Back again with another edition of fix my career ASAP. Today, “an accidental tax lawyer” wants to obtain a CPA to bolster his small practice. Other lawyers look at him like he’s “crazy” when he discusses the IRC but our Regretful JD enjoys all the minutiae. Problem is, he’ll have to start from scratch since he has business background. Is this plan gold or is he a glutton for punishment?
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Back to our lawyer friend:
So, long story short:
I’m an accidental tax lawyer. I studied neuroscience in college and went to law school to do patents. I took personal income tax as a summer course after my first year, was surprised that I both liked it and did well. Through the remaining two years of law school, I took corporate tax, gift and estate tax, state and local tax, natural resource taxation, two tax seminars, and averaged an A- in them all. Graduated, passed the bar and opened my own tax shop, mostly small business and non-profit formation, opinion letters for CPAs and walking taxpayers through audits. I operate on a one-stop-shop model-come to me and I’ll handle your legal and tax planning needs. I’m good at what I do, and I’ve been profitable since the first year.
Here’s where you guys come in: I think I’d really enjoy being a CPA. Other lawyers look at me like I’m crazy when I talk about the internal revenue code, but I find tax planning enjoyable and it lets me be creative. Am I crazy to consider going back and taking the courses necessary to qualify for the CPA exam? My local public university offers a graduate “Pre-CPA” program, with just the courses required to qualify for the exam. As an undergrad, I took two semesters of calculus and two semesters of inferential statistics, but the rest was basically hard science (physics, microbiology, organic chemistry, neuroanatomy, pharmacology, etc). Except for my tax law background, I’d basically be starting from scratch.
Hell, is there even a market for CPA/JDs? I don’t need to work Big Four (I like meeting with and managing my clients on a personal level. I find it very rewarding), but to keep a roof over my head I’d need to earn at least mid-five figures. If I continue with the solo practice model, I’d be able to provide accounting, tax and legal services, but I’m not sure that accounting as a value-add would be worth tuition + lost opportunity time when I’m studying instead of working.
Any advice you can offer me is appreciated.
Sign me off,
Dear Regretful JD,
First off, if that’s the short version, thanks for sparing us the details. YEESH. Secondly, neuroscience to patents to tax is quite the interesting progression but we won’t pry…it was a woman, wasn’t it?
Now, then. Your situation. Personally I think you’re at a huge advantage compared to the CPAs out there that are thinking about going to law school. Some of you remember the post we did last year discussing that particular jump and it’s not an easy one. Law school grads, as our friends at Above the Law will tell you, aren’t exactly drowning in job opportunities these days but they are being suffocated by six-figure school debt. For you, Regretful JD, that ship has sailed. You’ve got your practice set up, enjoy the work, and are earning a steady dollar.
The problem, as you stated, is that you’d be starting from scratch. If you’re single and don’t have a grip of cash stuffed in your mattress to get you through the “Pre-CPA” program, you’re going to be living on Cup o’ Noodles and saltines smeared with dijon mustard. Are you ready to make that sacrifice? What about your clients? Are you just going to drop them or will you attempt to keep them by promising the world and more once you’ve got your CPA? Your life could be a living hell trying to juggle tax seasons and school work.
As for your question regarding “a market for CPA/JDs” our aforementioned post found that, yes, there is something to be said for the CPA and JD white-collar, one-two punch. Being able to understand legal ramifications of your clients’ decisions as well as being able to dig into the numbers and actually understand them has proven to be a great selling point.
Ultimately the decision comes down to one of logistics. Can you work, go to school and maintain your sanity and/or shred of a social life that you have left? It’s not impossible but you’ll have a rough couple of years, to be sure (don’t forget about the CPA Exam!). Those that have done it will likely say it was worth the struggle but everyone has their breaking point. What’s yours?