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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

March 10, 2016
Question

I received my LLM in Tax after practicing a few years in random practice areas. Many law and accounting firms have dinged me for not having enough tax experience. What do I do now?

answer
Julie Q. Brush

Congratulations on receiving your LLM and moving your career in the direction you desire. While you have several years experience, you are embarking on your maiden voyage down the tax law path. And without any real world experience in this specific practice area, it is not realistic to expect employers to hire you for a role other than at the entry level. So the reasons for your rejections to date are not surprising. In addition, your marketability will be tethered to other factors such as the quality of your academic creds. An LLM in Tax from a program such as NYU or Georgetown will give you a lift and open some doors. On the flip side, a degree from a lower ranked institution will create challenges with some employers (but not all given the niche nature of the practice). The cache of your JD…and grades will also make a difference – as will the quality of your prior work experience/former employers. So depending on where you fall on these spectrums, your employment opportunities will vary.

Given this reality, you will need to readjust your expectations and press the reset button on your search. So what now? Your next steps will be to cover new ground as well as some old with a new perspective and approach. Below is a suggested direction:

Revisit Your Resume.

Your resume is the first impression that an employer receives of the professional You. And as you venture out on a new practice path, your resume will be instrumental in your search process. So just how good is it? Does it immediately communicate your interest and education in tax? Does it drone on about your experience in random practice areas? Is it formatted cleanly and easy to read? Are you under-emphasizing your best stuff? Take another look at this important marketing document and determine whether it achieves the goal you’d like. Ask colleagues to review it and provide feedback. And then revise accordingly to get it in tiptop shape.

Now that your resume is ready to go, it’s time to move forward to find your next job. In order to maximize your options, follow a multi-pronged approach:

Leverage Your Network.

Ok, broken record I know. But…how effectively are you currently leveraging yours? If you haven’t done it much in your search to date, this is a good place to begin and it need not be overwhelming. Make a list of everyone you know: colleagues, friends, family, professors, recruiters, coaches, career services and reach out to let them know that you are looking. Your message should be thoughtfully crafted with points on (1) your newly acquired degree; (2) what you are seeking; and (3) what skills you offer a firm/company. Attach your resume and ask for referrals. When asking for introductions, provide a sample intro that your network can cut and paste for efficiency.

Re-approach Employers.

For those employers who have declined your candidacy based on lack of experience, re-approach them to inquire about entry-level roles. No employer requires prior experience for newbie roles and if they say they do, there is a different reason they are telling you no.

Big Firms. Small Firms.

Given the specialty nature of tax law, developing the specific experience regardless of the size of the firm will provide you with marketability for your next position. Big firms are a commonly desired destination, but these practices are quite small and opportunities are limited. Mid-sized firms and boutiques are good places to find tax positions – as are solos. So don’t limit your world. Identify the firms and solos in your area that have a tax practice and reach out proactively to inquire about opportunities.

Go Beyond Accounting Firms.

Accounting firms aren’t the only employers who employ tax lawyers: banks, insurance companies, tech companies, energy companies and a host of others seek tax lawyers from time to time. So include these profiles among your targets. The easiest place to find open jobs is online. But if you can network into a company, you can increase your chances of finding a role within the organization.

Government.

Expand your search to government organizations like the IRS, CIA and the DOJ. Government salaries won’t break the bank, but a few years in these positions will provide a terrific springboard for your tax career.

Go Mobile.

Geographic regions have varying levels of economic vibrancy and job opportunities. And depending on where you live, your options may be numerous…or limited. If you are willing to move to a city with robust legal hiring, the opportunity pool will increase. But you’ll likely have to take another bar exam if pursuing law firm roles, which may stunt your motivation.

Contract Work.

Today’s legal profession is far more socialized around lawyers who pursue contract, project or part time work. So being in this type of situation that gives you good tax experience is something you can market for your next job. There are scores of temp and project agencies in the market. So register with those in your area that may have the work you seek.

Just Off The Bulls-eye.

If you are doing everything you can and still coming up empty, expand your search to include roles that are slightly more diverse, but also include tax as part of the job responsibilities. You don’t want to divert too greatly as it might be tough to get back on track. So apply a tighter filter to these types of roles and make sure they are closely associated with the practice you’d like to pursue long-term.

Despite your struggles to date, there is reason to be optimistic. Today’s legal market is active (more in some cities than in others). And while tax is not the hottest legal practice, diverse law firm and in house opportunities do exist. In addition, tax is a niche practice where the candidate pool is limited. So judgment of credentials as well as where and how you acquire your tax experience isn’t as harsh as it is for lawyers in other practice areas, which allows you to compete for a wider range of career opportunities. Finally, your LLM provides you with advanced and specialized education that you can leverage when networking and applying for jobs. So take advantage of these positives as you move forward with your search. Challenges will still exist, but if you remain resilient and work the angles, you’ll find the role to put you on your path to tax code heaven.

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