Scott D. Michel brings four-plus decades of experience in complex and sensitive tax controversy matters to his work on behalf of Caplin & Drysdale’s clients, and he was the firm’s President for eight years.  He also now serves as the Chair of the 10,000 member American Bar Association Section of Taxation


Mr. Michel has worked on cutting-edge tax enforcement cases his entire career.  He has advised individuals, families, corporations, tax professionals, fiduciary and trust companies, and others on five continents in criminal and civil tax enforcement and compliance matters. His client representations since the early 1980s have paralleled the criminal and civil tax enforcement priorities of the IRS and the Department of Justice, including cases of unreported income or false deductions or credits; actions brought against Americans who have failed to report foreign assets, accounts and/or complex structures; criminal tax shelter, conservation easement, and Malta Pension Plan cases; and employment tax, cash-reporting, or cryptocurrency reporting failures.  Additionally, Mr. Michel has assisted many thousands of individual and corporate taxpayers in effectively returning to tax compliance through the voluntary disclosure process, and he is routinely consulted by other practitioners on sensitive ethical questions as they arise in tax practice.

In specific, his practice encompasses the following types of cases:

  • Counseling individual taxpayers, companies, and advisors and professionals on criminal tax matters arising from grand jury or administrative criminal tax investigations conducted by the U.S. Justice Department and IRS Criminal Investigation. In the some of these cases, Mr. Michel and his colleagues have litigated nationally important issues relating to the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against compulsory self-incrimination and the attorney-client and work product privileges.
  • Advising on highly-sensitive civil tax examinations of individuals or companies where potential fraud issues may arise (so-called “eggshell audits”).
  • Assisting clients in criminal investigations or civil tax examinations specifically arising from unreported foreign accounts, assets or structures such as trusts or controlled foreign corporations, including addressing difficult criminal sanction and/or monetary tax or FBAR penalty issues.
  • Working with international families with complex financial footprints in the U.S. and other countries to address U.S. tax compliance issues.
  • Representing clients in connection with recently enacted qui tam provisions enabling private persons to bring claims for potential violations of District of Columbia and New York tax requirements, including cases that arise from allegations relating to a taxpayer’s state of domicile or residence.
  • Helping to bring into compliance U.S. individual and corporate taxpayers and professional services firms worldwide who have tax reporting failures in prior years, whether intentional or accidental, including inaccurate or unfiled U.S. income tax returns, cash transaction reports, and international information returns.
  • Participating in corporate internal investigations of tax and finance-related matters.
  • Handling cases involving marketed tax shelters, employment taxes, conservation easements, and cryptocurrency, including criminal and civil penalty examinations of promoters and professionals drawn into such cases.
  • Providing sensitive advice on ethical issues to tax practitioners.
  • Advising in non-tax white collar and “inside the Beltway” cases raising sensitive, high-profile issues.

Representative Engagements

  • Acting as criminal tax counsel in IRS or DOJ investigations, with the objective of steering the case back into a civil context where it might be resolved confidentially and without a criminal sanction. These matters often raise the issue whether the government can establish that a taxpayer under investigation acted willfully, an essential element as to all criminal tax charges that the government may bring. The cases also can entail complex tax issues, as to which Mr. Michel works with Caplin’s technical specialists to counter arguments that tax may be due. Many of Mr. Michel’s representations have resulted in non-public decisions by the U.S. government not to bring criminal charges and eventually a confidential civil disposition. 
  • Handling sensitive offshore-related civil examinations and IRS Appeals for businesses, advisors, high-net-worth families, athletes, and others residing around the world, often working in the background behind civil practitioners. A number of these cases were resolved quietly and confidentially for a fraction of the amounts initially sought by the IRS.
  • Helping families, individuals and companies come into U.S. compliance by correcting prior tax non-compliance.. These  cases include U.S.-centric tax issues where an individual, a family or a business needed to correct material errors on prior tax returns, the failure of an individual or company to comply with information reporting or cash reporting rules, or international matters arising because of the failure of the U.S. taxpayer to report foreign accounts or other substantial offshore assets.  Under applicable IRS policies, most such cases can be resolved out of the public eye with a civil payment and a closing agreement.
  • Resolving cases for a banks and other financial services firms with the U.S. Department of Justice Tax Division arising from their business in handling U.S. taxpayer accounts. These representations usually resulted in non-prosecution agreements between the institution and the DOJ, or no action taken.
  • Advising tax professionals and professional services firms on sensitive and ethical practice-related issues.

