Improving lives one taxpayer at a time

Beverly Winstead '08, director, Maryland Carey Law Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic 

In the legal profession, lifesaving is commonly considered the purview of criminal defense lawyers and health law experts. But helping someone who is drowning in tax debt can have a similar impact. 

Just ask Clinical Instructor Beverly Winstead who leads Maryland Carey Law’s Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic. “People in financial trouble stay up at night worrying,” said Winstead. That stress, she added, can be disastrous. 

As a student attorney in the clinic, Mackenzie Wigal ’22 saw this first-hand. She is part of a team helping a client who came to the clinic so overwhelmed by debt that he was ignoring a serious medical condition. “As we know, interest only accrues,” said Wigal, “so his debt just kept increasing.” When the client’s small business collapsed during the pandemic, he lost the will to take care of himself. 

According to the client’s sister, guidance from the clinic was a lifeline for her brother. “ guys literally saved my brother's life,” she wrote to Winstead, describing how assistance getting his debt temporarily frozen gave him the wherewithal to see a doctor about his out-of-control diabetes. “He is so lucky to be alive,” she continued. “I credit you and your program for giving him the help and hope he needed.”   

Wigal, who is now serving a second semester in the clinic, reports that playing a part in turning her client’s life around was transformational, helping her build empathy that will carry into her career and personal life. Set to join Shearman & Sterling in New York City after graduation, she looks forward to engaging with the firm’s pro bono activities. 

In addition to strengthening her soft skills, Wigal appreciates the deep dive into tax law she is gaining in the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic, knowledge she said impressed employers in on-campus interviews.  

Wigal credits Winstead and co-instructor Stephen Kauffman with creating an environment in which student attorneys learn and thrive. Professor Winstead is a wonderful professional, professor, and mentor. I can’t say enough about her and Professor Kauffman,” she said. “They give you the tools you need to be successful.  

This year, thanks to a state grant to support tax clinics for low-income Marylanders, the clinic was able to hire a new staff attorney, further expanding opportunities for students.  

With what she calls a “true passion for helping people with their financial issues,” Winstead has directed the clinicsince 2014 alongside managing her own firm, which specializes in tax resolution, estate planning, and sports and entertainment law. Her dedication to offering access to legal services for low-income taxpayers is equaled by her desire to prepare the next generation of compassionate tax attorneys. 

am huge believer in the power of mentoring,” said Winstead, who is a ready adviser for students and structures the clinic’s work to include a robust peer mentoring program. “The clinic gives me an opportunity to grow future tax lawyers and help meet the great need for peoplto have access to justice when it comes to economic issues. 

Students in the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic become well-versed in substantive tax laws and tax procedures, including how to qualify for and claim various federal tax deductions and credits, how to represent clients before the IRS examination (audit) and collections divisions, and basic IRS Appeals Office and U.S. Tax Court procedure. Along with directly representing clients, the 10-13 participants get experience conducting community educational workshops around tax topics, offering on-the-spot answers and advice. 

Most semesters they are also treated to guest lectures from Maryland Carey Law Dean Donald Tobin, one of the country’s top tax law experts. He has even been seen in court with students on occasion. “I am grateful Dean Tobin carves out time to work with our students,” remarked Winstead. “He wants them to be successful, and he cares about them.” 

In 2020, the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic at Maryland Carey Law celebrated its 20th anniversary. 

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