Low Income Tax Clinics around the county, like the Federal Tax Clinic at Villanova Law, provide an invaluable service of free legal counsel to low-income taxpayers in controversies with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Practitioners at the clinics work with clients to represent them in disputes including audits, administrative appeals, collection matters and cases before the United States Tax Court and Federal District Courts. The free representation oftentimes results in substantial client benefits, including refunds, relief for innocent spouses and lower tax liabilities, all of which would not be possible without the clinics.
Many low income tax clinics are operated by legal services organizations, which oftentimes do not have the resources to send attorneys to tax-specific trainings. To address this need, each spring Villanova University’s Graduate Tax Program works together with the Villanova Law Federal Tax Clinic to offer a two-credit pass/fail trial advocacy course for Graduate Tax students and low income tax clinic practitioners. The course provides an in-depth review of the procedures and practical phases that occur in litigating tax controversies in the United States Tax Court. It is intentionally limited to a maximum of 16 students so that it is meaningful and engaging for all participants.
“Villanova University is committed to public service, and to supporting those who serve poor and disenfranchised members of our community,” said Christine Speidel, Assistant Professor and Director, Federal Tax Clinic at Villanova Law. “Most people with cases in the U.S. Tax Court are self-represented, and there is a large need for help with IRS disputes.”
Practitioners from around the country participate in the course, which includes five weeks of online sessions and culminates with a two-day, in-person mock trial workshop at Villanova Law. The course is taught by Graduate Tax faculty who also have extensive experience working for the IRS. Students have the opportunity to practice trial skills such as direct examination and cross examination, and special trial judges from the United States Tax Court volunteer their time to preside over the mock trial portion of the workshop.
“The course gives students hands-on training to build their trial skills, including direct and cross examination, oral argument and evidentiary objections, and a mock trial before actual Tax Court judges,” added Speidel. “Trial advocacy skills are best learned through practice, particularly in a specialized court like the U.S. Tax Court. We’re pleased to teach students and tax professionals the skills they need to confidently practice before the Tax Court.”
This past spring, the Honorable Diana L. Leyden and the Honorable Lewis R. Carluzzo came to campus for the event. The mock trial simulates what practitioners can expect when they are in court litigating on behalf of their clients. In addition, a “view from the bench” dinner with the volunteer judges allows students the opportunity to meet the judges and discuss emerging issues in Tax Court litigation.
Students who complete the course receive a certificate of completion, and most importantly, invaluable training that can positively impact the lives of low-income, marginalized taxpayers who need help the most.