Notre Dame Law School To Launch Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic

Notre Dame Law School will launch a new clinic – the Notre Dame Tax Clinic – to help law students gain legal experience and to serve the community. The clinic will be funded by a grant from the Internal Revenue Service and support from Notre Dame Research.

The clinic, approved by the faculty this month, will strengthen the tax law program for law students with the addition of an experiential component, and add a second litigation clinic, said Bob Jones, associate dean for experiential programs.

“The clinic will address an important legal need for low-income and English-as-a-second language people in the region,” Jones said. “A surprisingly large proportion of IRS disputes with taxpayers involve low-income people and immigrants, very few of whom have legal representation.

“Our new clinic will provide a much-needed community service while providing our students with an invaluable practice experience.”

Congress created the Low Income Tax Clinic program in 1998 “to provide access to representation for low income taxpayers, so that achieving a correct outcome in an IRS dispute does not depend on the taxpayer’s ability to pay for representation, and to educate individuals for whom English is a second language about their rights and responsibilities as taxpayers.” The process to secure LITC grants is competitive; only six new applications nationally were approved for 2016.

The clinic’s academic component, scheduled to start in the 2016 fall semester, will enroll between eight and 10 students each semester. The Notre Dame Tax Clinic course would include a class covering skills, substantive law, and procedural law and about 10 hours of casework each week. Students would be the primary attorneys working with the clients, supervised by a licensed attorney.

Matt Barrett, professor of law, will serve as the interim qualified tax expert for the clinic and Jones will be acting director until a new clinic director is hired.

“The clinic offers a win-win-win opportunity,” Barrett said. “First, the clinic advances the missions of the University and the Law School to teach and educate students and clients alike; to advocate for the poor before the IRS and the U.S. Tax Court; and to benefit and strengthen communities in the region. Second, the clinic will give members of the bar and other volunteers the opportunity to serve others. Finally, the clinic will assist clients to understand and satisfy their civic obligation to pay taxes, but no more than legally required.”

Since 1972, students from the University of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College have assisted low-income and disabled taxpayers with preparation of their tax returns through Notre Dame’s Vivian Harrington Gray Tax Assistance Program. The LITC at NDLS will enable the Law School to represent taxpayers who have received a notice from the IRS, typically after their returns have been filed.

Current clinical opportunities for NDLS students are: the Economic Justice Clinic, the Community Development Clinic, the Applied Mediation Clinic, and the Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Clinic.