At CapLaw Tax Clinic, Students Enjoy Valuable Returns

6/3/2014  -   During the recent tax-filing season, 40 CapLaw students gained valuable practical experience while also doing good for the community. They gave their time to Capital University Law School Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), preparing federal and state tax returns for low income clients free of charge.

Student volunteers, who contributed from 1 to 100 hours each, experienced real client contact in small one-hour segments. They learned to organize their clients’ facts and link those facts with legal solutions to real legal problems.

VITA, which operates every tax season, is organized on a law firm model and uses the law school clinic interview rooms to provide client confidentiality. Two Student Site Coordinators (this year: Mark King and Andrew Fullenkamp) act as the managing partners of the VITA law firm. Clients meet for one hour with two student volunteers who prepare the client’s tax returns using a proprietary computer program provided by the IRS. Student volunteers receive on-line training and must pass a test on basic tax knowledge but no course prerequisites are required.

Although many returns are routine, VITA clients sometimes present interesting questions of tax law. When they do, one of the students consulting with the client will bring the questions to the conference room where other students, at least one Student Site Coordinator, and the faculty advisor, Professor Rick Wood, will explore possible solutions to the legal issues presented.

Although students gain a great deal from their experience, it is often the clients who reap the greatest benefits.

“I worked with a client who was very pleased with the quality of service,” said Capital Law student Arana Barrow. “The client said; ‘I'm so glad I found out about the tax clinic through the United Way. This year I am able to receive a refund because I did not have to pay a tax preparer.’”

Overall, VITA filed approximately 210 federal income tax returns this year. The total amount of refunds received by all VITA clients for tax year 2013 was $247,802.