Guiding force: Professor spearheads MSU's Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Low-income taxpayers can get much-needed help from a team of law students led by attorney Joshua Wease, co-director and clinical assistant professor at Michigan State University College of Law’s Alvin L. Storrs Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic.

The Tax Clinic – named in 2012 for the late MSU professor Alvin L. Storrs, former chair of the Taxation Law concentration program – provides an authentic opportunity for students to experience law practice and represent clients before IRS and federal courts. The Tax Clinic actually serves two different populations – low-income taxpayers and taxpayers for whom English is a second language. Operated as a small law firm, each student manages a typical caseload of 10 to 12 cases.

“We don’t sugarcoat the challenges of practicing law,” Wease says.  “Most students find personal and professional growth as they navigate the problems, strategies and tactics of typical tax law cases.”

Ten weeks of instruction focuses on federal tax practice and procedure, nonresident alien taxation, U.S. tax treaties, tax law research and writing, and law practice skill; and handling Federal tax issues such as offers in compromise, installment agreements, liens, levies, innocent spouse claims, audits, appeals, and U.S. Tax Court representation.

In return, clients receive high quality legal representation to resolve a very difficult problem in their lives, Wease notes. 

“While tax problems can take time to resolve, taxpayers don’t have to do it alone. The Tax Clinic strives to not only resolve acute problems, but also expand public education and outreach to help the taxpayers avoid tax problems in the first place,” he explains.     

Wease’s own tax litigation experience is diverse, with real property tax experience that includes everything from apartment complexes and commercial office buildings to integrated steel mills and oil pipelines; and state and local tax experience that includes sales tax controversies involving sale/lease of aircraft, use tax on fine art, nexus and apportionment.

But tax law wasn’t on the radar in Wease’s early career plans. After graduating from high school in Jackson, he earned his undergraduate degree in psychology from MSU, and became interested in law after taking a few paralegal courses at Lansing Community College.

His work for several years was in Web and database design at MSU, before he decided to pursue a law degree – and his original plan was for a career related to law and technology.

He stayed in Spartan territory to attend MSU Law.

“As a student at the Tax Clinic, I had several cases where I was able to get a very positive result for taxpayers who had suffered severe injustices,” he says. “At that point, I was hooked and decided that tax law was all I wanted to do.”

After Wease earned his J.D., cum laude, he started his career at the Tax Clinic as an Equal Justice Works Fellow for two years.

He went on to earn his LLM in trial advocacy from the Beasley School of Law at Temple University in Philadelphia, and became managing partner in the boutique tax law firm of Wease Halloran in Lansing; and finally a senior attorney with Foster, Swift, Collins & Smith in Grand Rapids.

“As much as I loved private practice – where I had fantastic clients who had cases with interesting issues – the prospect of coming back to the clinics as a professor and director and contribute to the community and the next generation of lawyers was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up,” he says.

Having lived in the Lansing area for more than 20 years, Wease is happy to be back at Michigan State. Despite living in west Michigan for the past two years with his wife and 6-year-old daughter, Wease still bleeds green-and-white.

“With so much of my life spent studying or working at Michigan State, I’m a hard-core Spartan fan,” he says. “I root for Michigan State…or any team playing Michigan.”

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