Michael Hatfield, Tax Lawyers, Tax Defiance, and the Ethics of Casual Conversation,, 10 Fla. Tax Rev. 841 (2011), https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/faculty-articles/362
Florida Tax Review
ethics, tax lawyers
This essay is to help tax lawyers decide how to handle casual conversations centered on denying, defying, or destroying the tax system. One option is to walk away, ending the conversation and silencing the dialogue. The next option is to engage. I want to persuade tax lawyers that they should usually engage in the conversation. I try to do this in Part III.
There are two kinds of legal ethics essays, and one must choose which kind to write, and it is useful to the reader to know upfront which kind the author chose to write. One kind begins with the ethics rules of a state, or the American Bar Association, or, for tax lawyers, perhaps Circular 230 and provisions of the Internal Revenue Code, such as Section 6694, as the self-evident premises, and then proceeds deductively and categorically to opine for all. This Essay is not of that kind. Rather it is a collection of my thoughts, helpfully organized, I hope, offered as suggestions to help tax lawyers handle an awkward situation that, with increasing regularity, it seems, must be handled—whether it is by walking or talking. I hope to put the problem into the greater context of tax ethics and legal ethics and policy and legal problems in order to generate greater light on handling the situation. I want to encourage tax lawyers who feel they ought to engage in conversation with the tax protestors and anti-tax conspiracy theorists and those of similar moods and minds to do so-and to do so aware of the greater context. And for those tax lawyers who are inclined to walk away, I want to give enough reason to them to pause and reflect on the rippling consequences that even one wildly misinformed person can have.
I also want to share some thoughts about how tax lawyers ought to prepare for these conversations so as to be ready when they arise, and I turn to this in Part IV. Finally, in Part V, I describe some public responses along these lines, commending the tax lawyers who responded and offering their seizing of a teachable moment as an example for the rest of us.