The Best Kept Secret


by Michael Stuart

"Few people are aware that there is a short-cut for a person with Federal tax and accounting training and experience (E.A., CPA, M. Tax, J.D., LL.M. et al.) to qualify to practice as a legal representative and tax litigation counsel in U.S. Tax Court, without ever having attended law school."

After passing a 4-hour exam (U.S. Tax Court Nonattorney Exam) and an FBI background check, an approved person would be permitted to "represent" a petitioner-taxpayer in U.S. Tax Court. There, the newly-admitted practitioner, acting as a United States Tax Court Practitioner can:
  • serve 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 while in practice in U.S. Tax Court. The only exception is that the USTCP practice privilege is exclusive to the U.S. Tax Court. (A person so designated may never, ever attempt to practice in ANY other legal forum. To do so, subjects that person to a charge of UPL - unlicensed practice of law, a misdemeanor in most states punishable by one-year in jail and a fine, and needless to say, a loss of the USTCP designation aka "disbarment".)

Albeit, the USTCP designation is diverse. The Court recognizes the USTCP as the "Tax Litigation Counsel for the Petitioner-Taxpayer". Acting in this capacity, the USTCP may practice anywhere in the United States and its territories, wherever the Tax Court holds session. Unlike attorneys, who hold only a privilege to practice within or across state jurisdictions (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 or authorizations from state authorities.

Let's suppose you become a USTCP and you develop a specialty practice, e.g. representing gender-transitioned persons who seek to take deductions for authorized sex change procedures. You could file a petition in behalf of such a taxpayer, whose deductions are challenged by the IRS. And you can do so in any state (you need not be domiciled there), and only concern yourself with travel to that state if the case cannot be settled or resolved and is eventually designated for trial.

Keep in mind that most Tax Court cases are resolved, usually during the Branerton Conference, or settled on or before the trial date, e.g. cases that are fully stipulated and are then sent to a judge (Rule 122 Cases). And numerous small cases get resolved administratively with the use of the electronic filing system whereby the Court can manage and give notice of dispositions online.

But should the case proceed to trial then the USTCP may need to litigate. 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. And, although there are some USTCPs who are actively filing "s"-cases, few will ever file a regular case that could go to trial because they lack the confidence and the skills to litigate (especially where the tax liability is a big number).

On the other hand, TLI graduates are involved in litigation of six- and seven-figure cases that are designated for trial. They are prepared for and confident in their litigation skills and therefore stand a good chance to settle under the best of terms for their clients. Consequently, they are receiving higher fees for their service and are sought after by other determined taxpayers and attorneys, especially where they have the added support from a litigation advisory team such as U.S. Tax Court

And then there's the high rate of compensation awaiting the newly-admitted EA-USTCP or CPA-USTCP among law and accounting firms, and in solo practice as well. If you're an IRS enrolled agent or CPA, then just obtaining this credential means you're going to increase your income by several thousand dollars during the first year, after getting your approvals. Your return prep business may not improve right away, but your tax consultations will. And keep in mind all those attorneys out there that I've mentioned, who will want you as an expert witness, and will pay fees ranging from $1500 up to $25,000 for expert reports or oral testimonies. Because you know both the tax accounting and the litigation side of a case you will find yourself to be in great demand. That is not hyperbole; that is a fact!

It is fair to say that the EA-USTCP or CPA-USTCP can expect to see annual earnings hit high five figures and low-to-mid six figures or more within 1-to-2 years after launching their tax litigation practice.

If you are thinking about applying to become a 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 litigators in the U.S. Tax Court.  We want to see more USTCPs with good trial and settlement skills and sound knowledge of the Rules. And so does the Court! We'll share with you all that we can to help you get the most out of your training at TLI.

Lastly, the next Nonattorney Exam is November 2021, subject to current COVID-19 protocols. Any one of the approved preparation programs should be able to qualify you to be "Admitted to Practice, U.S. Tax Court." But the Tax Law Institute is really the way to go! TLI has a pragmatic study plan and it's competitively priced. And most importantly, it's a dial-in program, so you can participate in workshops and classes from anywhere with just a cell phone and note pad. Simply enroll in one of the dial-in sessions. And keep in mind those bonus workshops where anyone having a hard time grasping and applying evidentiary rules, procedural or practice rules, or tax concepts can learn in a non-confrontational setting and get real answers to exam questions that they can rely on. And do remember that TLI Tax Bar Review Program offers free tutorial services that puts you in contact with a tutor who will work with you one-on-one.

But no worries, if you can't enroll any of the dial-in sessions then there's always the 8-Week Remote Tax Bar Review that runs 8 weekends - every Saturday, September 11, 2021 thru October 30, 2021. Next year's guest speaker is Harvard Law School Professor Keith Fogg who will discuss notable tax court cases decided during 2018 -2021.

So, here are the basic things you need to remember. The dial-in sessions and bonus workshops meet every Saturday 10 am to 12 noon. Classes with the Judge Dean and Prof. Larson and other Federal Tax Scholars convene from 3 pm to 6 pm ET for approximately 8-9 weeks each session. In the sessions and the Final Review, you are told via email what to read before the workshops and classes convene. When you dial-in a former U.S. Tax Court judge and law professor will -
  • walk you through old exam questions,
  • work with you to develop model answers,
  • quickly solve tax law problems and apply rules,
  • and then explain how the examiners want you
  • to frame legal rules and tax concepts in your
  • written answer so that you pass the examination.

An 8-Week Remote Tax Bar Review will convene remotely on September September 11, 2021 and run thru October October 30, 2021. When you show up in Washington DC to take the Exam, we offer 4-star accommodations on the Georgetown University Campus for a lot less than you would pay on your own and the day before the actual exam we'll present a 1-day live review session with a former U.S. Tax Court judge.

Lastly, we've been doing this since 2012 (no, that's not exactly true; we've been during this since 2006 but we weren't yet IRS-approved back then) and we've gotten better every Testing Cycle with improvements to our program drawn from critiques solicited from the applicants. We now have a 75% pass rate among CPAs that is... but we would certainly like to see that number rise among EAs as well. We also know a lot more about what knowledge the Tax Court examiners want to see test-applicants display in order to pass.

So, the upshot is that we purposely don't sign-up large groups and then blow our horn about the few who do pass while stats about the dozens who flunk never get mentioned. Instead, we take only a little more than a handful of applicants to train during any one testing cycle (and if we do have more then we split them up and work with two groups). That's what makes TLI so unique. And that's why when you enroll you can rest assured that you'll get our full attention. We want to ensure that your pass!

P.S. And please, read the rest of this website; you'll be surprised at what you can learn about passing the Exam and setting up your own tax litigation practice. 

Updated: May 13, 2020 by Michael Stuart


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"If you prepare with us and do not pass the 2021 Non-attorney Exam then you may repeat the Program, at no charge, during the 2023 Testing Cycle.

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