Student attorneys are trained to give their clients the highest quality, professional representation. They are to furnish competent advice and zealous representation within the bounds of the law and professional standards. It is the policy of the Clinic that student attorneys not only have a duty to their clients but also to the system of tax administration. The Clinic does not assist clients in avoiding tax liability or, in any way, assisting in frustrating the efficient administration of the tax laws. While student attorneys seek the most favorable consideration for their clients, they work well within the framework of the tax laws.
Student Attorneys are to exhibit the same quality of service expected of attorneys in the best of law firms. Professionalism will be encouraged by a Clinic culture that includes treating clients, the IRS, court officials, and fellow student attorneys with utmost respect and courtesy. Student attorneys have a duty to their clients, the legal profession and the College to exercise the highest level of personal integrity that should pervade all areas of their legal practice. Particular attention should be given to Treasury Department Circular 230, which governs the Practice before the Internal Revenue Service. It provides in part that a taxpayer representative may be may suspend or disbar from practice before the IRS or censure for violating the Treasury Department rules of practice. These rules include, among others, rules relating to the accuracy of taxpayer information furnished to the IRS.
Confidentiality is an essential component of the attorney-client relationship. It facilitates candor on the part of the client. Students must strictly abide by accepted standards of attorney/client confidentiality, including statutory proovisions and ABA Model Rules.
Section 6103 provides that tax returns and tax return information shall be kept confidential and that no person who has or had access to tax returns or tax return information may disclose any such information obtained in any manner in connection with his service. Section 7431 provides that if a violation of this confidentiality rule occurs the violator shall be liable for civil penalties equal to the greater of $1000 for each act of unauthorized disclosure or actual damages. If the disclosure was willful or the result of gross negligence, then punitive damages may be imposed. In any event, the taxpayer whose information has been disclosed shall be entitled to recover the cost of any action, and in some cases attorney fees, brought to collect damages.
The ABA Model Rules (2002) provide that “A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation or the disclosure is [otherwise expressly permitted by Model Rule 1.6(b).” Students should familiarize themselves with this model rule and the “Comment” that accompanies it. Pursuant to this rule, students may not reveal any client information to students not in the clinic, faculty members other than the Clinic Director and the Associate Clinic Director, friends, family members, etc…
The “Comment” to this Model Rule provides that: “The duty of confidentiality continues after the client-lawyer relationship has terminated." Please refer to the “Administrative Procedure” section of this web site to read about locking the file cabinets and clinic doors.
If there is any doubt about whether it is appropriate to reveal client information, you should not do so. For example, when you telephone your client and someone else answers the phone you should assume that you are not authorized to reveal client information to that person. Furthermore, when working on client matters, you should ensure that no confidential client documents are available to others to see. If a student who is not enrolled in the clinic accompanies you into the clinic offices space, you should not bring the student into an office where client information is exposed. All documents containing a client’s personal and confidential information that are to be discarded must be destroyed by shredding. Files and client information should never be left in student offices overnight or while you’re out of the clinic for longer than a “break” for lunch, etc.