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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Tax Clinic students offer help, hope during tax season

When Mike Kondilas drove past a sign for free tax advice at the North Point Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library, he made a U-turn.

Priyanka Shah 2L provides tax advice to a client at a walk-in clinic in Baltimore County. 

For weeks he’d been getting the runaround from a previous employer who informed him his tax records were destroyed in a fire. The clock was ticking for him to file his 2022 tax return, and he didn’t know where to turn for help.

“My question is what to do when your company fails,” said Kondilas as he sat down with University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law tax clinic student Priyanka Shah 2L. Shah got to work gathering information and within 15 minutes Kondilas was smiling and had an IRS phone number to call to help sort out his W-2 problem.

“This worked out way better than I expected,” he said, beaming. “They knocked out my questions, and it wasn’t too complicated.”

Just in time for tax season, student attorneys at the Maryland Carey Law Low Income Tax Clinic (LITC) joined forces with the Baltimore County Public Library system to offer free legal advice to anyone experiencing a tax issue with the IRS or Maryland comptroller. 

On Saturday, March 5, 2022, Shah, along with fellow students Alex Kim 3L and Peter Scheffel 2L, working under the supervision of LITC staff attorney Jessica Hutchinson, JD, answered questions about individual tax issues and guided clients to helpful free tax resources including tax preparation, which they currently don’t offer.  

Hutchinson said most of the clients she and her students see in the clinic are frustrated by a maze of confusing tax laws. 

“They’re getting notices they don’t understand and when they receive them, they pretend like they don’t exist,” explained Hutchinson. “When they find there’s somebody actually out there to help they feel relieved.”

Third-year law student Alex Kim agreed. He joined the LITC in December and although the clinic wasn’t a requirement for him as a transfer student, he likes using his legal education to help clients out of difficult tax situations.

“We offer clarity and reassurance,” said Kim. “At the end of the day, people come to us because they don’t know. Tax law can be confusing and offering that reassurance is gratifying.”

It’s not just clients that benefit from the clinic. Students gain valuable experience that they can take with them into the real world. “It’s important for the students to learn how to interact with clients,” Hutchinson said. “Having hands-on experience makes them better lawyers because being a good lawyer is based on your interaction with your clients. You have to communicate, and build trust. They’re getting that working with clients here today.”

Hands-on experience is what Scheffel was looking for when he joined the Low Income Tax Clinic. The Colorado native is new to Maryland and wanted to get a feel for the community. 

“The clinic seemed like a good way to interact with people in Baltimore and collaborate with clients,” he said.

Scheffel’s dive into tax law has connected him to his surrounding community and given him a better understanding of how the complexities of tax law intertwine with everyday life. 

“The more I learn about taxes and the law the more I realize how connected it is to people’s lives,” he noted.

Theresa Byers of Middle River is all too familiar with how taxes can complicate everyday life. She came to the pop-up clinic to get forms and information for her elderly mother who struggles with conducting business online. Shah was able to find the forms on the IRS website and arranged for them to be mailed to Byers’ home address. 

“Coming to the clinic really saved my mom and me a lot of stress. I even got resources for free tax prep. I feel so relieved,” Byers said.

The LITC is offering more free clinics during tax season in collaboration with the Baltimore County Public Library system. Assistance is offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

*Lansdowne Branch: Saturday, March 19, 2022 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

*Loch Raven Branch: Saturday, April 2, 2022 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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