PUBLISHED:April 22, 2008

Clinic students assist individuals at tax court

April 21, 2008 — The expertise of six students from the Duke Law Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic was called into service law week by a Special Trial Judge of the United States Tax Court. On April 14, 2008, the students attended the Calendar Call of the United States Tax Court held in Winston-Salem, N.C. Having successfully resolved all of the cases they had been assigned which were on the Calendar, the Special Trial Tax Court Judge asked them to assist taxpayers in attendance with unresolved cases.

“The client I met with was absolutely grateful for the clinic’s assistance,” said 2L Jasper Liou. “Most of the clinic's clients, whether we meet them at the Calendar Call or they call us for help, are virtually helpless against the IRS. They have no idea what the IRS wants from them, and tax disputes are usually the least of their problems.”

Students met with four clients during the course of the day. Their work resulted in one case dismissal, one successful appeal for acceptance of an amended return, and two situations where the clients did not meet the criteria for representation by the clinic, but were able to be counseled about the law concerning their cases.

“Students had to pick up cases they never saw before, grasp the facts and the issues, and determine what was the best course of legal action,” said Clinic Director Alan I. Weinberg. “It was very impressive to watch these students act as mature, veteran attorneys handling the taxpayers who sought their help at the last minute before being scheduled for trial.”

Weinberg credits skills developed through mock interviews, meeting with clients, and working directly with the IRS on other cases throughout the semester with the success of the students under pressure at the Calendar Call.

“The most important skill seems to be the ability to communicate effectively with clients,” said 2L Randy Clark. “The Internal Revenue Code is not simple, and sometimes a client needs a breakdown of why he owes what he owes and what the real options are going forward.

“[The client is] relying on you for your knowledge and ability,” Clark continued. “Even if you are fully knowledgeable of the facts and law in a case, if you cannot effectively relay that understanding, you will not be able to earn the trust of a client. When [you are] discussing options and suggesting potential settlements to a client, that trust is very important.”