Vol. 40 No. 4
Matthew Gorney, a 2L at the University of Kansas School of Law.
Perhaps one of the least surprising honors handed out during the ABA Annual Meeting in Toronto was the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Award.
For the sixth consecutive year, Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law won the Law Student Division’s VITA Award after processing more than 600 tax returns.
“People can’t afford to pay to have their taxes done and they don’t really understand how to do the taxes themselves,” Barry Law 3L Mallory Pearce says. “It’s a very intimidating process.”
Pearce, who was a volunteer last year and is the school’s VITA program’s vice president this year, says one of the program’s strengths is having a supportive administration.
She also says Barry Law requires students to have 40 pro bono hours before being eligible to graduate. According to its award application, Barry’s VITA program boasts a constant 10 to 12 percent participation rate from its law students.
“A lot of people probably sign up for VITA because it seems to be a pretty easy way to get their pro bono requirements fulfilled,” Pearce says, “but I’ve noticed that a lot of the volunteers end up staying because they really do see the need in the community for the VITA program.”
Barry’s VITA program opened a site at the Walt Disney World Resort last year that offered tax preparation services to more than 60,000 employees with multinational backgrounds.
Working at Disney is just one of the things the Barry VITA program has added.
“We’re constantly trying to come up with new ways we can empower the people in the communities to do their own taxes,” Pearce says. “This year, we’re talking about trying to get the online program where they can basically be walking through their process online but we only need one person in the room to be able to help them do their taxes online.
Pearce also says working for the VITA program is a rewarding experience because the people who receive assistance are always appreciative.
“I haven’t met a single person who was not grateful for the service we provided,” she says. “There was not a single person who was aggravated because they had to wait longer than they were expecting.”
Go to the Law Student Division’s site to learn more about the VITA program and to download the handbook to get your VITA program started.