Why Do We Have a Tax Clinic?

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Jacob Peeples is a 2L Student Attorney in the Janet R. Spragens Federal Tax Clinic at American University, Washington College of Law.

A letter from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is a scary thing for anyone to receive, especially someone who is not familiar with tax law and procedure. Contrary to what one might assume, the IRS audits thousands of low-income individuals each year. Most clients of AUWCL’s Janet R. Spragens Federal Tax Clinic earn less than $30,000 per year, and they face potentially ruinous amounts of tax liability relative to their means.

I enjoy being a student attorney with the Tax Clinic because I have the privilege and opportunity to work face-to-face with clients and represent them before the IRS in appeals conferences and in the U.S. Tax Court. It is enormously rewarding to be able to help someone through this seemingly daunting process and to help him or her understand how our revenue system works. To me, the hands-on experience that the Clinic provides is an essential learning experience for all law students.

While it may not always seem like the most exciting legal field to many law students, tax law is cerebral, pervasive, and provides enormous opportunities for social justice and public interest work. Taxation is not only necessary for any government spending, but the tax code has enormous potential in affecting economic behavior through credits and penalties and is an enormous tool for assisting low and middle income taxpayers through programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Child Dependent Care Credit.

In addition to representing our clients as student attorneys, every student who participated in the Tax Clinic this year will be volunteering at VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) sites throughout the DC metro area. Each year, volunteers help prepare state and federal taxes for thousands of taxpayers and help put millions of dollars of refunds in their bank accounts without charging enormous prices and fees. Being a VITA volunteer is a tremendously rewarding experience and great way to for law students to familiarize themselves with the tax system.

 

Tax Clinic Students Prepare Returns for Low Income Area Residents

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3L Tax Clinic Student Brendan Valentine volunteers at a VITA site

As we approach the tax filing deadline, we report that, as a pro bono project spearheaded each year by Janet R. Spragens Federal Tax Clinic students, this spring, nearly 50 WCL student volunteers  are preparing tax returns for low-income taxpayers throughout the District of Columbia, Montgomery County, Maryland and Northern Virginia in conjunction with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Student volunteers complete twelve hours of training and certification before preparing taxes at their respective volunteer sites. On average, students commit to volunteering twenty hours during the spring semester. The project was coordinated this year by 3L Michelle Ramos Domingue.

“Out of the WCL pro bono programs I have participated in, VITA has been the most rewarding,” said Brendan Valentine, a third year law student and VITA volunteer. “VITA is a program that fits naturally with WCL students and our commitment to public service and it is a program I am very proud to be a part of.”

Students also volunteered in tax outreach programs with the Office of Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton.