Bar Admission


by Michael Stuart


Few people are aware that there is a short-cut for a person with Federal tax accounting training to qualify to practice in U.S. Tax Court, without attending law school.

After passing a 4-hour exam (U.S. Tax Court Non-attorney Exam) and an FBI background check, an approved person would be permitted to "represent" taxpayers in U.S. Tax Court. There, the newly-admitted practitioner, acting as an United States Tax Court Practitioner can:

  • as counsel and legal representative
  • resolve tax controversies
  • act in behalf of taxpayers (both domestic and foreign)

The United States Tax Court Practitioner aka "USTCP" enjoys the same privileges that a State-licensed attorney enjoys when in U.S. Tax Court. The only exception is that, in the case of the USTCP, the practice privilege is exclusive to the U.S. Tax Court.

Even more interesting, the USTCP may practice anywhere in the United States and its territories, wherever the Tax Court holds session. This is the principle reason why the USTCP designation is so diverse. Unlike attorneys, who hold only a privilege to practice, wherever they are admitted to practice (reciprocity), the federally authorized tax practitioner who obtains the USTCP designation can cross State lines and go into other jurisdictions to litigate in the local U.S. Tax Court, without permissions from State authorities. Just think about that for a moment!

Suppose you become an USTCP and you develop a specialty practice, e.g. representing gender-transitioned persons who seek to take deductions for unauthorized sex change procedures. You could file a petition in behalf of such a taxpayer, whose deductions would most likely be challenged. And you can do so in any state, and only concern yourself with travel to that state if the case has been designated for trial. Keep in mind that most Tax Court cases are resolved in Branerton, or are settled on or before the trial date. Not to mention that numerous small cases get resolved administratively. And with the electronic filing system, the Court can manage and dispose of tax cases more quickly. But should you need to litigate, then knowing how to litigate becomes very important. Not knowing how is the reason why so many tax practitioners who hold the USTCP designation do nothing more than put it in their resume, or use it as a vicarious club when dealing with IRS examiners or appeals officers. Although there are many who are actively filing S-cases, few ever file regular cases where tax liabilities exceed six figures that go to trial. Not bad; but neither the highest nor best use... Current TLI graduates are involved in litigation of seven-figure cases that are designated for trial. They are prepared and ready for protracted litigation and therefore stand a good chance to settle under the best terms for their clients. Consequently, they receive higher fees for their service and are sought after by attorneys and CPAs.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, let's really talk about the financial benefits of becoming an USTCP and the one great perk - industry compensation.

If you're an enrolled agent or CPA, then just obtaining this credential means you're going to increase your income by several thousand dollars, almost immediately after getting your approvals. Your return prep business may not improve so much, but your tax consultations will, and then you'll get more clients. In fact, you're in for a real surprise because the EA-USTCP and CPA-USTCP is in high demand among attorneys, and law and accounting firms who use them mostly as "expert witness." And if an EA-USTCP or CPA-USTCP is really ambitious, he/she can connect to law or accounting firms that maintain federal tax practices through the Tax Law Institute. On balance, it is fair to say that the EA-USTCP or CPA-USTCP can expect to see annual earnings hit low-to-mid six figures, or more, within the first two-three years.

Go a step further and consider the EA- or CPA-USTCP who gets a J.D., (and an LLM too, if we really go over the top) and also gets him/herself admitted to a State bar. Well, quite frankly, these are so rare so discussing their earning potential might be unfair to the thousands of EAs and CPAs who have no interest qualifying for the USTCP designation or attorney's license. So, we'll leave such talk to further conversations we might have when you contact us to discuss your future.

Regardless, if you are thinking about becoming an United States Tax Court Practitioner then contact us. We're very generous with our time because we have a vested interest in putting qualified tax practitioners in the U.S. Tax Court.  We want to see more USTCPs with good litigation skills and sound knowledge of the Rules. We'll share with you all that we can to help you make some choices.

Lastly, be sure to remember that the next Non-attorney Exam is November 2020. Any one of the approved preparation programs should be able to qualify you to be "Admitted to Practice, U.S. Tax Court." But now is the time to get started with a pragmatic study program. Simply enroll in the electronic Judicial Conference & Lecture Series that began October 26, 2019.  This program is currently meeting every Saturday at 3 pm ET and is taught in three (3) segments. The first segment [October 26, 2019] ends December 14, 2019. The second segment starts after the 2020 Tax Season - Saturday, June 6, 2020 and runs thru Saturday, July 24, 2020. The final segment begins on September 12, 2020 and ends on Saturday, October 31, 2020, after which everyone meets in Washington DC for the live, Judicial Bar Review 5 days before the Exam. Overnight accommodations and meals are taken at the Georgetown University Hotel & Conference Center. Repeat test-takers need only attend the final segment/live review to prepare themselves for the 2020 Exam. 

