IRS chief counsel: Tax law a great career choice
By Francie Weinberg
The chief counsel for the Internal Revenue Service returned to UF Law Sept. 28 to present a lecture in which he encouraged students to embrace tax law.
William J. Wilkins, who also is assistant general counsel in the Treasury Department, presented “How IRS Lawyers Contribute to Sound Tax Enforcement” as part of the Graduate Tax Program Enrichment Speaker Series to a full Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom.
Wilkins has worked in tax law since graduating with a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. In his lecture, he discussed the role of tax lawyers in the IRS and how they contribute to sound tax administration.
“The bulk of the work is taking care of tax court petitions,” Wilkins said. “This is essential to our mission, which includes providing for uniform, correct and impartial application of the tax laws.”
Lawyers’ three main jobs in the office of chief counsel are creating regulatory infrastructure, handling resolution of tax conflicts and providing legal advice to the commissioner and other IRS executives. Though Wilkins is the chief counsel, he works closely with each associate office and its members regardless of political affiliations.
“There are only two presidential appointees in the IRS: the chief counsel and the commissioner,” Wilkins said. “I think this speaks to the fact that the organization is really not political. There are a lot of buffers and circuit breakers in terms of any sort of political intervention in what we do.”
Wilkins also touched on a tougher, more controversial subject when he brought up the new tax regimes recently implemented by the IRS, including indoor tanning services, pharmaceutical companies and health insurance providers, which he addressed in the question-and-answer section of the lecture.
“When we write regulations, we want to be sure that we have done all the research to see if there are any prior Supreme Court cases that limit us,” he said. “We also do research, so when we say, ‘could we be accused of overturning a previous regulation?’ we know that we’re being careful.”
Regardless of the long days in the office and always being on-call, Wilkins said that benefits greatly outweigh the costs. He encouraged any students who are interested to jump at the opportunity to get involved in tax law.
“I have found tax law to be a great career choice,” he said. “It presents some of the most interesting and rewarding legal careers that are available. As you go through your career and you talk to people in the tax world, they very often say that those were some of the best years of their practice.”