ND Law grads credit Tax Clinic with preparing them for practice

Author: Kevin Allen

Alexis Maguiña had no background in accounting when he started working at the Notre Dame Tax Clinic last fall as a 3L at the Law School.

Today, a little more than a year later, Maguiña is a tax consultant at EY, one of the world’s largest accounting firms, in San Francisco.

Alexismaguina Alexis Maguiña, ’17 J.D.

Maguiña said his experience at the Tax Clinic was helpful in landing a job in tax law, but the benefits of the experience went beyond the specific subject matter.

Working at the Tax Clinic – where law students represent low-income residents in federal tax disputes with the Internal Revenue Service – enabled Maguiña to develop case-management and research skills, practice using legal procedure in real cases, and become comfortable with making decisions in cases that do not have clear legal precedents.

“A clinic experience supplements what you learn in the classroom,” Maguiña said.

“The Tax Clinic gives you a good background in an area of law that is very statute heavy, very code heavy,” he added. “The Internal Revenue Code is voluminous, and it’s good preparation for practice because a lot of law in practice is code heavy.”

Notre Dame Law School considers experiential learning – including clinical experiences as well as externships, skills courses, and immersion programs – to be a core part of a legal education. As Maguiña said, those experiences complement the analytical training of the classroom by enabling law students to develop practical skills and explore potential career paths.

Tax Clinic launched in 2016

The Notre Dame Tax Clinic is the newest of the Law School’s five clinics.

With the help of a federal grant, the Tax Clinic launched in the fall of 2016 and joined the Community Development Clinic, Economic Justice Clinic, and Applied Mediation Clinic at the Notre Dame Clinical Law Center at 725 Howard St. in South Bend. The Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Clinic is housed in the Law School on Notre Dame’s campus.

Rsz Img 3014 1 Patrick W. Thomas, director of the Notre Dame Tax Clinic, said working at the clinic provides valuable opportunities for students interested in litigation and government work.

All of the clinics function as teaching law offices where students work as lead attorneys on real cases under the supervision of seasoned faculty members. The clinics also help the South Bend community by representing local residents who cannot afford legal counsel.

Law students are not required to have a background in accounting to work at the Tax Clinic. Many students who work at the clinic have an interest in tax law and are seeking other aspects of the clinic experience that will prepare them for their careers.

The Tax Clinic is one of two clinics where Notre Dame Law students can gain litigation experience. The other is the Economic Justice Clinic.

“If students are interested in litigation experience, the Tax Clinic is a good opportunity for that,” said Patrick W. Thomas, the Tax Clinic’s director. “It also offers good administrative practice. A lot of federal work is administrative, so this is a good experience for students who want to work for the government.”

The value of client interactions

Holly Lucas, another member of Notre Dame Law School’s Class of 2017, also worked at the Tax Clinic during the 2016-17 academic year.

Hollylucas Holly Lucas, ’17 J.D.

Lucas earned her bachelor’s degree in economics and finance at Saint Mary’s College. She worked for an accountant as an undergraduate, so she had experience preparing tax returns, but she saw a different side of the subject while working at the Tax Clinic.

“Working with clients is one of the best parts of the clinic experience. No matter what kind of law you choose to practice, that client interaction is valuable,” she said.

“And it’s very satisfying,” she added, “because the Tax Clinic’s clients really do need our help. I found that to be rewarding to give back to the community.”

Lucas, now an attorney for the Michigan law firm Kotz Sangster, practices in the areas of business litigation, real estate, health care, and tax law.

Both Lucas and Maguiña said one of the practical benefits of working at the Tax Clinic was that it gave them things to talk about during their job interviews.

They both worked as clinic externs in the fall semester and supervised new externs in the spring. They visited U.S. Tax Court, drafted litigation documents, and represented clients in negotiations with the IRS.

One of Maguiña’s cases involved the Affordable Care Act and complications that arose when a client’s spouse died. “That experience of starting to explore a new field of law was valuable,” he said. “I mentioned that several times in my interviews.”