University of Denver Low Income Taxpayer Clinic Saves Clients Over $1 Million Annually
University of Denver Low Income Taxpayer Clinic Saves Clients Over $1 Million Annually
Student-staffed clinic provides over 5,000 service hours a year to the taxpayer community.
You don’t have to look much further than the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) at Sturm College of Law to see how the University of Denver is fulfilling its mission of being a private university dedicated to the public good. Since 1982, the clinic has been helping the low-income population dig its way out from under mountains of IRS debt.
LITC’s mission is to provide the low-income population (those with an annual gross income of $30,000 or less) with free legal services for tax issues. It generally doesn’t file taxes for people but does handle any issues that arise after the fact.
In 1998, Congress passed a big IRS restructuring act in response to public perception of abusive practices by the IRS. There were a number of reforms put in place—including funding for low income taxpayer clinics—as a measure to reform the IRS and help those who were underserved. The LITC was one of the first clinics funded.
“We handle everything that happens post-filing of a tax return,” says Erin Stearns, LITC director. “The program was structured to help lower income taxpayers know what options they had that they were likely not aware of. We facilitate those options for those people.”
And handle things the clinic does. In 2017 alone, LITC represented 273 taxpayers, helped taxpayers receive $26,372 in refunds from the IRS and decreased the total amount of tax liabilities, penalties and interest of clients by $1.3 million.
Stearns and LITC Assistant Director Samantha Galvin, as well as around 20 student participants a year, make it all possible.
Unlike other student law clinics at Denver Law, the LITC has both masters, JD and LLM participants. It is open to anyone in the Graduate Tax Program, law students and students in the Daniel’s Masters of Accountancy program.
“It’s really a hybrid practice area,” says Stearns. “We feel that if we are going to offer it in the Graduate Tax Program, and at least half of our students are masters students, they should be able to participate.”
This hands-on experience gives students the chance to handle work papers, participle in research and make arguments for their clients. In addition, participation in the clinic creates a multidisciplinary network that lasts long after graduation. The masters students are often coming from a tax and accountancy background, so they can handle issues that law students may not be familiar with. And, the law students studying for their LLM can handle the law aspects and legal research that the masters students may not be familiar with.
It’s a winning combination that has resulted in numerous success stories for the clinic. LITC has helped a range of people from those who struggled with taxes after The Great Recession took its toll on businesses to those who hadn’t filed taxes in years and everything in between.
One such case saw the clinic reduce an IRS debt of $29,000 to only $10. The client had had a successful career prior to suffering debilitating health issues, which left her living on long-term disability and social security disability income. Like many in her position, she didn’t realize she owed taxes on that income and did not have enough withholding. The LITC team took up the fight, and through adjusting her tax withholding and proving her high medical costs, an Offer of Compromise of $10 to the IRS and an offer of $10 to the state was accepted.
While this seems like an extraordinarily rare outcome, it is actually fairly common for the clinic. According to 2017 statistics, the median offer amount for 34 clients with accepted Offers of Compromise was just $10.
“We are just really focused on resolving conflicts with the IRS,” Galvin says. And for those who are struggling with tax debt, that is a huge relief.
Learn more about the LITC at https://www.law.du.edu/low-income-taxpayer-clinic
Sturm College of Law Veterans Advocacy Project Fights for Veterans’ Benefits and Quality of Life
Clinic has recovered more than $7.2 million for Colorado veterans
When professors, veterans, and law students join efforts, impressive solutions are possible. In the case of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, that solution is the groundbreaking pro-bono Veterans Advocacy Project (VAP), which is making monumental strides in veteran legal services.
The VAP, the only program of its kind in Colorado, is the brainchild of Denver Law Professor Ann Vessels. She launched the clinic in 2015 after watching her own son, Sean, a former Marine, struggle to come back from three tours in the Middle East. He was struggling with PTSD and had to wait more than a year for his benefits to come through from the Veterans Administration (VA).
