Low-income taxpayers in the Triangle who find themselves in disputes with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can receive legal help at DukeLawSchool.
The newly established Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic involves law students, under faculty supervision, representing clients in tax matters pending before the IRS, including collection actions, audits, administrative appeals and representation in the United States Tax Court. A grant from the IRS helped launch the clinic, which is currently accepting cases and will welcome its inaugural staff of students in January 2006.
Lecturing Fellow Alan I. Weinberg, who has almost 40 years of tax law experience, including 29 with the IRS, will direct the clinic. From 1981 until 1995, he was the district counsel for the IRS in Greensboro, after which he spent 10 years handling tax actions for Ernst & Young LLP.
The clinic offers an essential, free service to a group of taxpayers who would not ordinarily be able to afford representation, Weinberg said. Single individuals with incomes of up to $25,000 and couples with children and incomes of up to slightly more than $35,000 are eligible for clinic assistance.
"Nobody should go to an IRS audit without representation," Weinberg said. "We will be giving our students the skill-set to effectively represent clients before the Service, which starts with an effective client interview, gathering all the facts and documentation and performing thorough research of the law."
If a client further challenges adjustments made by the IRS following an audit, the clinic can also handle appeals, first to the Appeals Office of the IRS where a negotiated settlement is possible and then, if necessary, to the United States Tax Court.
Weinberg anticipates that a significant part of the clinic's work will involve questions of whether individuals are truly liable for taxes levied against their spouses, and IRS challenges to payouts under the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), for which $34 billion was claimed in the 2003 tax year.
"The IRS challenges the payouts under the EITC because there has been a history of fraud associated with these claims," he said. "Our students are going to have to understand the law allowing the EITC, know the documentation required to prove a claim and be able to recognize situations where the client could have made a claim but didn't."
For Duke Law students, the clinic represents an opportunity to "do hand-to-hand combat with the IRS," said Weinberg, who observes from his experience that many law firms shy away from dealing with the IRS. "We will be teaching our students that there are ways to prevail in dealing with the IRS. Those are valuable skills to bring to a practice."
The launch of the Low-Income Tax Clinic coincides with the opening of Duke Law's new wing, which brings together all four of the school's clinics that serve clients directly. The other three are the AIDS Legal Project, the Children's Education Law Clinic and the Community Enterprise Clinic.
"With the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic and the opening of our new clinic wing, the legal services available to the community from Duke have once again expanded," said Katharine T. Bartlett, dean of the law school. "I am thrilled that DukeLawSchool can now do more to assist underserved populations in the area in an efficient and comprehensive manner, while our students receive excellent, hands-on training."
Duke's Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic can be reached at (888) 600-7274 or (919) 613-7169.