Keith Fogg, clinical professor of law and outspoken advocate for low-income taxpayers, is retiring
As a professor at Harvard Law School, Keith Fogg says he sees himself as the Wizard of Oz: “I stand behind the curtain telling students they have a lot of knowledge,” says Fogg. “I give them the courage they need, letting them know they can do it. But above all, I try to build a heart in them, so that in the future, no matter what they end up doing, they have a heart to do voluntary work and help people navigate a system which is almost impossible to navigate if you are not shown.
Fogg, clinical professor of law and first director of the Federal Tax Clinic at WilmerHale Legal Services Center (LSC), is retiring this summer after seven years of dedicated service to the Harvard Law School community and hundreds of clients around the need.
Fogg’s legacy at Harvard Law is evident not just in the clinic he has shaped since its inception in 2015, but in the fondness with which those who know him speak. “Keith continually inspired us with his genuine humility, generous spirit and exceptional kindness,” says Daniel Nagin, Clinical Professor of Law and Head of Faculty at LSC. “There really is no one like him.”
Fogg joined Harvard Law School in 2015, tasked with bringing the new Federal Tax Clinic to life as a center for low-income taxpayers to find relief and representation. Clinic students represent low-income taxpayers in controversies with the Internal Revenue Service, before the IRS, and in federal court, with the goal of maximizing financial well-being and protecting taxpayer rights. The clinic’s work includes securing tax refunds and credits to which taxpayers are entitled, helping innocent people whose spouses have accrued tax liabilities, and reducing the tax liabilities of people in financial difficulty by negotiating resolutions with tax authorities.
“Keith has always looked for creative ways to expand the clinic’s work to achieve the widest possible impact on behalf of low-income taxpayers and improve the student experience,” says Audrey Patten, law course and clinical instructor at the Federal Tax Clinic. “His dedication to these goals has been truly exceptional and has inspired many in the field to continue to think outside the box.”
“When Keith first joined the LSC and Harvard Law School, he came with the reputation of the figurehead in low-income taxpayer advocacy, clinical teaching, and scholarship,” says Nagin. “And yet, even with this singular reputation, it exceeded our highest expectations. With extraordinary vision and tireless effort, Keith has built and led the Tax Clinic since its inception and transformed it into a powerhouse. He has remade tax law in critical areas, helped students embrace tax advocacy as a tool in the fight against poverty, provided students with unique opportunities to advocate on cutting-edge issues in federal courts and elsewhere, obtained justice for countless clients in need and served as an invaluable resource for the broader community of tax advocates, legal services attorneys and clinicians.
As director, Fogg developed the clinic’s relationships with the Tax Court, community organizations, and other Harvard law clinics to create a network of referrals. The clinic has represented hundreds of taxpayers across the country, particularly in Massachusetts. Through collaborations with organizations like After Innocence and other LSC legal clinics, the Federal Tax Clinic has provided assistance to those in need, including exonerated and domestic violence survivors.
Fogg also encourages his students to review the policies and regulations they work under to identify potential improvements. He and his students have submitted comments on many regulations that the IRS has used to implement changes. “I want to instill in my students the importance of commenting on rules and regulations that are going to have wide applications because we can make changes there,” he says.
His students agree. Lauren Deutsch ’22 has spent the past year at the Federal Tax Clinic, learning from Fogg’s expertise on direct representation and policy issues. “It was such an honor to learn and work under the guidance of a true expert in the clinical work of low-income taxpayers,” she says. “Throughout my year as a student at the clinic, Keith has worked tirelessly to help LSC clients and to help clinic students help clients. Also, Keith is an extremely nice person and went above and beyond to get to know the students at the clinic, even bringing us all to a Celtics game. I am truly grateful for his guidance and know that countless taxpayers in Massachusetts and across the country are equally grateful for Keith’s tireless efforts to resolve their often consuming tax problems.
Prior to joining Harvard Law, Fogg taught and directed the Federal Tax Clinic at Villanova Law School. Prior to this role, Fogg spent more than thirty years in the Internal Revenue Service’s Office of Chief Counsel, in a variety of roles that include head of a litigation division and senior counsel. His stories of those years working on collection and bankruptcy issues involve appraisals of abandoned castles, conspiratorial secretaries setting up fraudulent foundations and an undiscovered 19th century painting by Severin Rosen – a copy of which now hangs in his office .
When he retires, Fogg looks forward to spending time with his family on their farm in Virginia, traveling the world and cycling – he cycled across the country from California to Florida several years ago. . He will also continue to maintain the Procedurally Taxing blog, a national source of information on developing issues in tax procedures and tax administration.
Reflecting on his various experiences working in tax law, Fogg sees areas for improvement within the system. “We’ve created a difficult system for low-income taxpayers,” he says. “The IRS should be putting a lot of its energy and funding into helping people, not playing ‘gotcha.’ Most people want to pay their taxes well.