It is my firmly held belief that everyone should have access to good, top quality legal representation. However, even by charging the absolute minimum that I can for legal services, there are some taxpayers for whom even my services are too costly. Although I take on and handle a significant amount of pro bono projects during the course of the year, I wanted to provide more information for those looking to get free taxpayer assistance and the ways to go about getting assistance. You can get help through a number of avenues, either through the Internal Revenue Service or other third parties.
The Taxpayer Advocate
First, it should be mentioned that the IRS has developed their own internal unit for helping taxpayers facing financial hardship. The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent group within the IRS that is dedicated to helping provide free taxpayer assistance. The Taxpayer Advocate is impartial and acts as an intermediary between the IRS and the taxpayer. Working on issues such as collections matters, the group also provides checks and balances to make sure that the IRS is following proper procedure. Free taxpayer assistance is also available for businesses, who can also qualify for Taxpayer Advocate assistance in certain circumstances. The Taxpayer Advocate typically operates regionally, but will also have several different units that handle specific taxpayer issues. Some units within the Taxpayer Advocate are focused on providing free taxpayer assistance while other units examine policy issues.
In additional to the Taxpayer Advocate, there are a number of specialized legal clinics which provide free taxpayer assistance. Usually these programs will operate or be associated with major regional law schools. For example, in San Diego where I live, the University of San Diego provides free taxpayer assistance through their legal clinics program. Participants or prospective clients will call the office to schedule a meeting with a student interviewer, who is supervised by an attorney. Generally, these programs are geared toward low income individuals and for those individuals who have amounts in controversy that do not exceed certain amounts. However, I have generally found that the quality of representation in these programs is terrific and the quality of representation is generally as good as representation by a newly minted attorney. Information pertaining to clinics which offer free taxpayer assistance can be found in the Internal Revenue Service, Internal Revenue Manual, available at http://www.irs.gov/irm/part13/irm_13-001-020.html.