While a French-U.S. perspective is reflected in this article, most foreign tax lawyers practicing in the U.S. may find part of their own experience mirrored here.
Sharing the incredible experience of practicing tax law in the United States evidently encompasses mentioning some main and obvious differences. Among them stand the differences between the practice of tax law in a civil law system as opposed to a common law one, the differences between the practice in a state that has one national lawgiver and the practice in a state that has 52 lawgivers, the differences between the binding force of legislation drafted at the level of the European Union and legislation drafted at the U.S. Federal level.
But more than the aforementioned main legal differences, the cultural ones appear to be at the very heart of the most striking differences between the French practice of tax law and the American one. The example that best stands for the cultural differences between the two countries lays in the communication with the Tax Authorities. It also constitutes by far the most surprising one when arriving from France. In France, a taxpayer's representation in front of the French Administration Fiscale does not come without its share of hostilities. Written communications that occur prior to the taxpayer's representation by counsel between the French Tax Administration and the taxpayer can often result in very heated exchanges. Once represented by counsel, both sides strictly apply procedural rules, the bulk of the exchanges are in written form and oral communications do not entail any sub-stantial information that could be relied upon by the taxpayer in the resolution of the matter at issue.
In the United States on the other hand, communicating with the Internal Revenue Service is inherently different. The communication between the I.R.S. and the taxpayer or the taxpayer's representative is meant for all parties to work together towards the most efficient resolution of the matter for both sides. Picking up the phone and calling the Internal Revenue...