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. (more…)