Friday, January 7, 2011


Today we talk with Kelly Phillips Erb, aka the internet’s TAX GIRL, from Philadelphia PA. Kelly’s blog was one of the first I started reading regularly when I discovered the tax blogospere. A tax lawyer with a Masters of Law in Tax, she has been a partner, with her husband, in The Erb Law Firm, PC for the past ten years. TAX GIRL has several cool regular features, including “Ask the Tax Girl” and “Fix the Tax Code Friday”. In addition to her popular blog Kelly also writes on tax issues for WALLET POP.

1. How did you become interested/involved in preparing tax returns or teaching taxes?

In my first year of law school I announced to my entire section that I was never taking Baby Tax (what we called basic income tax). The idea of it completely bored me. Then, through an odd series of events, I ended up in a Federal Estate and Gift Tax class and absolutely loved it. It was like a crazy puzzle. I signed up for at least one more tax class per semester after that. Ironically, when I was about to get my tax degree, we realized that I still hadn’t taken Baby Tax - I had to go back and take it after taking all of these upper level classes. My lesson? Never say never.

2. How were you educated/trained in preparing tax returns?

Law school played a huge role initially. I took a number of tax classes while getting my law degree (JD) and then continued my education by getting my Masters of Law in Tax (LLM). While in law school, I also had the opportunity to clerk in the estates tax division at IRS so I was exposed to the IRS side of returns (and audits) first hand.

In private practice, I’ll still never forget the first tax return I ever prepared - it was a 706. I sat through the client meeting, taking notes. After the client left, my supervising attorney tossed me the case file and said, “Here, do the return.” No handholding, no real instructions. But I did it. I felt pretty confident about my understanding of the basics of the return before I even got started but there’s still something daunting about signing as a preparer for the first time.

3. When and why did you decide to write a blog on tax issues?

In 2004, while updating the static web site for my law firm, I began to wonder if there was a better way to quickly get information to my audience (at that time potential clients). I started poking around the internet and was intrigued by this idea of a blog. Reading and writing about tax had always intrigued me and was something that I felt I was good at. On a whim, I signed up for a free Blogger account and started writing under the moniker “taxgirl” which I took from my firm email address; I had used the nickname since law school. In 2006, I bought the domain and the rest is taxgirl history.

4. How has blogging helped your business?

Blogging is a great leveler in the legal world because you can get similar exposure to attorneys at bigger firms without a huge advertising budget. I’ve been lucky because my blog has been recognized by some wonderful media outlets which has given me some great opportunities to appear on TV and radio as well as contribute content as guest posts or interviews to publications like Forbes, The New York Times, Inc. Magazine and Esquire. Most recently, I was nominated by the ABA Journal as writing one of the top 100 legal blogs for the 3rd year in a row. That kind of recognition has been a great basis for growing my profile and as a result, my law business.

5. What do you consider the “best tax advice” you can give anyone?

Find a good tax professional (even if you do your own taxes) before you think you’ll need one.

6. Do you think the regulation of tax return preparers is a good thing?

Absolutely. Almost every service professional has some level of regulation, why not tax return preparers? It’s especially important given that the stakes are so high to the government and to taxpayers.

7. Do you think CPAs and attorneys should be exempt from testing and required CPEs in taxation?

I’m torn. I think that CPAs and attorneys are tested and “educated” enough as it is through entrance exams and continuing legal education (CLE) requirements. Imposing another layer of testing and education would be overly burdensome. That said, there’s nothing in place currently that requires attorneys (CPAs may be different and I can’t speak to their educational requirements) to stock up on tax CLEs if they focus on tax law in their own practice - and I do believe that staying on top of tax laws and tax procedures is important. I don’t know how it would work administratively but it would be great to see some kind of “exemption” based on tax or tax-related CLEs rather than a blanket exemption.

8. What is your favorite Broadway musical – and why?

Mary Poppins for purely selfish reasons... When I was a little girl, I was in a pageant and my talent was singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” - with a lisp. It has remained my favorite song ever since. Beyond that, the musical has such joy. How could you not love it?

More good tax advice.

As for the issue of exemption for attorneys - “another layer of testing”, in this case a one-time probably half-day test, would be no more burdensome for attorneys (or CPAs) then it would be for a similarly experienced previously unenrolled preparer like me. And if the attorney is specializing in taxation I would expect that he/she is already taking significant CPE in federal taxation as part of the CLE regime – so no additional burden here.

I have not seen the Broadway production of MARY POPPINS, so I cannot properly critique her choice. What I have felt about similar Broadway “adaptations” of classic movie musicals, like SINGING IN THE RAIN and most recently WHITE CHRISTMAS (unlike the “musicalization” of non-musical movies like THE PRODUCERS), is why would you spend over $100.00 to see the show when no production could ever be better, and no stars more better, than the original movie, which you can see on tv for free or via Netflix for a few bucks? Although I do recognize the great value of a live production, and MARY POPPINS would be a great way of introducing a youngster to Broadway (my introduction was THE MUSIC MAN at age 5).

Next week Trish McIntire of OUR TAXING TIMES.


1 comment:

Jim Boyle said...

Just a quick note to say Robert, "CONGRATULATIONS"!!

January Member of the Month!

Robert Flach is NATP's January Member of the Month.