School of Law students showcase tax savvy
In the middle of tax season -- a time when most people rarely find any reason to celebrate -- a University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of Law student and a recent alumnus are basking in their first-place victory for Best Written Submission in the LL.M (Master of Laws) division of the American Bar Association's Tenth Annual Law Student Tax Challenge.
Coached by Professor Judith Frame Wiseman, Nick Bracco (an LL.M. in Taxation alumnus) and Sam Burnett (taking tax classes toward his LL.M. while still a JD student) are building upon the law school's first-place win in 2009.
At the semifinal and final oral defense rounds in January, Bracco and Burnett prepared an oral argument for their fictional client, a wealthy energy tycoon. In this hypothetical case, the client had attempted to reorganize his existing investments and acquire an interest in the burgeoning electric car business. The hypothetical case asked participants to recommend the best structure for the tycoon's purchase of the oil rig business owned and operated by one of his current investments, the reorganization of his investments into an S corporation and his new investment in the electric car business.
The competition involved preparing a 10-page memorandum, which explained to their hypothetical employers the pertinent information and precedent. They also prepared a client letter, explaining their course of action and asking any final questions. They defended the tax documents they had written for their client, and explained their line of reasoning.
"Communicating solutions to complicated tax problems is no easy task, but Sam and Nick clearly rose to the occasion," Wiseman said. "They competed against schools from across the nation, and their writing came out on top. What a tremendous accomplishment!"
Kansas City Tax Clinic
At the Kansas City Tax Clinic, second-year, third-year and LL.M. students help qualified taxpayers resolve federal and state tax controversies for those who could not otherwise afford professional assistance. To qualify, taxpayers must have an income below $27,000 or $34,000 for a joint filing. Clinic practice is supplemented by classwork in tax controversy procedure and client counseling.
The Kansas City Tax Clinic's mission is to represent qualified individuals in federal tax issues, and to give students practical skills, while providing a community service. To read about a Kansas City Tax Clinic success story, visit http://www.umkc.edu/news/announcements/KCTaxClinic2011.asp.
Adjunct professors and clinic directors Frank Schuler and Mike Boman are former IRS attorneys with decades of experience. This knowledge helps when they mentor student lawyers, encouraging them to relate to the IRS agents as people.
Moreover, Schuler and Boman are familiar with the paperwork requirements. The top-tier quality, compliance and sheer volume of cases they report have earned the respect of the IRS for UMKC's clinic.
Funding comes from a variety of sources, including the IRS itself. UMKC provides cash and in-kind contributions, office and conference space and utilities. Faculty donate time and money. Local organizations, such as the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association or the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, make grants and gifts. Community lawyers make personal donations and local social services agencies chip in.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance
Low- to moderate-income clients – those with a family income below $49,000 - who need assistance filing their tax returns have friends at the UMKC School of Law. Here, they can find help through the student-run Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program. Training materials for the students come from the IRS or KC Cash Coalition, another provider of income tax assistance; and professors are available if the student preparers have questions.
Site coordinators Veronica Petree and Meg McCollister and the other student volunteers have organized the process to best serve potential clients. First, clients meet greeters who check for necessary documentation; the next stop is with preparers who do the actual work. Finally, quality reviewers perform a double check, going over returns before pronouncing them complete. It is not difficult to promote the VITA services - "satisfied customers" tell family and friends about the great help they receive. Sudents like doing the work, it is an asset during a job search and students from all law tracks are welcome.
Still, Petree realizes not all applicants can be helped.
"The most difficult thing for me has been turning people away because the site is full that day," Petree said. "As hard as that is, I'm happy to be a part of such a clearly-needed service. Most of our clients are so thankful, which really makes our volunteer experience meaningful."