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“The Internal Revenue Code is a foreign language to most people,” Stephanie Searles Vogel admits, “but that shouldn’t block anyone from understanding it.” Tax law can be intimidating, and especially so when the stakes are high for a taxpayer. Recognizing the need for assistance in this complex and specialized field, Stephanie has built a career solving fiscal nightmares for private-practice and pro bono clients alike.
Stephanie, a Rhode Island native, discovered her affinity for tax work while attending law school at Villanova University. Taking part in the school’s Federal Tax Clinic, she saw the positive impact she could make for low-income taxpayers by applying her legal knowledge.
“It’s impossible to dig yourself out of this kind of debt without knowing how. If I can help someone dispel the anxiety around that, I’m happy to do so.”
As she advanced in her career – first at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, then as an associate and now a partner at Dilworth Paxson LLP – she continued to look for ways to give back, recalling the people she served at Villanova’s clinic. Stephanie first volunteered with VIP in 2015. In the years since, her contributions have been so great that Managing Attorney Kelly J. Gastley names her a “go-to” tax volunteer.
Stephanie proudly ranks her most recent VIP case among her “biggest wins.” While working as an independent contractor, her client Mr. Park (a pseudonym) filled out his tax forms incorrectly and amassed a six-figure debt to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). He came to VIP on the brink of losing his home due to a related lien. To make matters worse, Mr. Park’s native language was Korean, and he couldn’t easily communicate with the IRS.
VIP team members matched Mr. Park with Stephanie and her colleague Matt Whitehorn, who jumped into negotiations with the IRS over the debt. In short order, the duo reduced Mr. Park’s debt from $130,000 to $3,000 and helped him enter a payment plan. As Stephanie shares, “Mr. Park was beyond appreciative. He no longer has to worry about bank levies and threatening letters, and he’s able to live his life again.”
Stephanie encourages fellow attorneys to join her in this rewarding work. “If you’re interested in tax law, pro bono is the perfect way to learn,” she says. VIP volunteers gain hands-on substantive knowledge while building valuable relationships with clients. And if a lack of experience is holding you back: “Don’t worry,” she says, “VIP makes pro bono easy!”