February 27, 2020 Pro Bono Matters

Providing Pro Bono Assistance at the 2019 Fall Tax Meeting

By Susan E. Morgenstern, Taxpayer Advocate Service, Cleveland, OH

“How may I help?” That’s the question posed by the more than two dozen Tax Section lawyers who participated in the Section’s first pro bono clinic at the Fall Tax Meeting in San Francisco last October. Organized by Amy Spivey, of the Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco, and now with the University of California, Hastings College of Law LITC, Carolyn Lee, formerly of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and now with IRS Office of Chief Counsel, Susan Morgenstern of the Taxpayer Advocate Service, and Mandi Matlock, formerly of Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid and now with the Taxpayer Advocate Service, supported by the Tax Section, and generously housed at Greenberg Traurig’s bayview office, the clinic brought together the private bar, low income taxpayer clinics, the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), and IRS counsel to meet with approximately 25 taxpayers.

The clientele included docketed Tax Court petitioners, taxpayers seeking to understand how to file petitions, taxpayers enmeshed in exam, and taxpayers seeking daylight in the collection process. With the assistance of pro bono attorneys and the input of IRS counsel, at least one Tax Court case was fully resolved and at least three were narrowed significantly. Taxpayers and their pro bono attorneys were able to analyze the issues in an examination, and those in collection learned how to assemble and prepare forms and documents necessary to seek collection alternatives. Two bay area Local Taxpayer Advocates also worked with taxpayers and pro bono counsel. Many attendees welcomed TAS’s ability to illuminate taxpayers’ accounts, especially those taxpayers who were facing issues involving multiple years.

For newer attorneys, the clinic offered the opportunity to work in a team with a more experienced attorney. IRS Chief Counsel Michael Desmond also attended the clinic with his local attorneys.

Most thankful were the taxpayers. For them, this was their first opportunity to meet with an experienced tax professional, explain their tax issues, and learn what steps they could take to resolve them. Afterward, Amy Spivey received taxpayer feedback expressing gratitude for this opportunity. In the words of one taxpayer, “I really appreciated [the volunteer’s] help. She was very helpful to me in understanding some concerns I had.”

The Tax Section looks forward to developing similar programs in conjunction with future Tax Meetings.


Section of Taxation members can discuss this article in the ABA Tax Times Community. ➔