October 23, 2019

Pro Bono Award

Recipient of the 2019 Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award: Nina E. Olson

At the Midyear Tax Meeting of the Section of Taxation of the American Bar Association, held in New Orleans on January 18-19, 2019, the Section recognized Nina E. Olson as the winner of the 2019 Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award.

Nina (as she is known to all) currently leads the Taxpayer Advocate Service. She is a tireless advocate for taxpayers in general and low-income taxpayers in particular. Her efforts led to major tax reforms that continue to positively affect low-income taxpayers throughout the country.

2018 marked the 20th anniversary of the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 (the “RRA 98”). The RRA 98 established new rights for taxpayers and began an institutional shift in the manner in which the IRS interacts with taxpayers. No one has been more instrumental in realizing the potential of RRA 98 than Nina Olson.

Prior to her appointment as the National Taxpayer Advocate, Nina founded and served as Executive Director of The Community Tax Law Project, the first independent 501(c)(3) low-income taxpayer clinic (LITC) in the United States. While in that role, Nina, along with Janet Spragens, conceived of and ensured the passage of Section 7526 of the Internal Revenue Code, which establishes matching grants for low-income taxpayer clinics. Nina and Janet Spragens discussed their initial thinking about the role of tax clinics in the welfare-to-work era in a September 2000 Tax Notes article which motivated the first round of applicants from legal services programs to include federal income tax controversy in the legal services practice. There are currently 135 clinics providing direct representation of low-income taxpayers in tax disputes and engaging in systemic advocacy. Clinics are also the vehicle for scores of tax lawyers in private practice to provide pro bono representation for needy taxpayers. Tax clinics have fundamentally transformed the world of pro bono representation in tax cases, and Nina Olson is a key player in that, not only through the enactment of Section 7526 of the Code, but also through her oversight of the LITC program.

Read more about Nina E. Olson in ABA Tax Times.

What is the Pro Bono Award?

This award was established 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.

History of the Award

The Pro Bono Award was established in 2002. Its name was changed to the Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award in 2007 to honor the work and legacy of the late Janet Spragens, founder of the first low-income tax clinic now named for her at the Washington College of Law at American University. Professor Spragens worked for many years to ensure representation for low-income taxpayers. The award is presented each year to an individual or law firm that has demonstrated outstanding and sustained commitment to pro bono legal services, particularly with respect to federal and state tax law.

2017-18 Tax Section Chair Karen L. Hawkins presents the 2018 Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award to recipients Professor Kathryn Sedo and Dale Kensinger.

2017-18 Tax Section Chair Karen L. Hawkins presents the 2018 Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award to recipients Professor Kathryn Sedo and Dale Kensinger.

Past Award Recipients


Professor Kathryn Sedo
Dale Kensinger


C. Wells Hall, III


Andrew R. Roberson


T. Keith Fogg


Judge Peter J. Panuthos


Mark Moreau
Carlton Smith


Frank Agostino


Fulbright & Jaworski


Caroline Ciraolo
Juan Vasquez, Jr.


Elizabeth Copeland


Joseph Barry Schimmel


Professor Leslie M. Book


Professor Janet Spragens


Professor Diana L. Leyden


Karen Hawkins


Peter Lowy


Elizabeth Atkinson
Victoria Bjorklund