In 1974, Stuart Filler created the first low income taxpayer clinic at Hofstra Law School. Shortly thereafter, similar clinics sprang up at Southern Methodist University and Michigan law schools. Each clinic wanted permission for the students to practice before the IRS and the Tax Court. Both the IRS and the Tax Court struggled with the issue of student representation. The IRS issued a report in 1978 embracing the idea of student clinics, which serves as a critical historical document observing and analyzing the work and possibilities of tax clinics. Despite the growth in the law school clinical movement during the 1970s and 1980s, by 1990 only about ten law school tax clinics existed. About that time, Janet Spragens started a tax clinic at American University, and shortly thereafter Nina Olson started the first non-academic low income tax clinic in Richmond, Virginia. These two clinic directors became a dynamic team pushing for changes in tax clinics. Their leadership received a boost with the Clinton administration’s welfare legislation which placed the tax code front and center for delivery of social benefits and the substantial tax reform legislation passed in 1998. Janet Spragens and Nina Olson convinced Congress to include several provisions in the 1998 legislation that favorably impacted low income taxpayers. Most important among the changes for tax clinics was the passage of section 7526 creating grant funds for tax clinics of up to $100,000. In 1998, 16 low income taxpayer clinics existed. Today, almost ten times that number exist as a direct result of the grant funds.
The Article traces the history of tax clinics and the forces that shaped that history. Decisions by the IRS, the Tax Section of the American Bar Association, the Tax Court, and Congress had enormous impacts on how and why clinics developed as they did. The Article also looks at the movement of the clinics from 17 years as entities solely ensconced in academic institutions to entities primarily located in offices of legal services organizations. It concludes with a look at the challenges for clinics as they move forward.