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What does an International Tax Lawyer do?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2016
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An international tax lawyer is a lawyer whose practice focuses around the tax structures of at least two countries. Many international tax lawyers advise businesses with multiple global offices, while others work with individuals who own land, work, or primarily reside abroad. Almost every country in the world has its own tax structure, but no two structures are the same. The job of the international tax lawyer is to help clients reconcile competing tax obligations, and usually also to minimize overall taxes owed.

The main role of the international tax attorney is advice-giving and analysis. Most of the time, these lawyers are hired for their expertise and ability to help clients effectively plan for taxes and anticipate foreign obligations. They are particularly helpful to corporations who engage in global business. Even the most adept corporate accountants and domestic tax advisers may not be able to see the same international tax pitfalls that an international lawyer could.

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An international tax lawyer working for a company will usually start by identifying the company’s tax liabilities. Businesses with foreign offices almost certainly come under the tax codes of more than one place. Even businesses that maintain just one office but sell goods internationally, engage in commerce with consultants abroad, or hire international staff, may discover that they have international as well as domestic tax obligations. The lawyer will outline all of the company’s potential tax obligations, and will work with accountants and other corporate staff to ensure that all taxes are properly, and timely, paid.

Most of the time, a corporate international tax lawyer will also help businesses look for ways to minimize their tax obligations. The lawyers will seek out loopholes and look for exemptions; they will try to minimize taxable events, and maximize available deductions. Personal international tax lawyers do the same thing for private clients, though on a smaller scale. International tax lawyers can be indispensable to individuals who live or work abroad or who own significant assets, particularly land, in a foreign country.

The majority of corporate and personal international tax lawyers work in tax-centered law firms, although some larger companies employ international tax attorneys full-time. Unless the company is particularly large or constantly expanding, it is more common to retain the services of a few lawyers in private firms, then call upon their services on an as-needed basis. This way, the businesses can get advice when they need it, and the lawyers are free to handle several clients at once.

Not all international tax lawyers work for businesses or individuals. Some are involved in the creation of international tax policy, or in the enforcement of tax regulations. Lawyers in these fields typically work for national governments. Government lawyers investigate tax evasion, and prosecute those who are perceived to have broken the law. They advise legislators and law makers on how to shape effective tax policy, what exemptions to include, and how high to set penalties for violation.

Government lawyers and private firm lawyers in the international tax field perform substantially different work, but the base of their knowledge and training is the same. It is not uncommon for an international tax lawyer to get a start in the government, and then transition to private practice, and vice versa. The world of international tax law is wide, and the career possibilities are vast.

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