“Had he not lived with us, he’d have been on the streets,” said Vessels. Watching her son try to navigate the complex process of getting benefits gave her the incentive to launch the VAP, with the help of Denver Law alumni Mike Shea and Tim Franklin.
The clinic assists veterans who are appealing their VA benefit decisions, as well as those who need help changing their discharge status so they can access any benefits at all. A service member who receives an other-than-honorable discharge is not eligible for most benefits, including health care, disability or the GI Bill.
According to Vessels, other-than-honorable discharges can happen for a number of reasons, including the service members’ behavior, which can also be due to PTSD-related issues, or something as simple as being late a few times. Some discharges can even prevent veterans from gaining employment after they leave the service.
“It just seems unfair in some cases. That’s why we do the work to fight it,” she said.
And fight the clinic does. Since its inception, the clinic has recovered more than $7.2 million for veteran clients through successful discharge upgrade applications and VA disability benefit cases. However, the clinic doesn’t just recover money for veterans, it recovers quality of life.
“There’s a great line from a song that says we send them off to die for us and forget about them when they don’t. That is so, so true. And that’s why we do what we do,” said Vessels.
Vessels has seen veteran clients go from homelessness to receiving full benefits, plus back pay for benefits not received, getting them off the streets.
Alice Hansen, 2L
The clinic’s success is heavily fueled by hands-on, real-world work by Denver Law students who participate. Law students who work in the VAP take a seminar to learn the ins and outs of military benefits and spend 150 hours working with clients over the course of a semester.
Alice Hansen, 2L, works in the VAP and says her time is often spent interviewing clients to understand their situation from their point of view, reviewing any medical or military records, as well as past decisions made about their case, and drafting briefs to appeal past decisions that may have denied the veteran VA benefits or issued an other-than-honorable discharge.
“These can be truly life-changing decisions for a veteran, and it is hard for veterans to find no-cost legal services in these areas, so it is an incredible opportunity to put a legal education into meaningful work,” Hansen said. “I entered into law in order to provide legal services to underserved populations and the Veterans Advocacy Project provided a very hands-on way to learn these skills in serving an incredibly deserving population.”
Veterans Helping Veterans
Several students in the clinic are also veterans themselves, putting them in a unique position to earn real-world legal experience by helping their fellow veterans.
Brennan Heuser, 3L
“Doing two combat deployments, it is something I think about every day. I’ve had my own difficulties transitioning back. It’s been tough, but I did have a lot of help. I know a lot of others don’t have that, and I want to do something proactive to help these other men and women,” said Brennan Heuser, 3L, a U.S. Army sergeant who served two deployments, one in Pakistan and one Afghanistan.
For Heuser, while a large part of the program is helping these veterans gain access to benefits, it’s also about giving veterans someone who understands. He said he meets with clients who are really struggling with either mental or physical injuries due to their time in the service but have the military mentality that you don’t ask for help and you just handle it yourself.
“It’s pretty emotional. You’re dealing with really tough stories. I can relate to a lot of these stories, so I just work on having a healthy relationship with my clients. We’re trying to help people, and we are in a good position to help them legally by just listening to their story. It can save a life, honestly,” he said.
Martin Carbajal, 2L
Martin Carbajal, 2L, a petty officer in the U.S. Navy, said that it has been rewarding working with veterans and helping them move forward with their lives. Two clients he’s working with are waiting for discharge upgrades.
“These upgrades are huge for them because they will be able to get their educational benefits. One can not only get his educational benefits, but because the discharge characteristics he received, he can’t even get a job. So, to help him to be able to go work is huge,” Carbajal said.
For both veteran students working with the VAP, it’s about honoring their military service and giving back to others.
“We have a lot of pride in what we do, and just knowing that they are going to get some benefit out of it is rewarding,” Carbajal said.
Help the Veterans Advocacy Project
The VAP’s services are in high demand, and Vessels has a goal to continue to raise awareness and funding to serve as many veterans as possible. You can help by donating to the Veterans Clinic Gift Fund.
