U.S. Navy veteran has enjoyed a long career as attorney in the tax field

by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Tax attorney Paul McCord recalls a client who had just been released from federal prison for tax evasion.

“This time he was attempting to defend against a state income tax assessment – using the same arguments that put him in prison in the first instance,” McCord says.

An attorney with Fraser Trebilcock in Lansing, focusing on federal, state and local tax controversies and litigation, corporate counseling, and probate administration, McCord says his work involves “unraveling a tax mess from the past, disputing taxes with the government, or planning taxes for the future”.

“It’s a puzzle, and I enjoy working through the problems,” he adds.

In a case at the Court of Appeals, McCord had no sooner finished a couple of sentences of his introduction when one of the judges stopped and peppered him with three questions.  After responding to each question, McCord realized that not only had the judge read his brief and fully grasped his argument, but that his client would likely prevail – provided McCord said no more. 

“What seemed like minutes, but was probably only a matter of seconds, I had to resist going with my prepared remarks,” he says. “I referred to this as the ‘Lazarus dilemma’ – do I say more and risk raising my opponent’s case from the dead.”

McCord, who has worked in private practice, in-house, government, and academia, has represented clients before the IRS, the Michigan Department of Treasury, and other state revenue departments and local units of government as well as the United States Tax Court, Michigan Court of Claims, Michigan Tax Tribunal, Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court.

A native of Urbana, Ill., McCord earned his undergrad degree in business administration from Marquette University, where he was in Navy ROTC.

“My father was an officer in the Air Force and I admired him for that,” he says. “My parents sent me to a military school run by the Benedictines.  And, I suppose being from the cornfields of Illinois, the Navy seemed like an adventure.”

He spent three years as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, serving as a division officer aboard a guided missile cruiser, the USS Richmond K. Turner, and seeing combat service in the 1991 Gulf War.

“Looking back on it, I enjoyed the people, the association and camaraderie of being part of a large team, meeting and learning from people from all parts of this country and walks of life, and being part of something larger than oneself,” he says.

With both his parents as lawyers, it was perhaps inevitable McCord would follow this path.  He earned his J.D. from the University of Illinois College of Law, where he served as Note Editor for the Illinois Bar Journal.

He began his career nearly 20 years ago as a clerk to a federal judge on the United States Tax Court in Washington, D.C.; and continued his education by earning an LL.M. Taxation, with distinction, from the Georgetown University Law Center.     

“I had worked for a number of tax lawyers while in law school – with their encouragement, plus that of Judge David Laro of the United States Tax Court and my parents, I was drawn in that direction,” he says. “Perhaps there is some truth to the adage that ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.’”   

After working as a tax attorney with State Farm in Bloomington, Ill., McCord came to Michigan where he worked in private practice in Bloomfield Hills, Novi, Southfield, and Detroit.

He taught for two years as an adjunct professor at Cooley Law School in Auburn Hills, where he developed and taught graduate level courses about state and local tax with an emphasis on the former Michigan Business Tax.

“Teaching is one of those rare activities that keeps your brain young, allowing you to continue your own progression as a lifelong learner,” he says.

Before joining Fraser Trebilcock in September 2015, McCord spent three years as a judge on the Michigan Tax Tribunal in Lansing, hearing civil state tax disputes and property tax cases.

A member of the State Bar of Michigan’s Taxation Section, he served as chair of the State and Local Tax Committee. Previously, as the Section’s Community Service Liaison, he assisted in developing a tax pro-bono referral match program among the Low Income Taxpayer Clinics at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.

“I’ve found pro bono work of value in perfecting one’s craft, while also providing an opportunity for meaningful client contact,” he says.

A resident of East Lansing, where he enjoys cabinet making in his leisure time, McCord appreciates that life in the city involves a brief commute.

“It only takes 10 minutes to get to and from work and most of the courts I practice in are all within walking distance,” he says.

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