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10th Anniversary of Taxpayer Clinic

For millions of taxpayers across the country, the April 15 tax deadline always looms large, particularly during difficult economic times. For a decade, the Lewis & Clark Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic has been helping those most in need of assistance, mitigating conflicts with the IRS and seeking positive resolution for all parties.

The clinic represents low-income individuals in the Portland area, providing free legal representation for people facing situations such as an audit or attempts to collect unpaid taxes. Student participants work under the supervision of Jan Pierce, clinical professor of law, who has supervised the clinic since its opening in May 2000. Before joining the law school faculty, he served 27 years as an attorney with the Chief Counsel’s Office of the IRS.

“Since we represent clients who have tax controversies with the IRS,” says Pierce, “it is vastly more important for our students to know how the system works than to be substantive tax experts. One of the things I tell the students is that when a taxpayer is dealing with the IRS, the IRS is calling the shots and making the decisions. Once we are in court, the IRS is no longer in charge and making the decisions— they are just a party to the litigation.”

Dannielle Booth, who graduated in December 2009, worked at the legal clinic for a year while a Lewis & Clark law student. “The tax code is a vast web—deductions for this, credits for that, numerous exclusions, different tax rates, many policy goals, several political agendas,” she says. “Taxpayers need help navigating the tangles. Maybe the answer is simplification; maybe the answer is education—maybe we need a little of both.”

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