While accountants help people and businesses file their taxes, professionals with tax law backgrounds help individuals, businesses, organizations and accounting firms navigate the evolving complexities of tax law. If you’re interested in law but want other work options besides being in a courtroom, a career in taxation law may be appealing.
The American Bar Association breaks down tax career path specialties:
- Corporate tax
- U.S. international tax
- Partnership tax
- State and local tax
- Estate and gift tax
- Individual income tax
- Tax-exempt organizations
- Employee benefits and executive compensation tax issues
Types of Master’s Degrees in Tax Law
There are two main types of master’s in tax law degrees to consider: a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in taxation and a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) in taxation. These degrees focus on the legal side of taxes, compared to accounting degrees like a Master of Accountancy, Master of Science in accounting or MBA in accounting.
Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Taxation
A Master of Laws (LL.M.) in taxation is a degree that typically requires students to already have a Juris Doctor (J.D.) designation from an accredited law school. The LL.M. in taxation degree gives already-established legal professionals the skills they need to specialize in taxation. An LL.M. in taxation is useful for those who have completed law school and want to specialize in a certain industry. The program typically takes full-time students a year to complete.
Master of Legal Studies (MLS) in Taxation
A Master of Legal Studies (MLS) in taxation degree typically does not require that students already have a J.D. These degrees are usually available for bachelor’s degree holders to apply for. An MLS in taxation degree gives non-lawyers the ability to gain specialized legal skills in tax law without having to complete law school.
Typically, courses in an MLS program are similar or the same as those taken by first-year J.D. students. In an MLS in taxation program, students will learn taxation-specific skills related to research and writing, contracts, civil procedure, and other law-related topics that are also important in taxation professions. An MLS in taxation program typically takes one full year to complete when students are full-time.
Tax Law vs. Tax Accounting
While the focus area of taxes overlaps for tax law and tax accounting professionals, the specific duties differ.
Tax law professionals have the knowledge and authority to deal with legal tax entities. Someone with a tax law background may work with individuals or businesses who are facing liens and levies or owe back taxes. Tax law professionals represent clients who are in conflict with legal authorities or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). They’re experts in dispute resolution and tax controversy.
Tax accounting professionals are knowledgeable in tax preparation for individuals or businesses, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) – accountants and auditors. They prepare and file tax returns and help their clients minimize tax liability and maximize federal tax benefits.
Now that we’ve covered the difference between degrees and titles, here are some careers in taxation you might consider with a master’s degree.
Top Careers With LL.M. in Taxation and Salaries
Tax career paths are diverse depending on your education level and experience. One way to possibly increase earning potential is to earn a master’s in taxation.
Graduates holding an LL.M. degree have a professional degree and may be able to increase their earnings compared to someone with just a master’s degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report on “Measuring the Value of Education” in 2017, those with a professional degree had median weekly earnings of $1,836, compared to $1,401 for those with a master’s degree. That’s a difference of more than $22,000 a year.
Tax attorneys represent clients when they’re facing situations involving business ownership and lawsuits involving the IRS. Tax attorneys help business owners set up business entities or engage in international business. They also work with clients who are being investigated by the IRS or want to seek an independent review of a U.S. Tax Court case. According to the BLS, the 2018 median pay of lawyers was $120,910 per year.
Estate Planning Lawyer or Advisor
Estate planning lawyers and advisors are versed in tax law related to estate planning. They help clients organize and protect assets in case the client dies or becomes incapacitated. Estate planning lawyers can draft last wills and testaments, as well as create living trusts. They help clients deal with estate taxes as well.
Tax Consultant at Accounting Firm
Tax consultants are up to date on current tax laws, planning and compliance. They work with accounting firms to make sure their accountants are serving their clients with accurate information and services. They conduct research on tax laws, help clients minimize tax liability, explain tax issues, and ensure their clients are compliant with tax laws.
According to the Economic Research Institute (ERI), tax consultants earn an average of $63,089 a year, as of March 2020.
Financial Product Advisor
Financial product advisors help clients decide on investments, retirement, taxes, estate planning, insurance, mortgages, college savings and other financial matters. They discuss financial goals with their clients and recommend financial services to help their clients meet those goals.
According to the BLS, the 2018 median pay for personal financial advisors was $88,890 per year.
Department of Justice Tax Lawyer
Some tax professionals choose to work with the federal government, as a Department of Justice tax lawyer. These lawyers work on behalf of the IRS, filing tax lawsuits against individuals and businesses and defending the federal government when lawsuits are brought against it.
Top Careers With MLS in Taxation and Salaries
There are also diverse career paths those with an MLS in taxation can take. Some are similar to fields those with an LL.M. in taxation degree pursue, and others are much different.
Tax consultants, also known as tax advisors, are professionals in financial planning, tax law and tax returns. They help their clients make cost-effective financial decisions by providing financial-related counseling.
Certified personal accountants (CPAs) prepare and examine financial records. They ensure financial records are accurate and taxes are paid on time and accurately. They make sure financial statements comply with laws and regulations and assess financial operations to make best-practice recommendations. They may also help individuals and businesses identify ways to reduce costs, increase revenue and improve profits.
The BLS reports the 2018 median pay for accountants was $70,500 per year.
An M&A consultant is someone who specializes in mergers and acquisitions (M&A). M&A consultants provide advice on corporate mergers, divestitures and acquisitions. They may provide recommendations for equity and debt financing or assist in providing negotiation of purchase and sale agreements and other deal-related agreements, as well as resolve transaction issues throughout M&A processes.
Tax Specialist Government Contractor
Government contractors who are tax specialists do tax work for public government agencies. They win a contract that is out for bid and complete the work that is needed. Government contract work for tax specialists can vary widely, making it an appealing job for those who want to work on a variety of new projects in their professional lives.
International Tax Professional
International tax professionals work with individuals and businesses who work with international clients. International tax professionals ensure tax responsibilities are carried out accurately and that their clients meet compliance standards and tax laws for the countries they do business in.
Chief Financial Officer/Financial Manager
Chief financial officers (CFOs) create strategies and policies for businesses and organizations to meet their financial goals. CFOs are the top-level financial controllers in organizations. The BLS reports the 2018 median pay for chief executives was $189,600 per year.
Financial managers are also responsible for the financial health of an organization but typically report to the CFO. While chief financial officers are in key leadership roles, financial managers produce financial reports, monitor financial details and supervise other financial employees. They help executives make financial decisions. The 2018 median pay for financial managers was $127,990 per year, according to the BLS.
Learn more about what you can do with a master’s in legal studies.