Bar News - July 20, 2007
National Taxpayer Advocate Speaks to Local Attorneys: McLane Firm Hosts Luncheon for Low-Income Taxpayer Project
By: Joceline Champagne
Each year, millions of people file their federal income tax returns and eagerly await their refunds or file with the impression that they have satisfied their tax obligation. Imagine learning that the refund you anticipated has been withheld due to an audit or that instead of a refund you owe the IRS an unanticipated debt. Resolving these controversies with the IRS is often a long and sometimes difficult process. Those who face this challenge, however, are not alone. In many circumstances, the New Hampshire Bar Association’s Pro Bono Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic can offer relief to New Hampshire low-income residents in need of such help.
In addition, the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) can help. TAS is an independent organization within the IRS organized to be the voice of taxpayers and to help them resolve problems with the IRS.
On June 29, 2007, at a luncheon hosted by the McLane Law Firm and organized by the Pro Bono Low-Income Taxpayer Project (LITP), several Pro Bono Taxpayer Project volunteers and other members of New Hampshire’s Taxpayer Project community met with the leader of TAS, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson. Attendees learned about recent developments within TAS and discussed the current issues they face in the cases they are handling. Ms. Olson provided information about the types of taxpayer issues her office is seeing nationwide and how volunteer lawyers can make a fundamental difference in the lives of low-income taxpayers.
Ms. Olson herself has a history of providing pro bono legal service and supporting efforts to provide representation to low-income taxpayers. In 1992, she founded Virginia’s Community Tax Law Project (CTLP), the first independent low-income taxpayer clinic in the country. Subsequently, in 1998 Congress authorized matching funding of qualified low-income taxpayer clinics, thereby increasing the number of such clinics around the country. The Pro-Bono Taxpayer Project receives a portion of its funding from this federal source. The grant program is administered by the National Taxpayer Advocate Office. The local TAS office is located in Portsmouth. Marsha Simmons, New Hampshire’s Taxpayer Advocate, and her staff, work with the Pro Bono LITP by referring cases and acting as a resource for the Project and its volunteers.
Pro Bono’s Low-Income Income Taxpayer Project, the first and only representation-based LITP in New Hampshire, was established in 2003 with the support of several prominent members of New Hampshire’s tax bar. Among the Project’s early supporters were Attorneys Beth Fowler and David Barradale. With now over 40 attorneys on the volunteer panel, the Project has continued to grow and expand its services. New Hampshire is fortunate to also have an LITP that focuses on outreach efforts to non-English speaking taxpayers. The ESL Taxpayer Project is located at the Legal Advice & Referral Center in Concord.
Pro Bono’s Low-Income Taxpayer Project panel members assist low-income taxpayers with a variety of tax controversies, including innocent and injured spouse relief claims, IRS audits, Earned Income Tax Credit issues, and social security levies and property liens.
Through the support of the Pro Bono Program, volunteers are provided with yearly trainings and case support. For lawyers who are new to handling tax cases, the Program provides mentors to assist throughout the controversy resolution process. All volunteers are also encouraged to use the materials in the LITP tax library, which is located in the NHBA library at the Bar Center in Concord.
Many attorneys feel that if they are not tax experts they cannot be involved in the Taxpayer Project. This, however, is not the case. The LITP currently has several attorneys on the volunteer panel with primary practice areas other than tax. The McLane firm, in particular, has looked beyond the firm’s tax department to recruit volunteers for the Project. McLane currently has nine attorneys on the LITP panel. The firm’s commitment to helping low-income taxpayers has been a significant force behind the Project’s success. The Project challenges other firms and attorneys to consider helping Pro Bono through involvement in the Taxpayer Project.
Those who have learned this area of the law in order to help Pro Bono clients have reported that it helps in their private practices, too. Tax questions and tax controversies often surface in divorce, bankruptcy, and business cases. Having a working knowledge of IRS rules and controversy resolution processes can help you as you represent clients in these other types of cases as well.
Please consider taking this opportunity to use your existing knowledge of tax law or to expand your knowledge in order to help those trying to navigate the tricky waters of the IRS. You can make a big difference in the lives of individuals and families who want to resolve their conflicts with the IRS and make a fresh start.
The Pro Bono LITP also wants to take this opportunity to thank all its dedicated volunteers who have helped many low-income taxpayers since the Project’s inception. At the Pro Bono office, we hear the stories about how you help those who have felt frustrated and out of options. Your assistance allowed a domestic violence survivor to resolve her tax deficiency and get a checking account after many years of struggling without one. Your intervention allowed an elderly man to persuade the IRS to release the 15 percent lien on his social security benefits so he could have enough money to pay his rent. These are just a couple of examples of how our volunteer attorneys make a difference.
If you are interested in learning more about the services provided by the Low-Income Taxpayer Project or how you can become involved, please contact Joceline Champagne, the Project Coordinator at the firstname.lastname@example.org or at (603) 715-3262.
(Back row, left to right) Attorney Joceline Champagne- Pro Bono LITC Coordinator; Virginia Martin- Pro Bono LITC Director/ Associate Executive Director for Legal Services, NH Bar Association; Attorneys John Zaremba, Pro Bono LITC Volunteer (Orr & Reno, Concord, NH), Jeffrey Goodrich, LARC LITC, Beth Fowler, Pro Bono LITC Volunteer (McLane Law Firm, Manchester, NH), William Boesch, Pro Bono LITC Volunteer (Robinson Boesch & Sennott, Portsmouth, NH), Craig Standish, Pro Bono LITC Volunteer (McLane Law Firm, Manchester, NH), Wayne Croteau, LARC LITC Project Manager; Steven Pippenger, Pro Bono LITC Law Student Intern. (Front row, left to right) Attorney Marilyn McNamara- Executive Director, LARC; Nina Olson, National Taxpayer Advocate.