The current tax system creates a large burden for low-income taxpayers. While some of these individuals may earn enough money to be subject to tax, they likely do not earn enough to retain legal counsel for tax law assistance. To help combat this problem, academic settings began clinical programs in this area for students interested in tax practice, and, later, independent nonprofit tax law clinics and pro bono projects were formed for this purpose as well.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program
Through VITA, volunteers provide free income tax assistance at community locations to low-income individuals and families. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) trains these volunteers before they begin participating in the program. For more information on this program, see the IRS website. Also, for more information on specific VITA programs utilizing law student volunteers, see the ABA Directory of Law School Public Interest and Pro Bono Programs and the ABA Law Student Division's VITA program websites.
Using Pro Bono Attorneys to Provide Representation in Tax Disputes
Many pro bono programs have created projects using volunteers to provide advice/counsel to low-income taxpayers. For example, the Community Tax Law Project (CTLP) was founded in 1992 to provide low-income taxpayers in Virginia with pro bono representation in tax disputes at the federal, state, and local levels. Like traditional legal aid programs, CTLP maintains both a staff of in-house attorneys and an active panel of volunteer attorneys/accountants who accept tax cases on a pro bono basis.
In addition, CTLP operates the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) Resource Center. The LITC Resource Center provides the following services for low-income taxpayer clinics nationwide:
- technical assistance;
- start-up operational support;
- practice advice; and
- information about IRS rulings and actions, tax cases and pending legislation that may impact low income taxpayers.
For a comprehensive list of low-income taxpayer clinics across the nation, go to www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p4134.pdf.
ABA Center for Pro Bono Clearinghouse Library
As an additional resource, the Center for Pro Bono maintains an extensive Clearinghouse Library of over 4,000 documents (articles, reports, studies and news clippings) pertaining to pro bono related matters with a focus on pro bono program management. The collection includes materials on tax law clinics and special programs. Each document is summarized and recorded in the Clearinghouse database, which is now searchable from the web at www.abaprobono.org.
For More Information
For more information on low-income taxpayer assistance, or the Clearinghouse Library, you may contact the Center for Pro Bono .