“Some of these veterans are being held back economically and socially. They are stuck at where they are at in their life then and there. As far as getting things back on track for them and helping out, ultimately, the Veterans Advocacy Project is the best avenue,” related Carbajal.
University of Denver Receives Grant from European Commission for Environmental Law & Policy Course Development
The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, has awarded a €300,000 ($350,000) grant to four universities including the University of Denver to develop a “transatlantic-based” law school course that will compare European Union and United States climate change and energy transition policies, laws, and practices.
The three-year grant, which will run from 2019-2021, has been awarded to the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, the Faculties of Law at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and the University of Oslo, Norway, and the University of Colorado Boulder.
The Jean Monnet Program grant, which honors the legacy of the Frenchman referred to as “the father of Europe,” will fund the development of course materials, lectures, and European and American field trips by three leading climate change and energy transition (i.e., from fossil fuels to renewables) experts, Professor Catherine Banet of the University of Oslo, Professor Anita Rønne of the University of Copenhagen, and Professor Don Smith of the University of Denver. Felicia Naranjo Martinez, Executive Director of the European Union Center of Excellence at the University of Colorado, will oversee the development and implementation of the project.
In awarding the grant the European Commission said, “Addressing climate change and the need for transition to clean and sustainable energy resources are major challenges facing the global society,” adding that the “extended series of course will help towards a better understanding of the corresponding policies and the different approaches to climate change and the energy revolution in the US and EU.”
The first-of-its-kind course, which will be launched in January 2019, will include eight two-hour simultaneous video conferencing class sessions where students will meet in a virtual classroom. During these eight sessions, the professors will lecture about and compare the climate change- and energy transition-related policies, laws, and practices of the European Union (Rønne), the European Economic Area (Banet), and the United States (Smith). The European Commission described the three professors as having “a high level of expertise in the related issues. They all are deeply involved in European integration studies, both concerning the state of affairs in energy and in environmental policies of the EU.”
During the semester-long course, students will work in groups (e.g., each group of six will consist of two students from Copenhagen, Denver, and Oslo) to analyze and address a particularly timely issue associated with climate change and the energy transition. During the final week of the course in April 2019, students and professors will meet in person in Copenhagen where each group will make a presentation to everyone in the course as well as Danish climate change and energy transition experts. The in-person gathering will be capped with a field trip to a Danish island, Samso, that is 100 percent powered by renewable energy. In 2020 the in-person gathering will happen in Denver and in 2021 in Oslo.
In addition to the virtual classroom, and the opportunity for students to work across EU and US “boundaries,” the grant will provide funding for students to participate in the “end of course” in-person gatherings. This will allow students who have worked in groups to meet each other as well as their professors and develop the foundation for longer term personal and professional relationships.
“In order for the world to effectively address climate change, the EU and US must gain a better understanding of the capacities of each and the underlying policies that drive approaches to climate change and the energy transition,” Professor Smith said. “For example, the EU’s approach is driven more by a ‘top down’ method where the EU sets the goals. On the other hand, the US approach in the next few years will be set by a ‘bottom up’ method where states, such as California and Colorado, will take the lead rather than the federal government.”
The universities are located in cities and regions known for ambitious climate change and energy transition efforts. Copenhagen is one of the most sustainable cities in the world; Denver, located near the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, has committed to using only renewable energy by 2030; and Oslo’s energy is largely produced today by renewables.
For more information about the key project players:
Associate Professor Margaret Kwoka Receives ALDF Pro Bono Achievement Award
Associate Professor Margaret Kwoka received the Pro Bono Achievement Award from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, recognizing her exemplary efforts for animals. She received the award at their third annual gala held in Los Angeles on September 8, 2018 where guests learned about the ALDF’s recent victories on behalf of animals. Net proceeds from the gala help fulfill their mission to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. Pictured with Kwoka is ALDF’s Pro Bono Program Director Tom Linney, Executive Director Steve Wells and Founder & General Counsel Joyce Tischler.
