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The Tax Practice of IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law
The Tax Practice of IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law

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Why Can’t I Do This Myself?

Posted on in Uncategorized

Sometimes, when I am discussing IRS strategies with potential clients, I am asked "Can I do this myself?" And sometimes, my response is: "Absolutely, you can do this yourself. Let me tell you how...".

Many of my colleagues might not want me spreading this around, but for sure there are lots of resolutions that taxpayers can implement themselves without any real risks: filing delinquent returns that reflect minimal or no liabilities; establishing guaranteed or "streamlined" installment agreements when no financial statement is required; responding to simple correspondence examination inquiries for missing schedules, computation errors or substantiation, and the like.

But more often than not, I am reminded of that memorable line from comedian Chris Rock - "Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it".

I mean, lots of people can change the oil in their car, but it’s not worth the time or the mess to do it themselves. (Ok, maybe not me, but lots of people can work on their cars...)

And you can certainly exercise at the fitness club by yourself, with positive results. But how much more successful and disciplined are you when you have a personal trainer establishing a plan and providing motivation?

We have several clients that are financially successful business persons, accountants, and attorneys. I have even represented more than one tax controversy specialist. And more than anyone, these clients know that representing yourself is ill-advised in most every situation.

Effectively dealing with the IRS requires an intimate knowledge of the procedures, policies and culture of the organization, and the particular division you are dealing with. Not every rule is written down, and those that are change frequently, and can sometimes be difficult to find or access.

But even more importantly than knowing the rules and policies, successful negotiation is about experience. Being able to respond - sometimes on the fly - to both anticipated and surprising IRS obstacles and inquiries requires a context, something that pro se taxpayers and professionals new to the field simply lack.

Examples of disastrous self-representation abound. Let me share one recent tale of woe:

Last month, a sophisticated, successful business woman sought our assistance with a rather large payroll tax liability. Thinking it was a straight-forward process to enter into an installment agreement with the IRS, she took care of things herself, responding directly to the assigned Revenue Officer’s requests for information. After reviewing her self-prepared Collection Statement, the RO insisted on a monthly payment that left her no personal draw from the business - no way to pay her mortgage, buy groceries, make her car payment. Unfortunately, and perhaps because she thought she was making progress with the Revenue Officer, she failed to even notice the "Final Notice of Intent to Levy" he mailed to her. Three days after the taxpayer’s installment agreement proposal was denied, during which time she was searching for an attorney, the Revenue Officer levied the business bank account, leaving no funds to pay suppliers or employees and effectively ending the business.

Effective representation is about more than just filling out forms, arguing fairness, and begging for mercy. Successful resolution is about careful, intentional, and creative problem solving, and employing knowledge of the established institutional limitations on discretion, so it can be exploited to a taxpayer’s advantage. Sometimes, paying for representation is unnecessary - no doubt this is true. But most of the time, the tactical and psychological benefits realized by having an experienced professional place himself between a taxpayer and the government are immeasurable.

Please be aware that the recommendations, suggestions and guidance provided on this website is informational only, and is not intended as, nor does it constitute, legal advice to be relied upon for your particular situation. Nothing written on this site should be a substitute for the specific advice of a competent professional.

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