Sunday Mail Bag

It’s a chilly Sunday morning here in Philadelphia. I thought a bit of housekeeping might be in order, so I’m opening up the ol’ taxgirl (e)mailbag. I have a bunch of non-technical tax questions which were submitted as “ask the taxgirl” questions but I thought it made more sense to answer them in one big post. So grab a cup of coffee and pull up a chair!

Taxpayer asks:

Dear taxgirl, why did you decide to become a lawyer? I’m thinking about going to law school this fall and I’d love your thoughts.

taxgirl says:

I watched a lot of TV. Seriously. I didn’t really know any lawyers growing up so I based most of my impressions of lawyers on what I saw on TV or read in books. I was a big fan of Perry Mason and, of course, Nancy Drew’s dad, Carson (what girl didn’t have a crush on him?). But mostly, I loved the idea of doing something that made a difference. Remember that great scene in To Kill a Mockingbird?

I wanted to be able to stand tall like Gregory Peck (the tall never happened) and say things that mattered, take a stand for justice. Of course, that’s not exactly what happens in the legal profession – it took me awhile to figure that out. But at the end of the day, despite the lawyer jokes and bad press, I love what I do. I help people. And that matters to me.

That said, the legal market is really tough now. Law school can be expensive (I’m still paying off my loans) and jobs can be hard to come by. Make sure that you really want to go – and you’re not just going because your parents want you to (we had a lot of that in law school) or because you’re a smart kid and don’t know what else to do (we also had a lot of that in law school).

If you’re not completely sure, my advice is to talk to a bunch of lawyers: small firm lawyers, big firm lawyers, government lawyers. Intern in a law office. Sit in on a law school class or two. Then make your decision. Good luck!

Taxpayer asks:

Have you ever filed your taxes late or owed taxes? I’m just wondering.

taxgirl says:

Yes and yes. Our tax system, as it exists, is self-governing. That means there’s no one standing over you screaming at you to file and pay every year – or every quarter in the case of small businesses and those who owe estimated taxes – and I’ve been both. Sometimes the mistake is on the employer side (as when I was first in Philly, my NJ boss didn’t withhold wage tax) and sometimes the mistake is on the employee side (as when you just get overwhelmed and forget a deadline). Mistakes happen. I always tell clients that there’s no shame in it: just fix them.

Taxpayer asks:

I’m a 2L and am thinking about classes for next semester. Which tax classes do you recommend? Any to avoid?

taxgirl says:

I loved Federal Estate and Gift Tax and Tax Policy, hated Partnership Tax (though it is handy). I’d recommend starting off with baby tax (federal income tax) and seeing which aspects of tax law appeal to you. I also recommend taking some non-tax courses, too. I never intended to be a tax lawyer but I really enjoyed a class that I signed up for just because it fit my schedule and it wasn’t litigation-related. So don’t stack up on tax in the beginning, you never know. Try a bit of everything.

Taxpayer asks:

You talk a lot about living in Philadelphia but you call yourself a Southern girl. What am I missing?

taxgirl says:

Easy. I grew up in North Carolina. I’ve lived in Hampstead (early years), Durham (high school) and Raleigh (college). I moved to Philadelphia to go to law school and loved it so much that I stayed.

Taxpayer asks:

What’s the strangest deduction that you’ve ever seen on a tax return?

taxgirl says:

Hmm. I’ve seen some odd things. But one that jumps out at me is pet therapy – as in therapy for a pet. While I understand that pets are like children (we joke that our dog is our first born), you can’t claim pets or related expenses on your tax return.

And then there’s flat out lies like the guy who claimed his Disney cruise was a business expense (he ran a car dealership).

One thing you can say about tax law: it’s never boring.

Taxpayer asks:

I see you practice with your husband. Do you talk tax at home? Just curious.

taxgirl says:

Yes, but he doesn’t listen. My husband isn’t a tax lawyer, he practices international and corporate law. But that doesn’t stop me.

Taxpayer asks:

I saw this and thought of you: http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/the_25_greatest_legal_tv_shows What’s your favorite TV law show? Are there any tax lawyers on TV?

taxgirl says:

I did see it, thanks. Um, my favorite? I used to love LA Law – what a great cast! I also used to watch Perry Mason reruns with my grandfather and Matlock since it was filmed in my hometown. In law school, I watched Ally McBeal and The Practice even though they were completely unrealistic. I actually don’t watch any legal shows now that I practice, they drive me nuts.

I can’t think of any tax lawyers on TV off the top of my head. My guess is that the work doesn’t seem glamourous enough. “Watch me research this deduction!” It just doesn’t have the same on air appeal as, say, defense work. But hey, Hollywood, I am available. ;)

That was fun and the mailbag is a little bit lighter now… Thanks for writing in!

Comments

  1. Mary O'Keeffe

    No tax lawyers on TV!

    Kelly, you forgot about Stuart,the tax lawyer on LA Law.

    It’s been well over 15 years since I watched much TV, but I did used to watch a few shows with my husband back in the days when our kids were young and babysitters were hard to find. One of the shows we enjoyed watching was LA Law, and Stuart, the tax lawyer at the firm, was a really fun character!

  2. Author
    Kelly

    Was he a tax lawyer? Wow. He was one of my least favorites, so I guess he blended.

  3. Joel

    While I can’t think of any tax lawyer, there have been quite a number of IRS auditors. To name a few: Will Ferrell as an IRS auditor in Stranger Than Fiction, Will Smith as an IRS agent in Seven Pounds, and Vincent Schiavelli also as an IRS agent from an old film KidCo (1984). When it comes to tax in Hollywood, the IRS agents really steals the spotlight!

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  5. Monica

    I love To Kill a Mockingbird! One of the greatest movies of all time. It didn’t quite get me to go to law school, though.

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