Prospective new clients are screened by Clinic administrative personnel prior to being assigned to student attorneys. At the time a prospective client contacts the Clinic, an administrative staff person completes an Intake Sheet and then mails to the prospective client a POA to sign and return, and an Initial Contact Questionnaire to complete and return.
At the time the prospective client returns those documents, the Clinic Director, Associate Director or Supervising Attorney reviews the documents and generally makes an assignment to a student attorney. In some instances, the Clinic Director, Associate Director or Supervising Attorney will assign the case to a Legal Intern for preliminary matters before the case is assigned to a student attorney.
TYPES OF CASES HANLDED BY THE LEGAL INTERNS PRIOR TO ASSIGNMENT TO A STUDENT ATTORNEY
A. Tax Assessment Matter
Upon assignment by the Clinic or Associate Clinic Director or Supervising Attorney, the Legal Intern will send the client a letter confirming what information and documents the client should send in prior to assignment to a student attorney.
B. Collection Matters
1. The Legal Intern asks the client to file outstanding returns. If necessary, the Legal Intern will print off the Wage and Income Information for the years for which a return was due and provide that to the client with a cover letter setting a due date for filing the returns and entering that date in the Task section of AMICUS including the Associate Director, Supervising Attorney and the Administrative Assistant.
2. The Legal Intern will mail the cover letter, a blank Form 433 and the OIC checklist to the client setting a due date entering that date in the Task section of AMICUS listing the Associate Director, Supervising Attorney and the Administrative Assistant.
The Legal Interns are not expected to work the cases assigned to them, but limit their work to gathering the information and documents or ensuring that returns are filed. As part of their duties, the Legal Interns will file the POA without a student attorney and within 3 days print off the Transcripts, Wage and Income information for each year at issue.
The Legal Interns will maintain these cases assigned to them in a drawer designated in their office for ease of access. The Legal Interns will, as part of their duties each day, keep track of the status of the inquiry due dates for that day.
Once the information, documents or returns are received, the Legal Intern will give the file to the Director or Associate Director or Supervising Attorney with a note in AMICUS that all the information has been provided and the case is ready for assignment to a student attorney.
At the time you receive a new case assignment from the Clinic Director, Associate Director or Supervising Attorney, you will receive an Intake Sheet that has been completed by Clinic personnel during the prospective client's first telephone call to the Clinic, a Power of Attorney, Form 2848 ("POA") executed by the prospective client, and an Initial Contact Questionnaire completed by the prospective client. You will also receive a copy of a Pacer and Accurint report for the client. At that time you sign and have the Associate Director and Supervising Attorney sign the POA and fax it to the CAF Unit with the authorization forms (See 'Your First Week' sub-tab on website). Approximately 3 days after submitting your POA to the CAF Unit you will be authorized to access and print information regarding the Taxpayer from e-Services. As soon as possible print the Wage and Income information and Account Transcripts for all years at issue from e-Services. Next, you make the initial telephone call to the Taxpayer, following the steps outlined in Part I of the Initial Telephone Call and In-Depth Interview To-Do List. The initial telephone call should be made within 7 working days of assignment.
The main objectives of the initial telephone call are to introduce yourself and obtain information to determine if the Clinic will accept or decline representation. During this conversation, you should also obtain as much information as possible about the Taxpayer's federal income tax issue and financial status. Refer to the Initial Telephone Call and In-Depth Interview To-Do List prior to and during your initial telephone call to the prospective client for particular items you should discuss.
Even if you feel the case is an appropriate one for the Clinic to handle, you should not promise representation. You must advise the Taxpayer that the telephone call does not mean the Clinic has agreed to accept the Taxpayer's case. The Clinic Director or Associate Director must review the case before that decision is made. You should advise the Taxpayer that you will call within ten days to advise whether her case is accepted.
Accepting or Declining a Taxpayer for Representation
The decision to accept or decline a client will always be made by the Director or Associate Director. You should obtain sufficient information to make a recommendation as early in the process as possible. Frequently, you should obtain enough information through the initial phone call with the client to make this determination. This is particularly true where the Taxpayer's case is found to be an inappropriate one for the Clinic to handle.
