What Is the Difference Between a Tax Attorney and a CPA?

What Is the Difference Between a Tax Attorney and a CPA? So we get asked this question a lot and a lot of taxpayers struggle in understanding what I do versus what a CPA does in our firm we have tax attorneys who are both we have tax attorneys who are attorneys and their CPAs as well and just to highlight why somebody would do that I want to draw the distinctions between what a CPA is and what a tax attorney is so let's start with a CPA CPA stands for certified public accountant and what a certified public accountant is by definition is there's somebody who is certified to provide financial statements and to the public that is what the term CPA stands for when you go to accountant school and when you go through the process of getting your CPA license the focus of your CPA license is naturally on reporting it's on reporting and preparing those financial statements it's taking information translating it to a financial statement and having the public have confidence in that statement so within that process the focus here is really on compliance accountants make sure that things are filled out and that they're compliant so that's why you go to an accountant to prepare your taxes every year the accountant is charged with taking your information putting it on a tax return making sure that tax return is accurate and turning it in and that's the basic function of what an accountant does on the other side of things attorneys are focused on advocacy when we go to law school we learn about the law we learn about how to argue them learn about how to apply faxed along and so there's more of a back-and-forth with an attorney then there is an a compliance setting with the compliance you just focused on getting the right answer on the advocacy side oftentimes they're cutting they're not there's not always a right answer so the two schools of thought are different between compliance and advocacy now that's not to say that CPAs don't advocate for their clients although it's a very rare characteristic that.

I find when I find a CPA who's an advocate for their client because a lot of CPAs just focus on filling out the forms and getting it done and you'd be surprised the CPAs that we work with in our firm have that advocacy focus there they're focused on saving their clients money they're saving they're focused on taking a position on a tax return that's beneficial to the client that that helps the client out that you know maybe there's a little bit of a gray area but the CPA is not afraid of at the end result because they've got a reasonable position new that's not a way that a lot of CPAs focus consequently I can fill out a tax return but I am NOT the best preparation person in the world and texts have very far from it I probably struggle my way through a corporate tax return right now I'd get it done but it'd be a challenge so there are two separate schools of thought when it comes to taxes if you're focused on compliance go to a CPA if you're focused on advocacy go to an attorney now with that said one of the reasons we're very good at compliance within the law firm is because we know the advocacy side of it so when I give advice to a client about compliance issues I give that advice knowing where they're gonna get into trouble later and if this goes into a category or we have a dispute how are things going to be looked at so for example let me just be a simple one if I advise a client take a charitable contribution I know and in giving that advice I'm looking at ways that the auditor is going to look at that where the client p72 an order from a CPAs perspective the CPA may not have that controversy background and may not be looking at it from the present perspective of how is it's going to do in an audit they're just focused and is this compliant so there's a difference between the two positions and CPAs have strengths attorneys have strengths CPAs have weaknesses attorneys have weaknesses but the important thing is that you make the distinction between the two categories and understanding CPAs and attorneys share a common knowledge of tax law in some cases particularly on the tech and the technical side of things CPAs are much better in attorneys because they deal with things all day long if you're gonna ask a very technical corporate law question I probably refer you to a CPA versus an attorney although I could figure it out but when it comes to tax procedure when it comes to crisis management work when it comes to taking positions and defending clients or advocating on their behalf attorneys are much more appropriate for that role I hope that the the parallel helps draw some distinction between the two and helps to clarify that.


Sam Brotman, JD, LLM, MBA

Owner and Director of Legal
Brotman Law