The concept of limited scope representation is not a new one in the legal arena. Rule 1.2(c) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct provides that “A lawyer may limit the scope of the representation if the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances and the client gives informed consent.” This rule has been broadly embraced by states. The idea of limited representation in Tax Court cases has been floating around for years. It has mostly come up in the context of pro se taxpayers who appear at calendars calls. There may be one or more volunteers willing to assist the taxpayer but are unable to enter an appearance on the spot for various reasons (e.g., inability to conduct a conflicts search, uncertainty as to whether the taxpayer will be responsive in the future, inability to determine whether case has merit). In this situation, the volunteer is usually not allowed to speak on the taxpayer’s behalf to the Court to try to assist with resolving the case and handling procedural matters.

In 2018, Special Trial Judge Carluzzo and Special Trial Judge Panuthos invited suggestions for better assisting unrepresented and low-income taxpayers in the Tax Court. In response, the American Bar Association Section of Taxation recommended that the Tax Court consider amending its rules to permit counsel to enter an appearance for a limited time or purpose. At the time of the recommendation, approximately 69% of all Tax Court petitioners and 91% of petitioners in small tax cases were self-represented. The Section of Taxation pointed out that many self-represented petitioners before the Tax Court do not understand the law or court rules and therefore are unable to make an effective legal argument. This results in inefficiencies in the Tax Court, as well as inequality because the IRS is always represented by counsel.
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Tax controversy practitioners are undoubtedly aware of the gradual movement over the years to conform certain Tax Court procedure rules (Tax Court Rules) to those of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In many ways, this makes sense to ensure uniformity of tax cases regardless of whether a taxpayer litigates his tax dispute in a refund forum in the US District Court or the US Court of Federal Claims, or prior to payment of tax in the Tax Court. Below we note a few important areas of divergence between the different rules, and point out situations where the Tax Court Rules do not address a particular matter. These matters were discussed at the recent Tax Court Judicial Conference held in Chicago last week.

Amicus Briefs

As we have discussed before, amicus briefs are not uncommon in other courts. However, the Tax Court does not have specific rules on the topic and, instead, permits each judge to decide a case-by-case basis whether to permit the filing of an amicus brief. Although the Tax Court has discussed standards for filing amicus briefs in unpublished orders, given the nationwide importance of many issues that arise in Tax Court litigation, it may be time for the court to issue specific rules addressing the issue.
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