Denver Law Welcomes New Faculty Members
The University of Denver Sturm College of Law is proud to welcome four new faculty members to the Denver Law community for the upcoming academic year. These highly accomplished teachers, scholars and practitioners significantly enhance the law school’s offerings in health law and environmental law as well as the legal writing and externship programs.
“These four outstanding colleagues will add further expertise to our #7-ranked legal writing program, our #8-ranked clinical program, our #19-ranked environmental law program, our nationally recognized externship program, and our emerging strength in the area of health law,” observed Dean Bruce Smith. “We look forward to celebrating the achievements of these outstanding colleagues in the years to come.”
University of Denver Sturm College of Law to Recognize 2018 Law Stars
Annual gala honors acclaimed alumni and faculty
The University of Denver Sturm College of Law will recognize its 2018 Law Stars honorees at a gala event on Thursday, Nov. 1 at the Hilton Denver City Center.
DU Law Stars has honored distinguished alumni and faculty at this annual event since 1993. Proceeds from this year’s event will go to the Denver Law Fund, which supports the Sturm College of Law’s most important strategic priorities, including affordability, curricular innovation and postgraduate professional opportunities. The event includes a personal commemorative video of each honoree, recounting accomplishments both professional and personal. Learn more about DU’s Law Stars program: www.law.du.edu/alumni/law-stars.
A reception begins at 6 p.m., followed by dinner and honoree video tributes. Members of the media are invited to attend and should RSVP to DU Media Relations at (720) 608-0240 or email@example.com.
The following individuals are receiving honors this year:
Sturm College of Law Receives Gift from Arnold & Porter Foundation
A recent $687,000 gift from the Arnold & Porter Foundation to the University of Denver will create two new endowed scholarships at the Sturm College of Law to support outstanding students with a demonstrated commitment to civil liberties and civil rights. The gift also will support a strategic litigation fund designed to advance the nationally recognized work of the law school’s Civil Rights Clinic, part of its No. 8-ranked clinical program.
- The Abe Krash Access to Justice Endowed Scholarship Fund, seeded with a $250,000 gift from the Foundation, will endow — in perpetuity — scholarships for students with a demonstrated interest in civil rights and access to justice. The fund honors the landmark contributions of Abe Krash, currently of counsel to the firm of Arnold & Porter, who formed part of the firm’s legal team that represented Clarence Gideon in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), which guaranteed the right to counsel in criminal matters.
- The Arnold & Porter Civil Rights Endowed Scholarship Fund, seeded with a second $250,000 gift, will endow scholarships for students with a demonstrated commitment to public interest law and prisoners’ rights.
- An additional contribution of $187,000 will advance the work of the Civil Rights Clinic, with a particular focus on litigation and advocacy on behalf of incarcerated individuals — an area of law in which the clinic has achieved a well-earned national reputation.
“Throughout its distinguished history, Arnold & Porter has been a national leader in advancing justice for the underserved,” observed Sturm College of Law Dean Bruce Smith. “So, too, has the University of Denver. We launched the American clinical legal education movement in 1904 and have been a leader in clinical education ever since. Arnold & Porter and the University of Denver share a significant and enduring commitment to the public good, and we are tremendously grateful to the Arnold & Porter Foundation for its vision and generosity.”
“This transformative gift from the Arnold & Porter Foundation will foster the advancement of civil rights and the training of future leaders in this vital area,” said Armin Afsahi, the University’s vice chancellor for advancement. “This gift testifies, yet again, to the firm’s dedication to civil liberties, civil rights and access to justice.”
“We are pleased to support the important work of the Civil Rights Clinic at Denver Law and those students dedicated to devoting their careers to advancing the cause of civil rights and civil liberties,” said Richard M. Alexander, chair of Arnold & Porter and the Arnold & Porter Foundation. “Our firm has a long-standing commitment to public service, and our Denver office, opened in 1980, has played a vital role in advancing these pro bono efforts.”