Make a Recommendation
If you feel you have enough information to make a recommendation to accept a client, then you should prepare a Recommendation Memo for the Associate Director immediately after the initial telephone call. This memo should include a brief summary of the facts of the case, the action already taken by the IRS and the Taxpayer, the issues that will be addressed, the amount in controversy and information as to the financial status of the taxpayer. Be sure to review and utilize the Taxpayer Eligibility Guidelines in making your recommendation. It is your responsibility to ensure that the Associate Director receives and acts on the recommendation promptly. Try to limit your recommendation memo to one page. A paper copy should be included in the Taxpayer's file and also saved on the "T" drive, which is linked to the Taxpayer's Amicus file. (This is the procedure you are to follow with all documents you prepare).
If you do not feel you have enough information to make a recommendation after the initial phone call, then you may defer making the recommendation until after you have had the in-depth interview and had the opportunity to review the Taxpayer's documents. You should prepare your recommendation immediately after the in-depth interview, but you should never make a recommendation to accept a case on inadequate information. If you are unable to obtain sufficient information on which to make an informed decision, you should probably recommend that the Clinic decline the case. Discuss this with the Clinic Director, Associate Director or Supervising Attorney.
Services Offered: Engagement Letter
If the case is accepted, mail to the Taxpayer an Engagement Letter for his signature, along with an extra copy to keep for his records. Include a stamped, self-addressed envelope so that the Taxpayer may easily return the signed letter to the Clinic
If a case is declined, you should send the Taxpayer a Letter of Declination within 24 hours of being notified of the decision to decline. If the case involves a statutory notice, the declination letter and any supporting documents received from the Taxpayer should be returned to the taxpayer by United Parcel Service (UPS) or certified mail. Furthermore, you should complete a Case Closing Form and place the file along with that form in the Associate Director's tray for his review and approval.
One of your main objectives during the in-depth interview is to motivate your client to participate in all aspects of the case. Please refer to the Initial Telephone Call and In-Depth Interview To-Do List for particular matters you should address. Following is a more thorough discussion of those issues and the manner in which you should conduct the in-depth interview.
Be on Time for the Interview and Dress Appropriately
Prepare to arrive for the interview at least 15 minutes prior to its start time to ensure you are not late. Wear professional attire at this interview and any other meetings with potential clients or any representative of the IRS. If the Taxpayer is late for the appointment, it is the policy of the Clinic for you to wait for thirty minutes before giving up on his appearance.
If the Taxpayer does not appear for the interview, then you should try to contact him immediately by phone or by mail if he cannot be reached by phone. If the Taxpayer does not respond within ten days after mailing a letter, the student may assume that the Taxpayer does not wish to participate in the Clinic. After consulting the Director, Associate Director or Supervising Attorney, a closing memo should be drafted and a Case Closing Letter sent to the Taxpayer.
Develop Rapport and Allay Fears
You should begin the in-depth interview by describing what the Clinic is and what your role is. Do not begin an interview with questions. Effective client interviewing is one of the important skills that any attorney must develop. A good rapport with the client must exist if the attorney expects to acquire all the information needed to adequately represent the client and to have the client's trust. A client who is afraid, intimidated or distrustful could impede representation. It is the student attorney's responsibility to ensure that the client feels as comfortable as possible during the interview. The student attorney must assuage concerns and dispel any distrust the client may have.
Most people are uncomfortable revealing private matters to someone they do not know. This may be especially true for clients who are eligible for this program. They may be embarrassed by their financial circumstances and by the problems they are having with the IRS. Individuals with such limited resources frequently feel powerless to defend themselves against so formidable an adversary as the IRS.
It is very important that you are sensitive to fears and anxieties of our clients. You must make it clear during the initial interview that the Clinic is not part of the IRS. You also must not only be concerned for your client, but must make every effort to show your concern. At the outset of the interview, you should be dressed appropriately, initiate a personal conversation with the client, establishing something you have in common or showing particular interest in something about the client. This can be an effective way of gaining the client's trust and dispelling his fears.
You must also gain the client's confidence in your ability to provide assistance. You must always remember that even if you do not know at first how to handle a situation, the Clinic has resources available to you. However, tax advice should not be given at the initial interview. You should never be embarrassed about lack of knowledge related to a particular issue. Even tax experts do not apologize for saying: "I will research it for you." Most people are aware that the tax law is in a constant state of flux and are understanding of the need to research a particular issue.
No Leading Questions
You are to conduct the interview in a question and answer style that requires a narrative response. Ask open-ended questions. Do not ask leading questions that first inform taxpayers what the law is and then ask them whether they comply with the law. Taxpayers should not be tempted to construct their response to fit the applicable law.
