Last May, the US Tax Court (Tax Court) announced that approximately 70 percent of all taxpayers in Tax Court cases and approximately 90 percent of taxpayers in small tax cases are self-represented. The Tax Court encourages assistance by pro bono attorneys at its calendar calls, and strives to provide information to taxpayers about how they may be able to connect with those attorneys (more background on the Tax Court’s efforts can be found here). Although pro bono attorneys appear at Tax Court calendar calls to assist self-represented taxpayers, ethical rules may limit the ability of these attorneys to provide certain kinds of legal assistance. For example, once an attorney makes an appearance in a court case, typically the attorney cannot simply withdraw and stop representing the client. The attorney may have to get both the client’s and court’s consent to withdraw from the representation. The inability to provide legal advice for one or more occasions without potentially being stuck on a case is perceived to dissuade many practitioners from providing pro bono service.
In response to these concerns, the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Taxation recently provided comments to the Tax Court regarding potential amendments to its rules relating to appearance and representation before the Tax Court. The ABA comments encourage the Tax Court to consider a limited appearance rule for pro bono attorneys appearing at the calendar call. This one-time appearance representation may encourage more attorneys to get involved in providing pro bono legal assistance to taxpayers. We will provide an update on any future action that the Tax Court may take in this regard.