Bodman attorney enjoys ‘code driven’ tax law

Bodman attorney Attorney Erin Haney, who focuses her practice on a broad range of federal, state and local tax compliance and controversy matters, is pictured with Bodman member Wayne Roberts, co-chair of Bodman’s Business Tax Group.

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

This time of year, we all have taxes on our mind. For Bodman attorney Erin Haney, it’s the focus of her legal career.

“I love tax law because it’s very code driven,” says Haney, previously a senior associate at Bodman and now a new member in the firm’s Grand Rapids office. “The Internal Revenue Code and the applicable state or local tax statutes create the universe of the law. If the answer isn’t clear, it’s the tax attorney’s job to take the existing legal provisions and figure out how they apply to the question at hand.”

Haney—named to Grand Rapids Magazine Top Lawyers 2021-2023, Tax Law; Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch 2021-2024, Tax Law; and a Michigan Rising Star 2023, Tax— focuses her practice on a broad range of federal, state and local tax compliance and controversy matters affecting businesses and individuals.

“I’ve worked on a number of sales and use tax cases that have required me to develop a thorough understanding of my client’s business—for example, manufacturing, construction, consulting—in order to make a compelling argument regarding the applicable sales or use tax exemptions. This is always fascinating to me, and I love being able to talk to the subject-matter experts about their work and their processes.

“I’ve also had the opportunity to work on a number of federal tax cases involving foreign reporting requirements, and I always appreciate the opportunity to work with counsel in other countries and to get a glimpse of the legal system and the forms of legal documentation used in another country.”

Haney launched her academic career by earning a BA and BBA, magna cum laude, from Grand Valley State University, where she was a member of Beta Alpha Psi, Beta Gamma Sigma, and the Honors College.

With a love of reading and writing, she earned a B.A. in English.

 “It was a really natural fit for my interests, and I enjoyed my literature classes – reading for homework barely felt like work,” she says. “I also knew the fundamental communication and analytical skills I would be building as an English major would be applicable in any career path.”

Her study of accounting developed out of a desire to develop an in-demand, marketable skill that would provide flexibility in her career path.

“I have an aunt who is an accountant, and my dad suggested my personality would lend itself well to accounting--he was right! I’ve always been detail-oriented and organized in my approach to problems, and I like working with numbers,” she says. “The exercise of thinking through journal entries with balancing debits and credits really appealed to my sense of order. I felt I needed to study both English and accounting because choosing one or the other felt like leaving one side of myself unfulfilled.”

Working as a CPA, and as a Senior Tax Auditor for the Michigan Department of Treasury, Haney quickly learned she was more a ‘tax’ CPA than an ‘auditing’ CPA.

As a CPA for a global accounting firm, most of her experience was in tax return preparation, and she thoroughly enjoyed analyzing the legal aspects of tax issues.  

“I’ve always appreciated a good spreadsheet and seeing the numbers work out correctly, but I also wanted to investigate the actual words of the tax law and decipher their meaning,” she says.

As a new CPA, she was asked to conduct research regarding tax law in a certain area—and enjoyed the project so much that she started to realize this type of work might be the perfect fit.

“The more I studied, the more I found that law explained so much to me about the way the world works and answered the ‘why’ questions I’d been asking since I was young,” she says. “Law touches every aspect of daily life, and it was amazing to me to realize how many of our regular activities, decisions, and obligations are driven by the way we choose to allocate legal risk and responsibility.

Spending close to six years as a Senior Tax Auditor for the Michigan Department of Treasury gave Haney an inside-view of the issues tax authorities face in administering the tax laws.

“I really appreciated the opportunity to be the ‘face’ of the Department of Treasury to the taxpayers I audited and to hopefully make the audit process less anxiety-producing for them,” she says. “I also liked the teaching aspect of helping businesspeople apply the tax law to their specific situation.”

Haney also was inspired to enter the law by her grandfather, a solo practitioner.

“He passed away when I was young, but the knowledge of his work ethic, integrity, and commitment to social causes has remained prominent in our collective family memory. I think studying the law had been in the back of my mind since sometime in late elementary school, but I allowed self-doubt to kind of push it aside,” she says. ‘When my sister went to law school, I started to allow myself to imagine myself there too.”

Haney earned her JD, magna cum laude, from Cooley Law School, where she was involved in Law Review.

“Cooley was incredibly committed to making law school accessible and affordable, and I’m forever grateful for this,” she says. “I had a flexible class schedule that allowed me to continue working full-time for the Michigan Department of Treasury, and I learned from professors who had substantive, real-world experience in the practice of law, but were also gifted teachers and really committed to helping their students succeed. I also received a generous scholarship that truly made legal study a feasible option for me.”

Haney notes her internship during law school with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan was an incredible experience.

“By the time I went to law school, I had been working in tax for a few years, but this internship gave me the opportunity to research and learn more about areas of the law with which I didn’t have as much professional experience,” she says. “I had the opportunity to view a number of civil and criminal proceedings first-hand, including a jury trial, and I was able to hone to my legal research and writing skills.

“In addition, the judge and the supervising law clerks I worked with were excellent legal scholars and writers and amazing people, and I learned so much from them.”

Haney joined Bodman in 2021.

“My favorite things about working for Bodman are my great colleagues and the variety of interesting work. This might be a cliché, but it is absolutely true for me,” she says. “Working in law firms has allowed me to learn so much from more experienced attorneys, and I’ve
been fortunate to have mentors who have truly invested in my success. I also really enjoy the fact that each client poses a new challenge, and that I have the opportunity to help them work through it.”

Haney also finds pro bono work rewarding.

“I’ve been given so much, and it’s important to me to be able to give back in some way,” she says. “The study and practice of law have made me aware of the significant challenges faced by people who don’t have the knowledge or resources to advocate for themselves. It’s a privilege to be able to help people improve their lives by asserting their rights and working within the parameters of the legal system.

“I’m also so grateful to work for a law firm that values and supports pro bono work and encourages attorneys to view pro bono work as integral to their professional identity.”

Haney makes her home in Ada, with her husband Marcus, a computer engineer, and sons: Brendan, 18 months old; and Dominic, 6. In her leisure time, she enjoys reading, running and biking, especially outdoors.

“Spending time with my kids and seeing them learn and grow is incredibly rewarding. I also enjoy learning more about my faith and being involved in my church.”

Haney has served since 2020 on the board of the nonprofit Servants Center, an organization devoted to helping people who are experiencing homelessness and living with mental health conditions.

“I am in awe of the amazing work of the staff there in showing love and compassion to the clients we serve, and it is an honor to work with them,” she says.

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