Populist protest against elites has become a salient part of contemporary politics in western democracies ? as demonstrated by Trumpism, Brexit and the French Yellow Vests. Many express frustrations over unjust tax systems and the elites? power to decide how public money is spent. The focus is often on politicians, who govern, debate and vote over tax systems. Another highly relevant elite, or authority, however, is that of the experts on tax law.
Legal experts in the ministries of finance develop the rules and proposals, and tell politicians what can and cannot be done in the realm of tax law. But what are these experts? claims to authority in defining what a good tax system is? How, if at all, can expert judgement be distinguished from political judgement in such matters? And do legal and economic experts align, or represent distinct voices?
Meanwhile, the professional expertise of tax lawyers is also heavily enlisted in the corporate world, where multinational firms seek to counter the redistributive aims of tax systems by engaging legal experts to identify loopholes and design complex corporate structures to avoid taxation. The increasing internationalization of law firms accelerate this process, as do new forms of specialization and professionalization in legal educations and the broader legal profession. Does this change the character and authority of legal expertise?
A variety of legal experts, then, shape tax systems through their professional practice: some in the state apparatus, some in the private sector, some through practicing in the courts, and others again by teaching tax law in universities. TAXLAW investigates what characterises tax law expertise in these different settings. How do these experts draw boundaries between their own and other forms of expertise? And how does the institutional context underpin their notions of legal expertise and authority? The project will compare answers to these questions in French and Norwegian settings and provide new insight to sociology of law, theory of the professions, and expertise studies. It will also contribute to professionals of tax law in public administration, private counselling and higher education.
In the first phase of the project we have consulted tax lawyers in the practice field to discuss and revise the prooject's research design, to conduct the data gathering in France and Norway, to connect with and construct a relevant scholarly network internationally, and to start up with the work on the first publications. In line with the project plan, we have published one scholarly article on the main methodological approach used in the project. Further, all project members have conducted the first analyses of the data, presented paper drafts in relevant, international scholarly fora, and are now working with the revision of those drafts in order to submit them soon to scholarly journals.
Project website: https://www.oslomet.no/en/research/research-projects/the-authority-of-expertise-in-professional-tax-law-practice
In what way does legal expertise represent a distinct source of authority in the making and application of tax systems? If boundaries to economic expertise or political authority are blurred, does that influence the kinds of tax systems that lawyers promote? Current transformations of the legal profession, e.g. changes in law firms' size and closure mechanisms, in the relationship between lawyers, economists and consultants, internationalization and digitalization, alter the character and role of legal expertise in the policy design and professional exertion of tax law. Changes regarding who has power to define legitimate legal expertise, and the institutions supporting those, concern in particular tax law. As European welfare states face economic challenges in the years to come, tax lawyers will be key actors in shaping tax policy and private citizens' willingness to pay. TAXLAW will study their sources to autonomy, legitimacy and authority.
1) Interview 96 tax lawyers in higher education, courts, ministries of finance and consultancy firms in France and Norway about their understanding of legal expertise and authority as they use it in professional practice and about how they draw boundaries to economic expertise and political authority.
2) Gather documents, literature, prosopographical data and statistics on educational and professional trajectories, selection and regulation mechanisms concerning the four institutions and two countries to analyze which institutional structures that underpin the conceptions of legal expertise and authority found in the interviews. This novel approach building on and developing sociology of knowledge, science, professions and legal consciousness studies will advance theories on how expertise is embedded in its context, on its autonomy and legitimacy.
3) Move the research frontier in social studies of law and offer a new foundation for discussing the legitimacy of legal expertise in policy-making and tax planning.