“Arnold & Porter’s remarkable commitment recognizes the critical contributions of the Civil Rights Clinic in protecting the constitutional rights of people who are incarcerated, including access to medical and mental health care, the free exercise of religion, outdoor exercise and the conditions of solitary confinement,” said Laura Rovner, director of the Civil Rights Clinic and professor at the Sturm College of Law. “This momentous gift will help us to impart the legal doctrine, skills and professional values necessary to forge the next generation of civil rights lawyers.”
Journey to JD Program Empowers High School Students to Pursue Law
Journey to JD Program Empowers High School Students to Pursue Law
For one week this summer, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law hosted 20 rising high school juniors who immersed themselves in the legal profession. Through the Journey to JD (J2JD) program, founded by the Center for Legal Inclusiveness (CLI), this diverse range of students gained a basic understanding of the legal system and were empowered to explore a career in law.
This unique opportunity is the brainchild of Karen Hester, CEO of the CLI. She previously implemented a similar program in Kansas and brought it with her here to Denver.
Hester created the program to address the lack of diversity in the legal profession. She wanted young people to get a chance to learn basic of legal concepts, meet legal professionals and learn how a legal education could be a part their future.
“If we can get young people with an interest in law, show them what they can do and that they can do it, and they see people that are similar to them, so they realize that it is not impossible to do, then we are that much closer to reaching our goal of having a diverse profession,” Hester said.
Immersive Legal Learning
J2JD is aimed at incoming high school juniors from a wide range of backgrounds and hometowns across the state who have an interest in law.
“I thought that law wasn’t for everybody, and definitely, this program helped me view that it is,” said J2JD participant Stacy Pineda, student at Atlas Preparatory School, Colorado Springs.
The program was meticulously designed to be a focused, as well as activity- and education-packed, week that engaged students from start to finish.
“It’s a really rich, concentrated opportunity. It would be hard to imagine a week that had more opportunities and more content packed into it,” said Denver Law Associate Professor Rebecca Aviel, who served as the professor for the program.
This year, students spent mornings learning law from Aviel, studying materials that the associate professor uses in her first-year law student classes.
“These are high school students getting law school materials,” Aviel related, adding the curriculum focused on substantive principles of the legal system, building analytical skills that lawyers need and gaining insight into the everyday life of someone who has a law degree.
In the afternoons, the class headed out on field trips to Denver where they met legal professionals, including politicians with a J.D. degree, a Colorado Supreme Court Justice and more.
“Students were really able to see how these two spheres hold together: What it is that lawyers learn in the classroom and how these lawyers take that out into the world and do the kind of work that they want to do,” said Aviel.
For students, it exposed them to the wide array of career doors that open for those with a J.D. degree.
“We talked to a lot of different types of attorneys, so it was really interesting, and I really enjoyed getting to learn how broad the spectrum of careers can be,” said J2JD participant Joslyn Hays, a Gunnison High School student.
Students emphasized the value of these opportunities to connect with members of Denver’s legal profession “I would recommend this program because it’s such an incredible learning experience, along with the relationships you make. A crucial part of being a lawyer is the networking you have with other people, and this program gives you the best of both worlds,” related participant Imari Hicks, DSST Stapleton High School in Denver. The evening events, such as rock climbing at the Ritchie Center, bowling downtown and a scavenger hunt with attorneys, gave students a chance to explore Denver and experience the kind of work-life balance that is essential to sustainable careers in the legal field.
In all, the week-long program offered students a chance to fully immerse themselves in the law and foster a love of higher education. And Aviel hopes that it will also make students feel like part of the DU community. “I would love to have you come to the University of Denver and get that chance to discover if law is right for you, and even if it’s not, we hope that you’d then go off into the world with an invigorated sense of discovery,” said Aviel.
The program was possible thanks to partnership between CLI, Denver Law and several generous sponsors.
