I need to hire a lawyer to help me file unfiled tax returns in prior years. What are some special considerations/qualifications I should look for?

I have interviewed a couple of them and most the meetings just felt like "sales jobs" where they focused on fees and I could see how their structures would result in an "up sale" a little further down the road. Even the lawyers with good reviews online (assuming the reviews are not fake) still felt like "slick" approaches with sales brochures and what-not. Is that really what this industry has become or are there other things I should look for?

All of my tax issues are personal filings (as opposed to business) and it mostly centers around unfiled taxes because I was lazy, nothing more than that. So it's still serious to me because its 4 years of unfiled taxes but probably not the most complicated tax case you've ever heard of.

  • 3
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is a question about how to hire a lawyer, not a question about personal finance. Commented Sep 29, 2018 at 13:35
  • Welcome new user, while I like this question and most people probably would like it, unfortunately I do think it's probably off-topic for the site.
    – Fattie
    Commented Sep 29, 2018 at 16:52
  • @Fattie you show me an SE where this fits better than this one and I'll consider your previous statement. Commented Sep 29, 2018 at 17:16
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    @PropositionJoe not all questions have an appropriate S.E. site Commented Sep 29, 2018 at 18:20
  • Prop - sadly I do not know.
    – Fattie
    Commented Sep 29, 2018 at 23:24

1 Answer 1


Sorry, @ChrisInEdmonton, respectfully I have to disagree with you -- Although about hiring a lawyer, the question directs specifically with taxes.

@PropositionJoe, some details about what local/country and types of returns would be helpful, as well as why the need for a lawyer? In general, a lawyer is needed to represent you in US Tax courts, an accountant/CPA or Enrolled agent will not be permitted to represent you. That having been said, if you need to be represented IN TAX COURT, it is imperative (stress IMPERATIVE!!) that your attorney be a TAX attorney in the specific field you are dealing with (i.e. if a problem with payroll taxes, then a payroll tax attorney). Just because the attorney has a law degree and is a member of the BAR, does not mean they have a clue (beyond the most very basic) about taxes or dealing with the IRS. It is not unusual (and very highly recommended) that the attorney have an accounting degree. Your state BAR may list attorney specialties. Ask any prospects specifically how often and under what circumstances they've dealt with the tax entity (such as: US-> IRS, Calif. -> FTB).

If only about filing (US, State) taxes (even if your taxes are very complicated -- businesses, divorce, Cap Gains/Losses, etc.), or prior years, most if not all can be handled with a competent CPA or EA, without the nee However, if you have even a whiff that this could head to a TAX court, do not pass GO, go directly to a TAX attorney.

I am not an attorney, CPA or EA, consider these my opinions only. Consult a professional.

If as you say the taxes are not complicated, you may be able to resolve this without a CPA or EA, if you feel confident in dealing with the IRS. You can locate the tax forms for prior tax years are at irs.gov (usually the your state tax board can provide prior state tax forms, if needed, too.). Obviously, make sure you can justify all of your entries. There are going to be multiple penalties and interest fees, so leave those boxes to the agency to assess. Then contact and advise the IRS of the coming returns. You'll be advised of the penalties and interest, but you will also receive a notice of specific fees in a couple of weeks. Once you receive the notice, contact the IRS again, and ask to discuss a payment plan -- you'll have to jump through some additional hoops (that's detailing personal income and expenses), but it's pretty straight-forward. Think negotiation, but the IRS does want as much of the tax it can reasonably expect to receive over the next five years... if you're income has decreased to the point they can not reasonably expect to receive the back tax, they have the ability to reduce the tax, penalties and/or fees (but don't expect them to 'rollover').

Good luck...

  • Fair enough. I have updated my original query with more details. In regards to your other point, I did start with talking to CPAs but the majority of CPAs will only handle the filings, I have yet to find a CPA that will do the filing and work on your behalf with the payment plans to the IRS. Commented Sep 29, 2018 at 14:56
  • Nit: streamlined installment agreements used to be limited to 5 years and $25k and recently increased to 6 years and $50k (with direct debit), but IRS collection activities in general can go up to 10 years from assessment. Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 19:57

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