According to the National Association for Law Placement, the job market for new law school graduates doesn't look that great at first glance. Because more people are graduating with law degrees than there are law jobs, the employment rate for new lawyers nine months after graduation fell to 84.5 percent in 2013, the lowest point it has been since the recession began in 2007.
Experts note that the news isn't all bad, however. While the overall percentage of employed law school grads may be down, the actual number of people who have jobs after finishing law school is up. And now that the economy is improving, and the overall job market is better than it was in recent years, the number of people applying to law school has declined, leading some to believe that the employment rate for new graduates will return to its previous highs of nearly 100 percent.
In the meantime, though, there is one specialty seeing significant growth and has a wealth of opportunity: tax law. Earning a master's degree in tax law opens the door to a variety of career options.
Death and Taxes?
The current U.S. tax code is about 75,000 pages long -- 187 times bigger than it was in 1915. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more than 3,000 pages have been added since 2010 alone.
The tax code governs just about everything from how businesses operate to encouraging people to buy particular items and services, and yet there are very few people who understand most, if not all, of the particulars.
And given that as long as we have government it will need money, taxes and the governing code aren't going anywhere. That means we will need individuals who have the knowledge and expertise necessary to interpret the rules and ensure that they are being applied appropriately.
As Richard Ainsworth, Director of the Graduate Tax Program at Boston University says, "Today's complex and global regulatory environment has made tax law one of the most challenging areas of practice, but also one of the most necessary areas of specialization for attorneys."
Some of the reasons for the increased need for tax specialists, according to Ainsworth, include:
Health care reform.
Because the IRS is the ultimate authority in the administration of the Affordable Care Act, tax law is now inextricably linked to health care. Business, and to a lesser extent individuals, are turning to tax attorneys who studied health care law for help in to help interpret the laws and determining their responsibilities.
Increasingly complex business regulations.
Many tax practitioners spend a significant portion of their time monitoring tax regulations and determining how changes will affect their clients' existing structures. New business owners, as well as those engaged in continuity planning, mergers and acquisitions, and other activities that present potential tax liability issues, are also seeking the advice of tax attorneys.
A more aggressive IRS.
While backlogs and workforce shortages have actually reduced the number of audits the IRS conducts each year, the audits they do conduct are reportedly becoming more aggressive, particularly when examining individuals of higher net worth. Individuals, partnerships, and companies responding to tax claims against them are generally advised to seek the services of an attorney.
Tax attorneys also have an advantage over others in that they can find jobs in both law and accounting firms. Because the changes in tax law and increased complexity of the tax code have made the actual filing of taxes more difficult for individuals and businesses, many accounting and tax preparation firms are engaging the services of attorneys to serve their clients better.
Becoming a Tax Attorney
While an LLM in taxation isn't necessarily required to become a tax attorney, many firms are prioritizing candidates who hold the credential. Tax law is one of the more challenging legal specializations, and expertise is vital. Most law school graduates study tax law in their J.D. programs, but additional experience and training is important for those who wish to build a career in tax law.
LLM programs provide prospective tax attorneys with the foundation they need to expand their legal practice into the realm of taxation. Employers value the degree because the intensive training in tax provides more than a fundamental understanding of the practical application of tax theory, but also enhanced knowledge of tax law. Most LLM programs are one- to two-year programs that can be completed part time and online.
While the job market for law school graduates is generally stronger than most, the recent economic climate hasn't left it unscathed. Pursuing an in-demand specialty like tax law only increases the chances of successfully finding lasting employment.