“The partnership with DU has been so critical to the success of the program. DU has been a major player in all of this, from the planning phase to implementation,” Hester said.
In addition, J2JD was funded almost entirely through donations, so the students did not pay anything other than a small deposit.
“The community here in Denver has been so supportive,” Hester said, adding that anyone is welcome to get involved and help the program grow. “We welcome you to be part of the J2JD program,” said Hester. “There’s so many ways you can get involved, from volunteering time to spreading the word. This is just the first step of many, and we can’t do it without you.”
If you or an incoming high-school sophomore you know would be interested in this immersive J2JD opportunity, please visit https://centerforlegalinclusiveness.org/journey-to-jd/.
Check out more about the program by watching the video below!
University of Denver Sturm College of Law Offers New Professional Part-Time JD Program
#14-ranked part-time JD program now offered in convenient hybrid format.
August 16 – DENVER – The University of Denver Sturm College of Law transformed its #14-ranked (U.S. News & World Report) part-time JD program to make it more accessible to students with competing professional or familial commitments. Effective fall 2018, students admitted into the Professional Part-Time JD Program can complete all of their required courses in a convenient hybrid format, through a combination of state-of-the-art online instruction and weekend on-campus classes.
First-year students enrolled in the new Professional Part-Time JD Program come to Denver on eight weekends each semester for in-class sessions, with the remaining instruction provided online, in an asynchronous format capable of being accessed on each student’s own schedule.
Students are taught by full-time faculty members, in a program designed in consultation with a national leader in online legal pedagogy. After completing their first two years of required courses, students can choose from the entire breadth of the Denver Law curriculum, including externships, clinical courses, and a wide range of doctrinal classes offered in a variety of formats.
Students also benefit from the law school’s full range of scholarships, financial aid and co-curricular programming, including academic support, professional advising, mentoring, and access to a network of roughly 17,000 Denver Law alumni.
“The University of Denver Sturm College of Law has offered a nationally-acclaimed part-time JD program for more than 100 years. Our goal was to make this historic and mission-driven program even more accessible, affordable, and attentive to work-life balance—while, at the same time, preserving its exceptional quality and rigor,” said Dean Bruce Smith. “I have met the roughly 35 students in our inaugural cohort and look forward to teaching them this fall. Quite frankly, the academic credentials, professional experience, and geographic reach of our inaugural class exceeded even our loftiest expectations.”
Students matriculating in fall 2018 come from a broad range of professional backgrounds, including compliance, education, financial services, government contracts, health care, human resources, social work, and sports management. Several have advanced degrees, in fields ranging from business to engineering to molecular microbiology. Many have extensive records of public service. And while the majority of students live and work in Colorado (including Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Greeley, and Highlands Ranch), the convenient educational format (and ease and affordability of Denver International Airport) has made it possible for students from as far away as Utah, South Carolina, and Texas to attend.
Johnathan Clark, vice president of Workplace Planning and Advice at Fidelity Investments, is one of the students in the inaugural class. He is based out of Salt Lake City, Utah and says he looked at other part-time law programs but found Denver Law’s to be the best fit.
“I always liked the idea of earning a JD but didn’t think that as a working executive that was possible. When I heard about the format, I was excited because it allows me to continue to progress through my career, while at the same time go to law school,” Clark said. “I was accepted to a few other programs, but Denver Law, by far in my opinion, was structured best to fit my schedule.”
Through honing critical thinking skills, learning from Denver Law’s respected faculty and networking with fellow students, Clark sees the Professional Part-Time JD Program as an opportunity to advance his career.
“The credibility of the faculty, their experience and the work that they’ve done is very exciting. We’ve also got a really diverse, unique set of professions and backgrounds in the cohort that will make a program like this, which caters to working professionals, even more valuable.”
For more information on the Professional Part-Time JD Program, please visit law.du.edu/admissions/about-denver-law/professional-part-time-jd-program, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 303-871-6135.