the clients’ other tax advisors. We also heard about Florentine tax history, college football, and “cocaine cowboys.”

We believe our research provides specific insights useful for the bar in developing its programs to support tax lawyers, and also for those who teach tax law. We believe our research also provides an empirical foundation for those who want to study gender-related issues in the in the tax bar.

We anticipate that empirical researchers will focus on two specific findings. First, those we interviewed expressed a positive assessment of the tax bar, which is interesting in that it is at odds with much of the academic and journalistic commentary on the ethics of the tax bar. Further research could establish why there is such a disconnect in this assessment. Second, we were very interested in what we did not hear, which was any discussion of a special duty to the tax system. Such a duty has been discussed among academics and members of the tax bar for sixty years, so its absence in the interviews is remarkable and warrants follow-up.

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