Low Income Taxpayer Clinic
Students in the Tax Clinic represent low-income taxpayers from Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada in controversies with the Internal Revenue Service. The Tax Clinic also operates programs to inform persons for whom English is a second language of their federal tax rights and responsibilities.
The Tax Clinic was developed in response to the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, in which Congress authorized the IRS to make matching fund grants to qualified organizations (such as law schools) for the development, continuation or expansion of qualified low-income taxpayer clinics.
To date, Tax Clinic students have represented taxpayers in a wide range of controversies with the IRS, ranging from initial notices and problems receiving refunds, to appeals, tax court litigation and offers-in-compromise. It is important to note that the Tax Clinic is not involved in tax return preparation — the College of Law has a VITA group that prepares returns for low- to moderate-income taxpayers. Also, because it is primarily concerned with the resolution of federal tax controversies, the Tax Clinic only represents clients in state or local tax matters if those matters relate to the client’s federal tax dispute.
The majority of the cases handled by the Tax Clinic have involved the representation of individuals before the United States Tax Court. Tax Clinic students have conducted trials and otherwise litigated cases on behalf of taxpayers before the U.S. Tax Courts in Boise and Pocatello, Idaho; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Helena and Billings, Montana; Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada; and Salt Lake City, Utah.
If you would like the Tax Clinic to consider representing you in a controversy with the IRS, please complete the application below and the clinic will respond.
2018 was a big year for the tax clinic. We provided on-the-spot advice for taxpayers in Boise, Salt Lake City, and Reno who were going to Tax Court and would not otherwise have had professional legal representation. Here are some highlights:
- We helped a client who fell victim to the nationwide “100 million dollar scam,” and, in addition to losing thousands of dollars, was facing a tax liability she was unable to pay. We settled her case, compromising her $10,000 tax debt for $1.
- We successfully appealed the IRS’s disallowance of a client’s business mileage deduction, and ultimately obtained a larger mileage deduction. The client, on his accountant’s advice, did not claim all of his business miles for fear of being audited.
- We recently submitted a refund claim for a client who paid income tax on Air Force back pay received for a period when she was wrongfully incarcerated. Congress changed the law to make the back pay nontaxable and to allow her retroactive refund claim.
- A client with no assets and $1,000/month job had $10,000 tax bill. At one time, he had gone an entire week without eating because he had run out of money. Though he would have qualified for an Offer in Compromise of only $1, he insisted on paying $300 (an amount he had managed to save from his paychecks).
“I am, and always will be, so grateful for your help. I was at the end of my tether – at wit’s end. You helped a fella who’d just as soon choke as ask for help. Thank you.”
- We compromised a tax debt of over $100,000 for a terminally ill woman and her husband who were left destitute by the economic downturn and the costs of her illness. The IRS accepted their $1 offer in full payment because that was all they could realistically afford.
- Congratulations to clinic student Richard Cortes on his spring semester externship with Tax Court Special Trial Judge Peter Panuthos in Washington D.C. Richard was the first College of Law student to extern with the Tax Court.
- Cameron Warr, a 2018 graduate, joined the PricewaterhouseCoopers mergers and acquisitions tax group in Houston.
Austin Frates, a 2016 graduate, decided to pursue his taxation LL.M. and will graduate from the University of Florida in May.
“Working in the tax clinic has been an incredible experience, the opportunity to help people that otherwise would not be able to access legal advice is amazing.
Additionally, getting to work a case through the entire Tax Court system, ultimately settling right before trial, was great for the experience gained.”
-Damian Zimmer, student
“There is a common misconception that tax law practitioners hide in back offices, stare at balance sheets, and prepare mundane quarterly returns for faceless corporations. My clinic experience shattered this misconception, and I was introduced to a world of opportunity to help underserved members of my community. Within weeks of joining the tax clinic I was working face to face with clients who were lost in our complex tax code, and terrified of the IRS. Through this whole experience, the tax clinic provided me with tools and support to help those in need.
From matters as simple as resolving controversies with appeals to as complex as litigating in tax court, we handled everything. Litigating in tax court was the most defining experience of my academic career. It cemented in me a sense of purpose, and provided me with a strong foundation on which to build my career as an attorney. There's nothing quite like staring down the IRS, telling them they are wrong, and then proving that they are wrong in court. Practicing for a Low Income Tax Clinic is the exclusive opportunity for this experience in law school.
Tax law is unique in several ways. In my opinion, it is far and away the most difficult coursework a student will face in law school. Even with this level of difficulty, the coursework alone is insufficient to develop a student into a tax practitioner. The tax clinic fills this critical gap. By working with clients where the rubber meets the road, I developed a practical perspective, and an appreciation for the real, complex tax problems clients face every day. The internal revenue code was more than a puzzle to solve for a grade. It became a series of tools and solutions that I could use to help those in need. This reality cannot be captured by a fact pattern or a problem set in the classroom.”
-Austin Frates, alum