Admissions & Education

Bar & Court Admissions
  • New York
  • District of Columbia
  • District of Columbia Court of Appeals
  • U.S. District Court, District of Maryland
  • U.S. District Court, District of Columbia
  • U.S. Supreme Court
  • U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Columbia
  • U.S. Tax Court

J.D., University of Virginia School of Law, 1980, Order of the Coif

B.S., Northwestern University, 1977, with highest distinction

  • Law Clerk, Honorable Joyce Hens Green, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, 1980-1981

Recognitions & Noteworthy

Honors & Recognitions
  • Chambers USA, 2009-Present
  • Chambers High Net Worth Guide, USA, Tax: Private Client, 2022
  • The Legal 500, Recommended 2014-Present; Leading Lawyer, 2010-2013, 2017-Present
  • Best Lawyers in America, 2006-Present; Lawyer of the Year, 2023
  • Super Lawyers, Top 100 in D.C., 2015; Washington, D.C., 2008-Present
  • American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), International Justice-Sector Education and Training (IJET) Program International Pro Bono Award, 2018
  • The American Lawyer's Global Legal Award, Global Dispute of the Year: Investigations, Swiss Tax Settlements, 2015
  • The Washingtonian, Top Lawyers, 2011-Present; Lifetime Achievement Lawyer, 2022
  • Martindale-Hubbell® AV® Preeminent™

Professional Activities & Affiliations

Professional Activities

Mr. Michel has been active in the American Bar Association’s Section of Taxation his entire career.  He is the Chair of the Section, having also served as the Vice-Chair for Committee Operations from 2016-2018, a Section Council Director, and as the Chair of the Section's Committees on Civil and Criminal Tax Penalties and the Standards of Tax Practice.

He is also an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Miami School of Law Graduate Program in Taxation, a current Fellow and former Regent for the Federal Circuit for the American College of Tax Counsel, a member of the Board of Trustees of the American Tax Policy Institute (APTI), and a member of the International Fiscal Association (IFA). 

Mr. Michel also served as a Mentor in the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ROLI), advising government officials responsible for tax enforcement in the Croatian Ministry of Finance. For his work in this regard, and that of his colleagues Cono Namorato and Mark Matthews, Caplin & Drysdale received the 2018 Pro Bono Award from ROLI. Mr. Michel previously performed a similar role in connection with ROLI’s predecessor organization in Poland in 1992.

Other Professional Affiliations

Chair, ABA Section of Taxation

Former Vice-Chair, Committee Operations, ABA Section of Taxation, 2016-2018

Former Council Director, ABA Section of Taxation 

Former Chair, ABA Section of Taxation, Committee on Civil and Criminal Tax Penalties and the Standards of Tax Practice

Founder and Co-Chair, ABA Section of Taxation, Annual International Tax Enforcement and Controversy Conference, 2012-2016

Adjunct Professor of Law, University of Miami School of Law Graduate Program in Taxation

Fellow, American College of Tax Counsel

Former Regent, Federal Circuit, American College of Tax Counsel

Co-Founder and Director, Buildable Hours, Inc.

Mentor, American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative

Member, International Fiscal Association

Newsroom & Publications


Mr. Michel has been quoted extensively in the media, including by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Miami Herald, CNN, FoxNews, ABC News, and press outlets in Switzerland, France, Germany and the UK. Recent media coverage includes:

Speaking Engagements

Mr. Michel has appeared multiple times throughout the world as a speaker and panelist on U.S. tax enforcement and controversy issues. Among other engagements, he has addressed the Swiss-American and Korean-American Chambers of Commerce; Joint US-IFA programs in Colombia and Barcelona; the National University of Singapore and the Tax Academy of Singapore; the Vienna University of Economics and Business; Hong Kong University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong; IFA Congress participants in Rome, Paris, Boston, Rio de Janeiro, and Mumbai, and professional groups in Kuwait City and Dubai. He has also testified as an expert on offshore account enforcement before the Standing Committee on Finance of the Canada House of Commons, and was an invited participant to the 2018 American Bar Association’s Paris Conference on the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the U.S., Mr. Michel founded and served as co-chair of the ABA Section of Taxation's Annual International Tax Enforcement and Controversy Conference during 2012-2017. He has also appeared at numerous other programs held by the ABA, The Tax Executives Institute (U.S. and foreign branches), The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Virginia, NYU, UCLA, Tennessee and North Carolina Tax Institutes. Recent presentations include

Publications & Alerts

Mr. Michel has written extensively on topics relating to criminal tax enforcement. His more recent articles include:

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