This week, from October 23-27, is the 2023 National Celebration of Pro Bono. The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service created Pro Bono Week in 2009 to celebrate the pro bono work that volunteer lawyers and legal professionals do. This national event is intended to inspire even greater pro bono participation by lawyers and legal professionals. Legal organizations across the country are encouraged to plan events and share them at celebrateprobono.org.
In honor of this week’s celebration, I would like to recognize the immense significance of pro bono assistance that Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs) and their volunteers provide to low-income and English as a second language (ESL) taxpayers in our communities. Pro bono, derived from the Latin phrase pro bono publico, meaning “for the public good,” embodies the essence of selflessness and community service. Particularly where there is a lack of equal access to legal and tax-related assistance, pro bono volunteer work stands as a beacon of hope, ensuring that the rights embodied in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights are upheld and essential services are accessible to all, regardless of their financial status, age, or other factors. Pro bono volunteers protect a taxpayer’s right to retain representation, even when the taxpayer does not have the ability to pay for representation or assistance.
For low-income families, immigrant speakers of other languages, and the elderly, pro bono assistance serves as a lifeline for services they may otherwise not be able to receive. In grant year 2022, over 1,100 volunteers provided nearly 34,000 hours of volunteer time to LITCs! Volunteers spent their time representing low-income taxpayers in tax controversies with the IRS, including the preparation of tax returns needed to resolve tax controversies; educating low-income and ESL taxpayers about their rights and responsibilities as taxpayers and tax credits available to them; providing interpreter services; and conducting client intake and other administrative tasks needed for a clinic to run smoothly.
I would like to spotlight one LITC volunteer, Mark Anderson of 603 Legal Aid’s Low Income Taxpayer Project (LITP) in Concord, New Hampshire. According to Attorney Barbara Heggie, Clinic Director of the 603 Legal Aid’s LITP, Mark is a highly skilled and experienced certified public accountant, and best of all, he’s willing to take cases that others may shy away from because of language barriers. As Barbara points out, Mark is not just willing; he’s eager to help people new to this country, particularly ESL refugees. He’s fluent in French and nearly so in a couple of other languages, making communication even easier with some clients from sub-Saharan African countries. But whether or not an interpreter is needed, Mark communicates his respect for the clients’ culture and the hardships they’ve endured, and he does everything he can to resolve their tax issues.
In Mark’s words: “Some of the clients I have worked with experienced life-changing liberation from debt, fear of the government, and extreme poverty. The gratitude they express is more rewarding than any fees I might have collected if they were paying clients. We are all connected within our society and are hard-wired to lend a hand to help one another when in need. Volunteering for an organization such as the 603 Legal Aid LITP provides an ideal opportunity to fulfill that role and to come away with the feeling that you have actually made a difference in the community.”
I join the LITC Program Office in thanking Mark for making a difference in the lives of low-income and ESL taxpayers in the New Hampshire area. The remarkable contributions and dedication of pro bono volunteers such as Mark have a direct impact on the lives of many low-income and ESL taxpayers and their families, allowing many a fresh start through resolution of their tax burdens. The advocacy on their behalf impacts tax administration and the overall fairness of the tax system for all taxpayers, helping ensure taxpayers know and can comply with their tax obligations. During the difficult times over the past three years when so many people were forced to keep more to themselves and businesses were shut down, volunteers used their personal time to help taxpayers who were struggling. This empathy for others, professionalism, and dedication is inspiring. Winston Churchill said it best: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
We need more amazing volunteers like Mark across the country!
By embracing the values of pro bono service, we pave the way for a more just, compassionate, and harmonious society where everyone can live with dignity, respect, and the promise of a better future. I thank all pro bono volunteers for their ongoing support of the LITC Program mission. Your hard work does not go unnoticed, and please know how much we truly appreciate you.
Are you a low-income individual in need of someone to represent you in solving an IRS problem? Learn more at www.TaxpayerAdvocate.irs.gov/litc.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the National Taxpayer Advocate. The National Taxpayer Advocate presents an independent taxpayer perspective that does not necessarily reflect the position of the IRS, the Treasury Department, or the Office of Management and Budget.