Legal Services Center volunteer tax attorney Dale Kensinger has been named recipient of the Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award from the American Bar Association’s Tax Section. He will receive the award at a luncheon on February 10, when the Tax Section holds its mid-year meeting in San Diego, California.
The ABA Tax Section established the award in 2002 “to recognize one or more individuals or law firms for outstanding and sustained achievements in pro bono activities in tax law. In 2007 the award was renamed in honor of the late Janet Spragens, who received the award in 2006 in recognition of her dedication to the development of low income taxpayer clinics throughout the United States.”
The Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award is the only annual award given by the Tax Section.
Co-winner of this year’s award is co-winner is Kathryn Sedo. Sedo directed the low income taxpayer clinic at the University of Minnesota for 35 years before her retirement in May 2016
Kensinger has been a tax lawyer for almost five decades. Through years of service he has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to pro bono activities assisting individuals with their federal tax obligations. He currently volunteers with the Federal Tax Clinic at the Legal Services Center (LSC) of Harvard Law School, and over the past several years he has volunteered an average of more than 500 hours per year both directly representing clients and assisting students with their cases.
Kensinger also played a vital role in assisting with the start-up of the Tax Clinic at LSC.
In 2012, LSC started a Veterans Legal Clinic. As the Veterans Legal Clinic became operational, its staff noticed that many of its clients needed assistance with tax issues. Because LSC did not have a tax clinic, the Veterans Legal Clinic sought a means of assisting its clients with their tax problems and providing holistic representation wherever possible.
Through conversations with tax lawyers in Boston, the Clinic director learned that the incredibly talented and dedicated former director of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Low Income Tax Clinic (UMKC-LITC) had retired and happened to be living in Boston in order to be nearer family.
A cold call to Kensinger in 2013, followed quickly by a meeting at the Legal Services Center to discuss the unmet tax needs of low-income veterans were all that the former UMKC- LITC director needed to be brought out of retirement. Soon, volunteer law students from Harvard were working under Kensinger’s expert tutelage and praising his kind, patient, and thoughtful mentorship. As he began to help more and more clients — especially veterans — additional waves of clients began to seek the assistance of the new pro bono project.
As the client base grew, the Veterans Legal Clinic became convinced that it would be beneficial to start a tax clinic at LSC. Out of Kensinger’s volunteer work — and with his expert guidance — grew the Federal Tax Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School.
Current Federal Tax Clinic Director Keith Fogg — who first worked with Dale in 1977 when they were assigned to the same branch in the Refund Litigation Division of the Office of Chief Counsel, IRS—says “the award could not be going to a more deserving recipient. Dale’s commitment to low income taxpayers provides a model for lawyers who still have much to offer as they enter the retirement phase of their careers. We are extremely fortunate to have such a knowledgeable and caring volunteer working in the tax clinic.”
Dan Nagin, Director of the Legal Services Center and the person who recruited Kensinger to work in establishing the tax clinic, stated that “in short order after I reached out to Dale, he was enthusiastically heading a new pro bono project focused on tax at the Legal Services Center and representing scores of clients from the Veterans Clinic before the IRS.”
Kensinger graduated from University of Pennsylvania Law School and served in the military for three years during the Vietnam War era. Upon the completion of his military obligation, he worked for over three decades with the Office of Chief Counsel, IRS, spending the bulk of his time in the Kansas City field office where he served for many years as the Assistant District Counsel.
After a distinguished career with the government, Kensinger began a second career as a professor and the highly successful co-director of the low income tax clinic at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. During his time as the director of the low income taxpayer clinic at UMKC, he served in leadership on the Low Income Taxpayer Committee of the Section of Taxation for several years. Kensinger taught at UMKC for a decade before retiring again and moving to Boston in order that he and his wife could live near his daughter — a professor at Boston College — and help care for a granddaughter.