Career Advice Taxation

How a Master’s Degree in Tax Law Helps CPAs

Two CPAs in different fields of the profession share their insights into the Osgoode Professional LLM

Author: Colin Ellis

TORONTO, Jan. 21, 2018 – Canadian accountants are naturally assumed by the public to have an in-depth knowledge of taxation but, within the profession, there is a special respect for Chartered Professional Accountants with advanced credentials like a Master of Laws degree, or LL.M.

Barbara Elkin and Phillip Peters are two CPAs in different fields who took the Professional LLM in Tax Law from the Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto. Elkin is the principal of Barbara Elkin Chartered Accountant CPA in Ottawa, Ont., where she specializes in cross-border tax issues. Peters is a lawyer and legislative audit legal advisor in the Office of the Auditor General of Alberta, where he supports auditors on performance or legislative audit.

Elkin is a CPA, CA and U.S. CPA, a member of the Canadian Tax Foundation and STEP. Why did she enrol in the Professional LLM in Tax Law? “My practice was well-established before I took the Osgoode program,” says Elkin. “I wanted to expand my tax knowledge and take it to a new level.” That thirst for knowledge is echoed by Peters, who has previous experience in taxation in the civil service as well as public practice.

“There was a fit with my work but my desire to do the program was driven from a couple of perspectives,” he says. “I firmly believe that, in this complex world, true depth of thinking requires an investment in time and thought and I live by that philosophy. I wanted to think deeper about the world we live in. Being able to do so helps me to provide more value as a professional.”

CPAs choose course structure to suit their interest

Osgoode Tax Law students can complete their degree requirements exclusively through course work or through a combination of course work and a major research paper.

“I really enjoy fairly in-depth analysis on issues,” says Peters, “and I specifically targeted the program for the major research paper. I had wanted to write on some keys areas of research that I had learned about — the LLM major research stream was something I was very excited about.”

Elkin, however, “took the course structure to explore areas that I found interesting. Professor Neil Brooks was amazing. He taught tax policy. He was just brilliant and managed to synthesize very complicated concepts into something that made sense.

“But the most interesting course was one I took with Professor Kim Brooks on Canada’s tax treaties. She brought in various Canadian tax treaties and we analyzed and discussed the differences between Canada’s treaties with one country versus another.”

The Osgoode teaching faculty was “amazing,” says Elkin. “They had the best people from various areas of specialization in different tax issues. I really thought it was a great learning experience.” Peters was attracted to the Osgoode brand and the collective reputation of the faculty. “I’d heard good things about Osgoode and I recognized the professors and professionals on the faculty.”

Measuring the ROI of an LLM

For Peters, “There were two to three topics I did work on in the program that were almost immediately relevant to files I was working on in the office. I ended up as an expert witness in an administrative tribunal where the studies I was doing on international taxation were directly relevant to that work.”

But how can CPAs measure the return on investment for an advanced degree?

“In terms of ROI,” explains Peters, “if I was a tax lawyer with a firm, I could justify a higher billing rate. But the dynamics of government are not quite like that. The work of the public service is less measurable. So it was less about ROI and more about providing greater value on specific files that I was involved in.”

For Elkin, however, “the LLM helped me to attract new clients and new referral sources. It gives me a bit of a leg-up in that it differentiates me from other tax practitioners. I find that I’m consulted by other accountants and lawyers on various issues and, frankly, the LLM is impressive to them.”

Joanne Elek, an executive recruiter and cofounder of Toronto-based Ambit Search, says “employers recognize that a master's degree in tax law gives CPAs a breadth and depth of knowledge that separates them from other accounting and finance professionals in the general field of taxation.

“The Osgoode name carries a great deal of prestige,” says Elek, “because the Osgoode brand is known across Canada. That prestige is bestowed upon the degree and the CPA who takes it."

Osgoode classroom
Above, Osgoode Hall Law School classroom at York University combines in-class with distance learning (JBSMITH PHOTOGRAPHY).

Colin Ellis is the managing editor of Canadian Accountant. Visit the Professional LLM in Tax Law from the Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto website to learn more about the program.

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