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How One Attorney Helps Clients Surmount Overwhelming Economic Burdens

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

  • Organization: VLSP

Complications with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are never a breeze. However tax controversy is especially daunting for low-income taxpayers who are neither familiar with the laws and rhetoric of the IRS nor financially stable enough to swiftly remedy the problem. Recognizing how effective change could occur by simply providing these low-income taxpayers with volunteer lawyers and CPAs, VLSP established the Low Income Tax Clinic (LITC) in 1997.

The program, which seeks to resolve clients' issues of outstanding liability with the IRS, maintains an active panel of pro bono tax attorneys and specifically targets San Francisco's immigrant communities and ESL populations. Today, LITC continues to successfully help clients surmount overwhelming economic burdens because of volunteers like Bill Colgin.

A graduate of the University of Denver College of Law, Mr. Colgin spent four years with the Department of Justice's Tax Division before becoming a partner at Fenwick & West. Indeed, it was his experience working for the government that enabled Mr. Colgin to recognize the power of small gestures in communication to create change.

Mr. Colgin says, "I noticed when I was at the government that a lot of circumstances could be resolved between the taxpayer and the government by opening lines of communication. Being able to facilitate that communication is a very simple thing for lawyers to do in most cases."

Having volunteered with the LITC for the past three and a half years, Mr. Colgin has become an instrumental part of the program. The complexity of tax controversy law makes Mr. Colgin's efforts to open lines of communication for clients particularly valuable.

"Often people are confronted with an unusual tax problem, problems that are relatively easy for lawyers, but for somebody who's not familiar with tax authorities it can seem very ominous. Having someone help them out can give them peace of mind and focus the process," he explains. Thus, not only does change become something Mr. Colgin's clients can access, but something they too can understand.

Mr. Colgin's immense contributions to LITC and its clients' lives are only matched by what he gets out of volunteering. Explaining why he continues to volunteer with LITC, Mr. Colgin says it is a two-fold dynamic. "You really can make a meaningful difference in people's lives." To which he quickly adds, "The second part of it is, I enjoy it."

Mr. Colgin's involvement with LITC is not limited to taking on cases. He will be speaking at an upcoming pro bono tax panel symposium and continues to serve as a leader by placing LITC cases with his associates at Fenwick & West.

Ted Janowsky, LITC's staff attorney, comments, "Bill Colgin is a great example of a pro bono attorney who wants to foster a sense of community involvement among his fellow lawyers."

Encouraging others to volunteer allows Mr. Colgin to see his associates experience the same satisfaction he feels when facing new challenges and helping others. While Mr. Colgin recognizes that a successful resolution to an LITC case can play a part in changing clients' lives, it is Mr. Janowsky who notes how profound volunteer attorneys' efforts truly are.

"For people who work long hours under great pressure, a pro bono commitment is an amazingly selfless act that brings out the best in the legal profession," Mr. Janowsky says.

As a dedicated volunteer, lawyer, and partner, Bill Colgin's contributions may seem impressive, but for Mr. Colgin it's just part of the job. Perhaps this attitude is what makes his contributions all the more significant.

For more information about VLSP's Low Income Tax Clinic, please contact Amanda Chavez at (415) 782-8956 or achavez@sfbar.org.

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