As a teacher at Harvard Law School, Keith Fogg says that he sees himself like the Wizard of Oz: “I’m standing behind the curtain, telling the students that they have plenty of knowledge,” Fogg says. “I give them the courage that they need, letting them know that they can do it. But mostly, I’m trying to build in them a heart, so that going forward, no matter what they end up doing, they have a heart for doing pro bono work and helping people navigate a system that is almost impossible to navigate if you’re unrepresented.”
Fogg, a clinical professor of law and the inaugural director of the Federal Tax Clinic at the WilmerHale Legal Services Center (LSC), is retiring this summer after seven years of dedicated service to the Harvard Law School community and to hundreds of clients in need.
Fogg’s legacy at Harvard Law is evident not only in the clinic he has shaped since its inception in 2015, but in the fondness with which those who know him speak. “Keith has continually inspired us with his genuine humility, his generous spirit, and his exceptional kindness,” says Daniel Nagin, clinical professor of law and faculty director of LSC. “There is truly no one like him.”
Fogg joined Harvard Law School in 2015, tasked with bringing the new Federal Tax Clinic to life as a center for low-income taxpayers to find relief and representation. Students in the clinic represent low-income taxpayers in controversies with the Internal Revenue Service, both before the IRS and in federal court, with the goal of maximizing financial wellbeing and protecting taxpayer rights. The clinic’s work includes securing tax refunds and credits to which taxpayers are entitled, assisting innocent people whose spouses have accumulated tax liabilities, and reducing tax liabilities for individuals with financial hardships by negotiating resolutions with tax authorities.
“Keith has always sought creative ways to expand the work of the clinic to achieve the broadest possible impact on behalf of low-income taxpayers and to enhance student experience,” says Audrey Patten, lecturer on law and clinical instructor at the Federal Tax Clinic. “His dedication to those goals has been truly outstanding and has inspired many working in the field to keep thinking outside the box.”
“When Keith first joined LSC and Harvard Law School, he arrived with the reputation as the leading figure in low-income taxpayer advocacy, clinical teaching, and scholarship,” says Nagin. “And, yet, even with that singular reputation, he has exceeded our highest hopes. With extraordinary vision and tireless efforts, Keith built and led the tax clinic from its very inception and transformed it into a powerhouse. He has remade tax law in critical areas, helped students embrace tax advocacy as an anti-poverty tool, provided students with unique opportunities to lawyer on cutting-edge issues in the federal courts and elsewhere, secured justice for countless clients in need, and served as an invaluable resource to the wider community of tax advocates, legal services lawyers, and clinicians.”
As director, Fogg developed the clinic’s relationships with the Tax Court, community organizations, and fellow Harvard Law clinics to create a network of referrals. The clinic has represented hundreds of taxpayers across the country, particularly in Massachusetts. Through collaborations with organizations like After Innocence and other legal clinics at LSC, the Federal Tax Clinic has provided assistance for individuals in great need, including exonerees and domestic violence survivors.
Fogg also encourages his students to examine the policies and regulations they work within to identify potential improvements. He and his students have submitted comments on many regulations that the IRS has used to implement changes. “I want to instill in my students the importance of commenting on rules and regulations that are going to have broad applications because we can make change there,” he says.
His students agree. Lauren Deutsch ‘22 spent the past year in the Federal Tax Clinic, learning from Fogg’s expertise on direct representation and policy matters. “It was such an honor to get to learn from and work under a true expert in low-income taxpayer clinic work,” she says. “Throughout my year as a student in the clinic, Keith worked tirelessly to help LSC clients, and to help clinic students help clients. Further, Keith is an extremely kind person and went above and beyond to get to know the students in the clinic, even bringing us all to a Celtics game. I am truly grateful for his guidance, and I know that countless taxpayers around Massachusetts, and the entire country, are equally grateful for Keith’s unrelenting efforts in resolving their often-all-consuming tax issues.”
Before joining Harvard Law, Fogg taught and directed the Federal Tax Clinic at Villanova Law School. Prior to that role, Fogg spent over thirty years at the Internal Revenue Service Office of the Chief Counsel, in a variety of roles that include chief of a litigation division and senior counsel. His stories from these years of working on collection and bankruptcy issues involve appraisals of abandoned castles, conspiring secretaries creating fraudulent foundations, and an undiscovered nineteenth century Severin Rosen painting – a print of which now hangs in his office.
In his retirement, Fogg is looking forward to spending time with his family on their farm in Virginia, travelling across the globe, and biking – he biked cross-country from California to Florida several years ago. He will also continue to maintain the Procedurally Taxing blog, a national source of information about developing issues in tax procedure and tax administration.
Reflecting on his varied experiences working in tax law, Fogg sees areas for improvement within the system. “We’ve created a system that’s tough for low-income taxpayers,” he says. “The IRS should be putting a lot of its energy and funding into helping people, not playing ‘gotcha.’ Most people want to pay their taxes right.”