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Between a rock and a hard place: How tax practitioners straddle client advocacy and professional responsibilities

Tim Fogarty (Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA)
David A. Jones (Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA)

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management

ISSN: 1176-6093

Publication date: 11 November 2014

Abstract

Purpose

This article aims to review qualitative research on tax practitioners. US tax professionals have always found themselves in a uniquely ambiguous position. Unlike auditors, the espousal of service to the public interest is not constantly articulated. Unlike management consultants, the devotion that practitioners can have to their clients’ interest cannot be unconstrained. Tax practitioners are expected to help clients minimize their tax liabilities, while simultaneously assisting the government collect fair shares of tax revenue. Using semi-structured interviews, the paper examines the nuance of this navigation. Practitioners struggle to serve two masters, albeit imperfectly. The qualitative nature of relationships looms as a disproportionally important factor, often neglected in normative accounts and empirical evaluations

Design and methodology/approach

Semi-structured interviews with tax practitioners.

Findings

Practitioners struggle to serve two masters, albeit imperfectly. Where they strike the balance is difficult to predict, as people differ in how aggressive they are willing to be. Practitioners want to be ethical and rarely are willing to take positions that they perceive to be dangerous to their livelihood. The fear of audits is also shared. The qualitative nature of relationships looms as a disproportionately important factor, and one that is not well-appreciated in the literature.

Research limitations/implications

More study of a qualitative nature is needed. Students need to be given a better idea of the conflicts that exist in practice on a daily basis. More work is needed that exposes the importance of the client interface and the limited value of tax research outside of the marketplace.

Practical implications

The long-term relationship with clients is very important to how tax practitioners approach the ambiguities of the tax law. How tax practitioners decide what is worth an investment of their time is under-studied

Social implications

The extent to which we can ask individuals to protect the integrity of the tax collection process is debatable as long as they are compensated by self-interested taxpayers. The limits of ethical codes should be revisited in such a complex world.

Originality/value

Actually listens to working professions describe their world.

Keywords

Citation

Fogarty, T. and A. Jones, D. (2014), "Between a rock and a hard place: How tax practitioners straddle client advocacy and professional responsibilities", Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, Vol. 11 No. 4, pp. 286-316. https://doi.org/10.1108/QRAM-06-2013-0024

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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