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Low Income Taxpayer Clinic Guide: Introduction

A guide designed to provide resources and tools for law students in the Low Income Tax Clinic.

About this guide

This guide is written for Mercer law students who are involved in the Low Income Tax Clinic, but it will also be useful for students who are interested in tax controversy or taking the Federal Tax Procedure course.

When you are in this area of law, you may ask: "What is happening when a taxpayer receives a notice from the IRS that their tax return is being audited? What is happening when a taxpayer receives a “90-day letter,” or that the IRS has begun the collections process? What rights does the taxpayer have? How does a taxpayer challenge the findings made by the IRS on their tax return? What options for relief remain available?" All of these questions fall within the scope of federal tax procedure.

Federal tax procedure is a field controlled by interconnecting federal statutes, regulations, case law, and court rules. Figuring out which authority applies, how they interconnect, and what it means for the taxpayer can be a daunting task to those who are unfamiliar with this area. Fortunately, there are many great resources at your disposal. The purpose of this guide is to give you a starting point, with information on resources and tools that you can use to begin researching a taxpayer's issues.

This guide is organized by resource type, including information on the various helpful practice centers, necessary primary sources, online resources, and some of the procedural issues that you are likely to encounter in the Low Income Tax Clinic.

For a big-picture, general overview, please feel free to look at the Procedural Basics tab.

For tax return preparation, please navigate to the the Tax Return Preparation tab. (future project)

Research Strategy

Having a good research strategy is going to help you save time and keep you out of unnecessary research rabbit-holes. It is particularly relevant to federal income tax procedure research because of how everything interacts. As you get more familiar with this area, you will develop your own preferences for the resources you are most comfortable with. You can use the suggested steps below to narrow in on your tax procedure issues, before you start to develop a method that works for you.

  1. Start with the practice centers. The best place to start your research is with the practice centers provided by Westlaw Edge, Lexis+, and Bloomberg Law. Each of these companies offers a Tax practice area which has comprehensive information on Federal Income Tax procedure. Another great place to learn the basics is the Georgia State Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic website.
  2. Find out where in the process the taxpayer is. Once you locate and familiarize yourself with one of the practice centers, you'll want to locate where the taxpayer is in the process. A taxpayer who has received a "30-day" or "90-day" letter has vastly different options from a taxpayer who finds that they are already in the collections process.
  3.  Locate relevant statutes and regulations. After you find out where the taxpayer is in the process, you can start using the practice centers to find the controlling sources of law in the Internal Revenue Code and Treasury Regulations. Take note of these statutes and how the Treasury Regulations interpret them. The practice centers will also likely provide you with major cases that interpret these statutes and regulations. When you are familiar with the "language" used in these areas, you can start putting together key-word searches for case law and narrow in on the facts which you think are most relevant to the taxpayer.
  4. Find Relevant Revenue Rulings and Procedures. Also take note of any relevant Revenue Rulings or Procedures issued by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue. These are published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin and will provide you with insight on whether the IRS has "acquiesced" to a judicial decision or not as well as provide guidance on how to apply for certain forms of relief.
  5. Find relevant publications from the IRS. The IRS publishes many helpful guides, Tax Forms, and tips on its website. While these are not "controlling" authorities, they are fairly uncontroversial in that they provide information that they expect taxpayers to rely on.
  6. Look for helpful Private Letter Rulings, Determination Letters. For a price, a taxpayer can receive guidance from the IRS on their specific tax issue. These letters and rulings are meant for individual taxpayers and are not authorities you can use for your own taxpayers. They will, however, sometimes provide you with helpful insights, showing you what authorities and sources the IRS is using to reach their decision on the issue. 
  7. Find the Relevant Forms. So you have completed the steps above and know your taxpayer's issue inside and out. Now its time to find the forms you need to get your taxpayer the relief they deserve. Are you filing a petition with the Tax Court? There's forms for that. Are you filing an Offer in Compromise with the IRS? There is a booklet's worth of forms and memorandums you will have to write for that too. The world of tax procedure is a world of forms, and solving your taxpayer's issues means you are going to have to find the right ones and fill them out with the right information.


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