Georgia State Law hosted its 6th IRS Pro Bono Day February 29. The event, which takes place each semester, started because of the strong relationship between the Philip C. Cook Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic and the IRS counsel’s office.
The clinic and IRS jointly invite Georgia residents with upcoming court dates for federal tax disputes to the College of Law. The event allows them access to free legal representation from the clinic and an opportunity to discuss their case with IRS attorneys.
“This is kind of their last-ditch effort if they have a case in court to try to get that case resolved before,” said Ted Afield, clinical director and associate professor. “They’re in a position where they’re trying to go to court and represent themselves, which usually doesn’t end that well for them.”
This semester, the clinic worked 16 docketed cases in the Tax Court for unrepresented taxpayers and were able to settle 13 of them. Afield says this program has proven to be a model for pro-bono days around the country. He attributes that to both working jointly with the IRS and hosting it on a Saturday, so more clients are able to attend.
The clients walk away with free legal advice and a potentially settled case, but it may leave an even greater impact on the students because of the experience they gain. Afield calls it “emergency room lawyering” as they don’t know anything about the case until the client arrives. The students must work to resolve the issue on the spot.
“It’s scary for them but it’s a tremendous learning experience and they do very well with it,” said Afield. “They do more learning in that one day than they can do in weeks in the clinic just because things move so quickly. They’re exhausted at the end of it but they usually feel like they’ve learned a lot and have contributed a tremendous amount to the community.”
Written by Mara Thompson