Introducing Legal Ethics for Tax Lawyers

AuthorMichael Hatfield
1. Introducing Legal Ethics
for Tax Lawyers
In order to apprecia te the ethical complications in which tax lawyers
often find themselves, it is essential to appreciate and understand the
greater c ontexts of legal ethics a nd the tax system. While it is
important to begin with this more general discussion of ethics a nd
tax lawy ers, it may also be useful to re-read this section after finishing
the chapterto get a view of the forest after inspec ting some of the
1.1. Ethics for Lawyers
Ethics is practica l reasoning. It is thinking through the most
important implications of behavior. For lawyers, ethical reflection
involves considering not only the lawy er’s personal va lues but a lso
the lawyer’s roles as officers in the lega l system and as agents a nd
advisors for clients. Organizing a nd clarifying the layers of
obligations and duties implicated in lawyer behavior is the subject
matter of legal ethics. The objective is to define a lawyer’s
professional responsibilities. It is not an abstract or idealistic exercise.
A lawye r with a misunderstanding of her professional responsibilities
may find herself disbarred from the practice of law, sued by her
former clients, fined and jailed personally miserable even if she
escapes discipline, suit, or criminal punishment.
Many ethica l considerations reflect a lawyer’s personal values, such as
the choice of practice area or choice of clients. However, legal et hics
is not simply the domain of personal values. A great many duties are
imposed on lawyers by fiduciary and c ontract laws, and, of course,
each state has its own ethics rules and means of enforcement. Most
states have adopted some version of the American Ba r Association’s
Model Rules of Professional Conduct, and many have followed the
ABA’s subsequent amendments (as amended, the “Model Rules.”) .
While the popular image of a lawyer may be a s a courtroom strategist
and dramatist focused on winning at any cost, the Model Rules reflect
the complex realities of lawyering, prescribing different standards for

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