Law students helped 391 low-income residents of Guilford County to obtain more than $360,000 in tax refunds.
Austin Morris, a member of the Class of 2012, spearheaded the effort, creating the Tax Law Interest Group at Elon Law and forging a partnership with the AARP Foundation to enable law students to provide the free tax preparation services through the IRS Tax Counseling for the Elderly program. Morris said law students provided approximately 360 hours of pro bono service through the program.
“Many low- and moderate-income families are due tax refunds, but either do not realize it or do not have the resources to obtain quality tax preparation,” Morris said. “Elon Law students saw that need and were happy to step in and help. The level of student participation in the program shows how successfully Elon communicates to its students that lawyers have a duty to be community leaders and community servants.”
Sixteen law students became trained and certified to prepare taxes through the IRS Intermediate Tax Preparation Training program. Andrew Smith, a member of the Class of 2013 at Elon Law who prepared tax returns through the program, said he appreciated the chance to apply knowledge gained in his tax law course with Elon Law Professor Andy Haile to help individuals in the community.
“Volunteering with Tax Counseling for the Elderly was a rewarding opportunity to apply Professor Haile’s classroom teaching in a real world environment and to assist members of the Greensboro community,” Smith said. “I am grateful for the chance to gain a better understanding of the tax code while giving back to a community that has been so welcoming to Elon Law.”
Morris concurred with Smith on the value of applying concepts from his tax law course to real world situations.
“It’s interesting to talk about the effect of tax rates or the legislative purpose behind certain tax credits in an academic sense one day, and then to see how these policy decisions affect real people the next day,” Morris said. “The work we did as tax preparers provided a great opportunity to develop client contact skills and to get used to providing professional services.”
The law students prepared basic income tax returns free of charge for families and individuals of low to moderate income (generally, $49,000 and below), individuals with disabilities, and individuals 60 and older. Student volunteers set-up client appointments, interviewed clients, and filed clients’ taxes.
“Volunteering with the tax clinic was a great opportunity to understand how the complex tax code directly impacts those that don’t have the financial means to fully understand or comply with it,” said Dustin Gill, a member of the Class of 2013. “I was able to see first-hand, how the more informed people are about the tax code, the more likely they are to change their behavior throughout the tax year to take advantage of the available credits and deductions.”
An additional nine law students volunteered in other capacities for the program. On behalf of Elon Law, Morris expressed appreciation to the AARP Foundation for the partnership.
“The student leaders of the Tax Law Interest Group knew that we needed an experienced partner to make a program of this size a success,” Morris said. “The members of the AARP Foundation were excellent mentors. They were open to building friendships, sharing their knowledge and working alongside Elon Law students to better serve Tax Counseling for the Elderly clients.”
The following Elon Law students volunteered in the Tax Counseling for the Elderly Program this year: