By Jimin He, J.D. ’17
My two semesters at the Federal Tax Clinic have been a humbling experience. Unlike my clients, who hover around the poverty line and have incurred significant tax liabilities relative to their income, financial security is never truly a pressing concern in my day-to-day life. An equally humbling realization is just how powerless I can be as a student attorney. While my clients always appreciate what I have done for them, most of them they will not be able to escape circumstances, such as poverty, that brought them to the Clinic in the first place. Nor are they better equipped to deal with a vast and complicated bureaucracy, which at times seems indifferent to the plight of the low-income taxpayers. It once took me, with assistance from the IRS taxpayer’s advocate, more than two weeks to effectuate an address change for a client so she could receive her refund check.
Despite this occasional feeling of powerlessness, I firmly believe in the mission of the Clinical and Pro Bono Program, both as a pedagogical tool and a practical training curriculum for law students. While the work we do at the various clinics brings an undeniable benefit to our clients, we should not lose sight of the institutional barriers that must also be dismantled and force us to search for systemic solutions. This semester, I am working on filing a brief with the Fourth Circuit, hoping to relax the strict Tax Court case law on jurisdictional requirements for timely filings. The brief is part of the Clinic’s ongoing effort to bring impact litigation cases across the country to improve access to justice for low-income taxpayers. I am grateful that the Clinic has given me an opportunity to try to make a difference through both individual representation and strategic litigation.