Regardless, just keep in mind that it really doesn't matter if you self-study or join our electronic and/or live instructional programs. So long as you give ample time to preparation, you'll stand a better chance of passing (or near-passing), if you start studying now. But, also remember that when you study with us you greatly improve you chances to pass. And by signing up with TLI, you will join an organization that has a solid reputation for working with its members long-term, to develop their practice.

Updated: November 2019

by Michael Stuart


Although dated, this article is still very informative

by Dean Johnson

"If you are an accountant or tax professional such as a CPA, EA (Enrolled Agent), or RTRP (Registered Tax Return Preparer), and are considering law school to become a tax lawyer, there is a viable alternative that may not be as time consuming or expensive. Take the Tax Court exam and achieve the USTCP designation so you will have the authority to represent taxpayers in the United States Tax Court in a controversy against the IRS."

Published Monday, January 14, 2013

I am continually amazed that such a small percentage of accountants and tax professionals are striving for or have even become aware of the “United States Tax Court Exam.” Completion of this exam provides a professional with a license to represent an individual or corporate taxpayer in the US Tax Court in a capacity similar to a tax attorney. The designation is referred to as “USTCP” which is an acronym for “United States Tax Court Practitioner.”

The significant opportunity is that the accounting and/or tax professional can achieve this accomplishment without going to law school for three years. In order to attend law school for a normal three-year term, there are significant out-of-pocket costs; also, the opportunity costs of not working while attending classes must be considered [not to mention the strict admissions criteria to get into a good state bar approved program].

The USTCP achievement is accomplished by preparing for and completing a four-hour bar exam that is given every other year in November, at the United States Tax Court building in Washington, DC  The next exam will be in November of 2014, so you can start getting your goals in mind and begin preparation and establishing a plan for completion.

The potential beneficiaries of this opportunity are:

⋄  Accounting firms that might want to sponsor a key partner or employee for it.

⋄  College business students interested in accounting and taxes that might want to view the path of the USTCP as an alternative to going to law school to enhance their level of expertise.

⋄  Tax resolution firms which mainly resolve conflicts with the IRS that might encourage an employee or principal to consider it.

⋄  A sole proprietor or small firm that might may want it to gain a competitive edge.

I hope that college business professors, accounting firm partners, tax resolution firms and the various professional organizations get the word out to their associates, partners, employees and members that there is an opportunity available such as the USTCP.

Please understand that with the USTCP, the successful candidate cannot use the lawyer or attorney title, but once an individual passes the exam and is admitted to practice before the United States Tax Court, they get assigned a bar number just like an attorney.

Also, the USTCP cannot practice law similar to an attorney preparing wills or contracts; the only venue where a USTCP can represent a client/taxpayer in a legal capacity is in a controversy with the IRS in the United States Tax Court and providing advice during the controversy.

Further, it should be mentioned that the majority of Tax Court cases are settled before they go to trial. More than 90 percent of the cases never go to trial; however, you must be prepared in the event a settlement is not reached.

Contents of the exam

The contents of the exam are clearly spelled out at as follows: “The examination consists of the following four parts and is designed to test the applicant’s knowledge of these subject areas:

(1) Tax Court Rules of Practice and Procedure.

(2) Federal Taxation.

(3) Federal Rules of Evidence.

(4) Legal ethics, including the Model Rules of Professional Conduct of the American Bar Association.

Four hours will be allowed for the test. To pass, the applicant must demonstrate proficiency in each subject area by obtaining a score of 70 percent or greater on each of the exam’s four parts.

The real back breaker of the exam is Part 3, titled Federal Rules of Evidence. It is necessary to be familiar with the rules and be able to cite such rules from memory as there are no reference materials available during the actual exam for this section. Further, one must be able to apply the rules to a typical tax court trial and related questions about the admission of evidence, objections and procedures in court.

Books are provided to assist the applicant during the exam for each of the other three parts, but for the Part 3, you must work from memory and apply it in a case situation.

Legal Ethics and Tax Court Rules of Practice and Procedure are fairly straightforward and basically open book. The Federal Income Tax portion is the longest part and covers a broad base of information making it the second most difficult part.

The exam costs $75 to be paid with the application and you have to get to the Tax Court building in Washington, DC, to take it. Further, it is necessary to purchase various text books on legal evidence and consider a review course. The next exam is in November 2014. The United States Tax Court will announce the date and begin accepting applications approximately six months before the exam.

In 2008, approximately 75 individuals took the exam and eight individuals were successful. The pass rate over the last decade has been between 5 percent and 10 percent.

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