Tax Clinic Students
- What kind of clinical program is the Tax Clinic?
- What kinds of cases do students handle as part of the Tax Clinic program?
- Practice Skills Learned in the Tax Clinic
- Making a Difference in Clients' Lives
- Structure and Requirements of the Tax Clinic
What kind of clinical program is the Tax Clinic?
The Tax Clinic is a one semester clinical program (described in more detail below) that is offered to between 8 and 10 students in both the fall and spring semesters, and 6 students during the two summer semester term. Students are awarded 6 credits for the program. Four (4) credits are for casework and two(2) credits are for class work. The Tax Clinic is taught by Clinical Professor Diana L. Leyden. Any second-, third- or fourth-year day or evening division student who has completed a J.D. federal income tax course may enroll in the Tax Clinic. The Tax Clinic consists of three components:
- Seminar: Three (3) hours each week students are taught tax law and procedure and lawyering skills, and are introduced to guest speakers form the IRS, DRS, and area attorneys;
- Tutorial: One hour each week each two member team of students meet with the Director to discuss their cases; and
- Casework: Each students spends 15-20 hours each work working on cases, attending client or IRS/DRS conferences, or preparing for lawyering events. Each team of two students handles between 4 and 6 cases each semester.
Students who complete one semester of the Tax Clinic can register for Advanced Fieldwork. In the Advanced Tax Clinic students can continue with client representation or design a special program. Examples of programs that Advanced Tax Clinic students have worked on are:
- Designing and running workshops on tax related problems (e.g., credit repair, small business taxes) with community organizations;
- Preparing legislative testimony for regulation of Refund Anticipation Loans; and
- Working on a book showcasing the problems faced by the working poor when interacting with the IRS.
"What a great ways for people in the community to get some help and a great way for students to learn some practical lawyering skills."
--Ted Karns, '01, Principal, Private Equity, Princeton University Investment Company
What kinds of cases do students handle as part of the Tax Clinic program?
The Tax Clinic represents over 100 low income taxpayers every year.
"I was amazed at the spectrum of issues our Tax Clinic clients faced. Witihin weeks of enrollment, I was applying a wide range of substantive and procedural tax law to my clients' needs. We worked on challenging cases."
--Brennan Price, '04,Chief Technology Officer at ARRL
Clients are provided high quality legal representation at three levels before the Internal Revenue Service and the Connecticut Department of Revenue Service.
- Audits: Students prepare for and represent clients in connection with audits of income tax returns.
- Appeals Students represent clients with regards to the appeal of an adverse audit, the exercise of due process rights after the IRS first tries to collect a past tax by a levy or a lien or the denial of an offer in compromise, or the appeal of an adverse determination of the request for innocent spouse; and
- Collection during the process of proposing an alternative payment plan or a compromise of tax liabilities.
The Tax Clinic also represents its clients in litigation. The Tax Clinic appears before the United States Tax Court with respect to litigation of tax matters, including adverse audit determinations or denials of collection alternatives and generally once a semester attends the United States Tax Court trial session in Hartford, CT. The Tax Clinic also represents clients before the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, the United States Court of Federal Claims, and the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit with respect to refund actions and Freedom of Information litigation.
The Tax Clinic does not fill out tax returns or provide other accounting services. The Law School sponsors a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site that is operated in Hartford during the tax filing season. Students interested in enrolling in the Tax Clinic or in providing tax-related public service are encouraged to participate.
Practice Skills Learned in the Tax Clinic
Students in the Tax Clinic receive special certification by the IRS Director of Practice that allows them to represent clients at all stages of the administrative practice. For clients who have problems related to an examination (audit) of a tax return, a student may correspond with a service center or local exams office and attend a conference with an IRS revenue agent. The Tax Clinic students have been very successful in resolving problems at this stage because they prepare thorough document submission and are well prepared in attending conferences. Working in teams, students use skills learned in the Tax Clinic to assist clients in securing enough credible documents to support claims made on returns or to understand when claims cannot be supported. Students also rehearse for conferences by engaging in moot conferences with the Director, Staff Attorney, other students or area practitioners to prepare for actual IRS conferences.
If a client seeks help in appealing an examination finding, a student may work to counsel the client on his or her rights to an appeal conference or other choices. If the client decides to appeal, the student will work with the client to prepare a written appeals protest and attend a conference with an IRS Appeals Officer. At this stage, the student may also have the opportunity to engage in negotiation and settlement conferences or the new Fast Track Mediation process.
If a client seeks help in determining how to pay off a past tax liability, a student may counsel a client as to payment or settlement options, assist the client in preparing financial statements, and attend a conference with an IRS revenue officer in connection with an offer to compromise a tax liability. (All of these same types of representation may occur at the state revenue department level as well.)
Finally, Tax Clinic students may represent taxpayers before the U.S. Tax Court. The Tax Clinic has a written agreement with the Tax Court that permits students, under the supervision of an attorney admitted to the Tax Court bar, to litigate before the court in small tax court matters or regular tax court matters which do not involve disputes exceeding $50,000. The U.S. Tax Court has generally held a trial session at least once a year in Hartford, Connecticut. Students who are involved in Tax Court matters may be involved in preparing petitions and other pleadings, negotiating settlements with IRS counsel, arguing motions, and conducting trials.
Making a Difference in Clients' Lives
Most Tax Clinic clients have incomes between $10,000-$40,000. Many are single parents with young children. For a substantial number English is a second language. Often these clients do not possess sufficient education, literary or time to handle the daunting hurdle of corresponding with the IRS or attending meetings. To many clients, the denial of a refund or, worse, the receipt of a tax bill for an amount of $2,000 may mean no school clothes for a child or no holiday or birthday gifts. Representation for such clients in tax matters is nearly nonexistent in the communities served by the Tax Clinic.
There are three major facets of the Tax Clinic program: casework, seminar meetings and tutorials. The casework, of course, is central. Students, working together in teams of two, typically spend between 15-20 hours a week working on their clients' cases. Each student team meets weekly with the Director or Staff Attorney for an in-depth discussion of the casework. These tutorials are used to help students recognize, analyze, and resolve the multitude of strategic, tactical, ethical and interpersonal issues that arise in representing clients. Through the casework, students gain training in lawyering skills including client interviewing, client counseling, negotiation and settlement, draftng legal memoranda and other legal documents, and keeping files.
The Tax Clinic seminar meets once a week during the semester. Early in the fall semester, classes are used to survey the substantive federal tax and practice law involved in the clinic cases. Many classes are devoted to teaching essential lawyering skills. Classes also serve a forums for case rounds in which students share and learn from each other's case experiences.
Tax Clinic students may also participate in role playing exercises designed to simulate the key aspects of lawyering process, including client interviewing and counseling, negotiating, investigation, examining witnesses, and making arguments. IRS revenue officers and Appeals Officers may run in class simulations or appear as guest lecturers. Area tax practitioners also appear as guest lecturers during the semester.