Canada: When Do You Need Canadian Tax Lawyers Versus Accountants

Last Updated: June 10 2016
Article by David Rotfleisch

When do You Need Canadian Tax Lawyers versus Accountants – A Practical Guide

Income tax involves both the law and numbers, tax returns. So it's natural that there is overlap between what tax lawyers and accountants do and therefore resulting confusion. While there are common areas where both Canadian tax lawyers and accountants practice, there are equally areas that should be the exclusive area of tax lawyers or accountants, with no overlap. This article provides a practical explanation of the differences, and advice as to when you should choose the tax lawyer and when the accountant.

Legal Matters – Exclusive to Canadian Tax Lawyers

If you are going to court you need to have a tax lawyer. While accountants can represent their clients in some Tax Court of Canada cases, they should not. Appearing in court is a purely legal activity, one for which lawyers have been trained and accountants have not. An accountant who offers to represent a client in tax court is not properly serving the taxpayer, and may not be insured in the case of a claim by the taxpayer that the case was mishandled.

Similarly a CRA tax evasion prosecution or prosecution for failure to file tax returns should only be defended by a Canadian tax lawyer. It is a tax battle that may end up in the criminal courts.

Implementing tax planning structures or reorganizations, even if planned by an accountant, is legal work that should be exclusive to tax lawyers. Drafting agreements is another example of work that tax lawyers are trained to do and for which accountants lack expertise.

Legal tax opinions can only be provided by a tax lawyer. However accountants can give non-legal tax opinions. If the client requires a legally binding tax opinion, they need a tax lawyer. Otherwise they can use a tax accountant.

Tax Returns and Forms – Exclusive to Accountants

Preparing tax forms and Canadian tax returns is what accountants are trained to do and they are the only ones who should fill out returns for their clients. Lawyers lack the expertise to prepare tax returns and should not do so and are probably not insured if they make a mistake. Lawyers who offer to prepare tax returns for their clients as part of a package of legal services such as a voluntary disclosure are doing their client a mis-service. Clients should insist that all tax returns be prepared by professional accountants.

Voluntary Disclosure Program (VDP) – Legal Work Should be done by a Canadian Tax Lawyer

Why use a tax lawyer for a voluntary disclosure? At its core, the VDP is a legal process not a tax accounting process. If problems arise, only lawyers have solicitor client privledge - CRA can seize files and documents and prosecute if the file is handled by an accountant. The CRA voluntary disclosure is in essence the intersection of two separate areas of law, tax law and administrative law.

Our tax law firm understands these principles and can set up a tax amnesty file from day one in anticipation of CRA challenge or push-back. Accountants don't have this knowledge of administrative law. A Canadian tax lawyer can also go to court to seek judicial remedies for breaches of natural justice, procedural fairness etc. In fact our tax law firm was an early adopter of the VDP. Our office has completed many hundreds if not thousands of disclosures since the program began in the 1990's and before it became well known. We are familiar with all stages of process from initial submissions to hearings at the Federal Court of Canada.

However we don't prepare tax returns for clients even thought our senior lawyer is a CPA and fully capable of doing so. We prefer to have accountants who prepare tax returns all of the time complete the returns and we review them to ensure accuracy. We think our clients are better served than if the tax returns were prepared in house by our tax law firm.

Areas of Overlap – Canadian Tax Lawyers and Accountants

Having delineated the exclusive areas of tax practice, everything else is properly the work of both tax lawyers or accountants. However in some cases tax lawyers are better able to serve their clients, and in others accountants are better able to act.

CRA tax audits can be handled by either tax lawyers or accountants. If the issue is one of proof of documentation to support expense claimed, then the accountant is usually in position to provide that audit evidence to CRA in a cost effective way. The accountant prepared the financial statements, and perhaps did the bookkeeping. It should be a simple matter for the accountant to respond to a CRA audit enquiry. However if the issue involves legal tax interpretation or possible civil penalties then a tax lawyer should be retained to respond to CRA.

Similarly CRA collections issues can often be handled by tax lawyers or accountants. On the other hand where CRA is threatening or has taken legal action it is often a good idea to consult with a tax lawyer first.

Tax planning is an area where both tax lawyers and tax accountants (not regular accountants) do the same work, and where either can be consulted. In this case the decision is usually based on an existing relationship, or a referral.

Conclusion – Canadian tax lawyer or accountant

As you can see, the decision as to when to retain a Canadian tax lawyer and when an accountant is appropriate depends on the exact nature of the tax help needed. Our tax law firm always refers accounting related work to professional accountants. If you are unsure as to what is appropriate in your case contact us and we'll help you or refer you to an accountant.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Rotfleisch & Samulovitch P.C.
Rotfleisch & Samulovitch P.C.
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Rotfleisch & Samulovitch P.C.
Rotfleisch & Samulovitch P.C.
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions