Choosing The Right Tax Litigation Lawyer

In the course of my practice, I am routinely asked the question “what makes you any different from the rest?”.  It is an excellent question.  And it is certainly does not help that the Law Society of Ontario Rules are strict about how lawyers may distinguish themselves from others.  What I can do is list what would generally be considered important factors for a taxpayer to consider when retaining a tax lawyer to handle their tax dispute.

  1. Educational Qualifications: The most fundamental factor is whether the lawyer is qualified. The lawyer must have a law degree and be licensed in the relevant jurisdiction.  But additional education is important.  In addition to the LLB or JD, does the tax lawyer have a Master of Laws degree (LLM) in tax law? Or does s/he have a Masters in Taxation (M. Tax)? These are very important questions to ask because additional education and training not only bolsters that lawyer’s ability to handle your case but also indicates a passion for the subject matter, which is also very important.

  2. Experience: It is critical to determine how much experience the lawyer possesses. Questions to ask include how long they have been practicing, the number of cases they’ve handled, the types of cases they’ve handled, relative success in those cases, whether they handle both income tax and GST/HST litigation.

  3. Courtroom and Tax Experience: A tax litigator is a highly specialized professional, but in order to be competent it is important for the tax litigator to have an equal amount of skill and experience in both tax law on one hand and litigation on the other. Does your lawyer appear in court often? Have they argued many cases? Are they comfortable in all courts, including the Tax Court of Canada, the Federal Court of Canada, and the Federal Court of Appeal? But does that lawyer also deeply understand the country’s tax laws? What good is a tax litigator who doesn’t understand the rules of evidence, or one who does not understand the complicated tax rules involved in your case?

  4. Expected Fees: Go into the process having some idea what you can expect to pay.

  5. Do you like the Person: This is one of the more important considerations. Tax litigation files take a considerable amount of time working their way through the process.  You will be working closely with the lawyer and his or her firm members for quite some time.  It goes without saying that the process will be eminently easier if you work with someone you like.

This is not a comprehensive list.  There are other matters to consider, but these are certainly very important and asking the questions above will at least leave you more informed when making the critical hiring decision.