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Lawyers Can Book A Tax-Deductible Hawaiian Cruise To Study... Whatever

The State Bar Association is promoting an eight-day "educational" cruise for lawyers, but it doesn't sound like there will be much studying.

I never complain about lawyer jokes.

I know too many lawyers who fit the stereotypes.

However, it’s not quite so funny when the joke involves the Ohio State Bar Association. This is an organization that is supposed to help raise the level of professionalism among lawyers.

But after looking at a recent mailer, I had to laugh.

I received an advertisement from the Bar Association announcing an eight-day long Hawaiian Island tour aboard a luxury cruise ship. The trip is scheduled for next February, a perfect time to get away from the cold winter winds off Lake Erie.

The cruise will include a seminar on legal issues, which makes the trip tax-deductible. Ohio requires lawyers to take courses to keep their skills sharp. Therefore, the cost of an educational seminar is a legitimate, tax-deductible business expense.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is the length of the seminar. You’d expect a lawyer to learn a lot in eight days. Of course, there should be plenty of time in the evening for fun and games, and there might even be a day or two off for sightseeing. But on most days, you’d expect the lawyers to be in class, right?

Yeah, that’s what you’d expect.

Instead, the lawyers will spend only EIGHT HOURS in the classroom during the Bar Association’s entire eight day trip. The other 184 hours will be spent enjoying the facilities of the luxury liner and visiting ports of call including Honolulu, Hilo and Kona, with other stops on the islands of Maui and Kauai.

Does the IRS know about this kind of thing?

Absolutely, and it has very specific rules about the use of cruises for educational purposes. Normally, it would never allow a group to turn a vacation cruise into a tax-deductible “seminar” by throwing in a few hours of lectures.

However, in an attempt to pump up the American cruise ship industry, Congress passed special rules for American ships going to American ports. So as long as the lawyers (or any other group) use an American-registered cruise ship to go to an American port, they can get away with taking an eight day cruise to get an eight-hour education.

Now there are limits, of course. The cost of the cruise is limited by IRS rules on a per day basis.  Anything over that amount is not tax-deductible. But don’t worry; the IRS is pretty generous. For example, during the months of October through December, the cost of a cruise is “limited” to $732.00 per day. You can get a pretty nice cabin for that.

I have to admit, a tax-deductible Hawaiian cruise in February does sound pretty nice. And I’m sure the eight hour seminar will be very interesting, but there’s no way for me to tell.

In the six page flyer for the cruise, the Ohio State Bar Association covers the cruise schedule, the cost, even cancellation insurance. But there is no description of the seminar.

There is not one word about the subject to be covered in this “exciting learning experience.” I couldn’t believe it; I read the flyer three times.

Based on the ad, a normal person might conclude that this was all about going to Hawaii, not about actually learning anything. It’s a good thing lawyers don’t think the way normal people do.

I had to laugh.

No wonder people love lawyer jokes.

Have a question or a suggestion for a topic?  Email dspirgen@SpirgenLawFirm.com.

Patch posts are general discussions and should not be used as advice on any specific legal matter.  If you need legal advice on a particular situation, please consult an attorney.

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