Obtain All Needed Documents
Taxpayers may fail to bring all the requested information, and it is not uncommon for the interview to reveal additional needed documents. If either of these situations occurs, you should conduct as much of the interview as possible without the information. You should also give the Taxpayer one of the Student Attorney Clinic business cards and a self-addressed envelope for the Taxpayer to mail copies of the needed documents to the Clinic. You should review all of the documents that the Taxpayer has brought or mailed in and make copies of them before returning them to the Taxpayer. Remember to copy both sides of the documents.
Obtain Accurate Client Information
To avoid mistakes in recording important client information such as name, address, telephone number and social security number, students should verify the information in the Initial Contact Questionnaire with the Taxpayer. If the information was recorded in an initial contact by telephone, ensure that you have the client review any previously recorded information in the initial interview and have the client verify the information by initialing the correct entries, or by correcting any inaccuracies and initialing the corrections. Be sensitive to the possibility that the Taxpayer may be illiterate.
It is imperative during the initial interview that you determine whether the Taxpayer has filed a bankruptcy petition (under chapter 7, 11 or 13), and if so, a copy of the bankruptcy petition or discharge should be obtained. Once a bankruptcy petition has been filed, there is an automatic stay imposed under Bankruptcy Code §362 that prohibits any action to enforce the collection of a debt and that prohibits taking any steps that would affect the bankruptcy estate without permission of the Bankruptcy Court. The automatic stay precludes the commencement or continuation of a case docketed in Tax Court. Moreover, actions taken by the IRS in violation of the automatic stay are void. Further, if the stay is willfully violated, punitive sanctions may be imposed or equitable relief in the form of an injunction or declaratory judgment may be granted.
There are also statute of limitation implications and other consequences that result from filing a bankruptcy petition. Filing a bankruptcy petition stops (tolls) the running of the statute of limitation for assessment and collection of tax. Assessment is suspended while the automatic stay is in effect and for a 60-day period after the stay terminates. The period during which the IRS can collect a non-dischargeable tax liability is suspended while the stay is in effect and six months after the stay is lifted.
Because of the foregoing issues and other tax consequences of filing bankruptcy, you must determine if the taxpayer filed bankruptcy and must determine whether the automatic stay is in effect. Above all, you must bring this matter to the attention of the Clinic Director, Associate Director or Supervising Attorney as soon as possible.
You must also ascertain during the interview whether the Taxpayer was legally married at the end of the tax year in question. The Taxpayer's marital status has a bearing on filing status, personal exemptions and earned income credit. You also must ascertain whether the Taxpayer was estranged or legally separated or divorced from his spouse. Consult Code § 7703 for the meaning of "marital status" for federal income tax purposes.
Gathering accurate facts is one of the most important duties of a lawyer. The initial interview is merely the first step in the fact gathering process. You must carefully verify the information provided during the interview before relying on it to prepare documents or correspondence to the IRS and other third parties.
Taxpayer's Tax History
After the Taxpayer has explained his current tax controversy during the initial interview, you must thoroughly review the Tax History section of the Initial Contact Questionnaire completed by the Taxpayer. This form is to be retained in the Taxpayer's file and it is an important source of information on which you future actions will rely. You need to be aware of the Taxpayer's previous tax disputes or of his failure to file tax returns. You do not want to hear about a year in controversy for the first time from an IRS representative. You need to have the total tax picture of a client before you begin negotiating on behalf of the client. An IRS representative may raise an issue or a matter relating to a different tax year during a conference, and you will want to be as knowledgeable as possible. If the submission of an Offer in Compromise is a possibility, you must always submit an offer that encompasses all of the client's tax deficiencies.
Before reviewing and asking questions concerning the Taxpayer's Tax History, remind him that the Clinic is independent of the IRS and that the information he or she gives will be used to advance his or her case or otherwise to remain confidential. Explain, however, that you can be effective as his tax representative only if you know what the taxpayer has previously done or failed to do as it pertains to federal income taxes. You need to impress upon the Taxpayer that, as his representative, you can help resolve the tax dispute only if you are thoroughly informed. Include the Taxpayer's explanations next to the answers on the Tax History section of the Initial Contact Questionnaire. What the Taxpayer tells you should be compared with the information you obtain from the IRS e-Service system.
Ensure that information concerning whether the client has filed a bankruptcy petition within the last five years appears in the correct space in the Tax History.