Fostering Ethical Professional Identity in Tax: Using the Traditional Tax Classroom

51 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2017 Last revised: 8 Jan 2018

Date Written: January 13, 2017


Will a tax lawyer in private practice help taxpayers comply or help taxpayers cheat? Will a government tax lawyer respect or abuse taxpayer rights? Answers to these questions turn, at least in large part, on the lawyer’s ethical professional identity—the lawyer’s philosophy of lawyering, which reflects her values, her sense of responsibility to others, and her self-concept of who she is (and wants to be) as a member of the legal profession. According to recent reports on legal education reform, commentators, and the ABA, law schools must do more to help students develop their ethical professional identities. This is particularly important in tax law, where lawyers’ ethical professional identities can affect compliance and revenue collection, tax morale and taxpayer rights, and the reputation of the tax profession.

However, there is a dearth of resources for faculty members who want to leverage their traditional tax classrooms to help future tax lawyers develop their professional identities and learn to exercise professional judgment within the boundaries of the applicable ethical rules. So how can doctrinal faculty members help aspiring tax lawyers develop and implement their professional identities? This article describes exercises for the traditional tax classroom that are intended to (a) enable each student to identify and justify her developing lawyering philosophy, and (b) empower each student to implement her lawyering philosophy in her career. By empowering professors to help their students become more thoughtful, principled tax advisers, this article advances the goal of building a community of ethical tax professionals, both taxpayer-side and government-side, that serves taxpayers well.

Keywords: tax, tax ethics, profesional identity, teaching, ethical professional identity, lawyering philosophy, legal eduction, pedagogy, legal ethics, professional ethics, professional formation

JEL Classification: H2, H20, H26, K34, K40, A23, I20

Suggested Citation

Field, Heather M., Fostering Ethical Professional Identity in Tax: Using the Traditional Tax Classroom (January 13, 2017). 8 Columbia Journal of Tax Law 215 (2017), UC Hastings Research Paper No. 233, Available at SSRN:

Heather M. Field (Contact Author)

UC Law, San Francisco ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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