Enrollment in this clinic will fulfill the HLS JD pro bono requirement.
Required Class Component: Federal Tax Clinical Seminar (2 spring classroom credits). This clinic and course are bundled - your enrollment in this clinic will automatically enroll you in the required course.
Additional Co-/Pre-Requisites: None.
By Permission: No.
Add/Drop Deadline: January 12, 2018.
LLM Students: LLM students may apply to this clinic by submitting an application.
Placement Site: WilmerHale Legal Services Center (Jamaica Plain).
The Federal Tax Clinic focuses on assisting low income taxpayers who have a dispute with the IRS. For clients who have a corresponding dispute with the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, the clinic will assist them as well. The Clinic’s main practice areas are representing taxpayers litigating in the United States Tax Court, engaging in the audit process and enduring the collection phase of the case. In addition to representing taxpayers from the Boston area, the Clinic takes clients from around the country in order to litigate issue of broad impact to the low income taxpayer community. It also comments on regulations and other types of rule-making that will impact this community.
Much of the practice involves working with the IRS as it administers the tax laws. Clinic students work with IRS revenue agents, revenue officers, Appeals Officers, automated call site collection operators and correspondence auditors. No matter which segment of the administrative agency we encounter, the Clinic seeks to provide a voice for the client in a process that can otherwise prove baffling.
Students in this clinic gain a lot of direct client experience. Each student usually starts with 4-5 cases representing a variety of the practice areas of the Clinic. The student has primary responsibility for the case and works directly with the client. The supervisors in the Clinic exist to assist and to guide the students as they work with their clients but generally the supervisors have no direct contact with the clients.
Because Congress uses the Internal Revenue Code to deliver benefits through provisions such as the earned income tax credit and the advanced child tax credit, the taxpayers have a significant financial interest in their tax disputes. The benefit payments sometimes equal half of a taxpayer’s annual income. Represented clients have a much higher statistical chance of prevailing and thus avoiding deep poverty. The Clinic represents clients so that they can retain these benefits in circumstances in which they might give up rather than fight with the IRS in a process they fail to fully comprehend. Additionally, the Clinic represents clients mired in debt. Each semester, the Clinic assists taxpayer in settling their tax debts with the IRS for a fraction of the amount owed and in some cases writing off hundreds of thousands of dollars. These outcomes can be life changing for some clients.
The Clinic also seeks to give students the opportunity to work on matters of broader impact in the low income taxpayer community. For the past year the Clinic has identified taxpayers dismissed from the Tax Court as a result of being told the wrong date to file their petition by the IRS. The Clinic filed an amicus brief in the fall of 2015 arguing that the Tax Court had the ability under applicable Supreme Court precedent to equitably toll the time period for filing the petition. The Tax Court rejected this argument though that case was resolved on other grounds and did not result in an appeal. Since that case, the Clinic has filed an amicus brief in the 9th Circuit in the case of a pro se petitioner misled by the IRS notice and filed briefs for clients in the 2nd and 3rd Circuits. The Clinic will argue this issue before the Circuit courts during the Spring 2017 semester. In addition the Clinic has three more cases with the same issue awaiting a decision by the Tax Court which will result in cases in the 4th and 10th Circuits. In the Spring semester 2017 Clinic students are working on writing comments to the IRS on proposed family status regulations as these regulations have a significant impact on our clients.
The seminar component of the Clinic seeks to complement the experience of working directly with the clients. Students work on case simulations, problems and IRS forms in the seminar in order to prepare and reinforce the skills needed for client representation. Almost every week the students prepare a different IRS form in preparation for the seminar class in order to learn about the subject, feel the frustrations clients experience in trying to prepare IRS forms and learn how to advocate within the constraints of a form. The seminar also serves as a place for the students in the class to discuss their cases with fellow classmates and work together to figure out the best way to approach difficult case problems.
For more information on the Tax Clinic, please contact Keith Fogg, (617) 390-2532.