Law Students Gain Experience, Help Community in Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic Program

Photo credit: Jacob Slaton.

For more than 15 years, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has funded the Bowen School of Law’s Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic Program (LITC), a free community service that benefits students and taxpayers alike. Led by Director and attorney Alicia Mitchell, the LITC serves residents involved in tax disputes with the IRS who otherwise may not be able to afford legal services. Operating year round, the LITC works with dozens of taxpayers a year. The success of Bowen’s LITC is made evident by the IRS’s continued support—since 2008, the LITC has received over half a million dollars in funding.

“The Clinic provides assistance to taxpayers who have controversies with the IRS and sometimes, by extension, the State of Arkansas, so the need for our service is ongoing,” Mitchell explains. Open exclusively to individuals rather than businesses or corporations, the Tax Clinic has an arrangement with the Department of the Treasury that allows Bowen students to represent citizens in actual cases. These taxpayers are often referred to the Clinic by the IRS itself, while others hear about it from friends or the local Taxpayer Advocate Service. For many, the Tax Clinic is a vital source of aid in an often confusing and frustrating process. “The students are helping real clients with real problems,” Mitchell says.

The LITC also benefits the lawyers-in-training at Bowen. Supervised by Mitchell, the students gain real-world experience with clients with a variety of needs and backgrounds. These hands-on cases give law students the opportunity to serve Arkansans while honing their skills in an in-demand branch of the law. Not only do participating students increase their professional capabilities, but they receive credit hours for their involvement in the Clinic as well.

In addition to providing legal representation, the Tax Clinic also invests in Arkansas communities where English is a second language. As part of the program, Bowen joins forces with community organizations to educate non-English speaking taxpayers on their relationship with the IRS. “We typically partner with community organizations working with the ESL [English as a second language] community to provide education materials regarding their rights and responsibilities as taxpayers. A lot of this revolves around outreach to the community,” Mitchell explains. As the funding from the IRS has grown over the years, the Tax Clinic has been able to expand its outreach services, educating and meeting the needs of more and more individuals in the state.

The Tax Clinic is just one of the multiple clinics that Bowen runs, all of which offer valuable services to both students and the community. Directed by Kelly Browe Olson, the Clinical Program includes a Consumer Protection Clinic, a Litigation Clinic, and a Mediation Clinic. Referred to as a “law firm inside the law school,” the Clinical Programs allow students to see how the theories, practices, and tenets they’ve learned in class function in real cases.

Each clinic pairs the students with licensed, highly experienced attorneys who provide feedback, guidance, and training throughout the program. Under this supervision, students manage their own cases, working directly with clients and, sometimes, even representing them in court. “One of the main goals of this Clinic is to provide an excellent education for our students,” Mitchell asserts. And they continually meet this goal—according to the Clinical program’s website, many graduates name the Clinic as the best course of their Bowen experience.

Bowen’s Clinical Programs help future lawyers find their strengths while helping ensure that the state’s vulnerable populations, from children to low-income individuals, have a voice. As the programs thrive, Mitchell has new growth in mind for the Tax Clinic. “We hope to expand our service area into the underserved areas of the state, such as the Delta region in Southeast Arkansas.”

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