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Loretta Collins Argrett Biography

Loretta Collins Argrett

Loretta Collins Argrett

Loretta Collins Argrett (who grew up in the highly segregated and volatile Mississippi Delta) graduated from Howard University in 1958 with a B.S. degree in chemistry, with honors. Upon graduation, she received a Fellowship for summer study at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland.  When she returned to the States, she worked for several years as a research chemist at local US government institutions and became the co-author, with senior researchers, of a very few scientific publications.  

Then, she decided she wanted to become a lawyer and, with the support of her husband, applied to Harvard Law School where she was accepted.  At the time, she was 35 years old and the mother of two children (13 and 10 years), who also moved with her to new schools in the Boston area.  While she was at Harvard, she was President of the Harvard Black Law Students Association and served as a student member of one of the Law School faculty committees.  She graduated in 1976, and the family moved back to their home in Maryland where she began her legal career as an associate at Arent, Fox, Kentner, Plotkin, & Kahn. A partner there (Jack Sexton) for whom she had done some work, and who was a leader in the ABA Tax Section at that time, informed her that he was going to “put her” on a Tax Section Substantive Committee — which he did.     

She was the first African American (“AA") staff member of the US Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation and the first AA woman partner at Wald, Harkrader and Ross in Washington, DC.  In Academia, she was a tenured professor at Howard Law School and was an adjunct professor at both Georgetown and American University Law Schools.  During all of this time, she was an active member of the ABA Tax Section, eventually serving as chair of a substantive committee and later as a member of the Tax Section governing Council.  She also served, for a time, on the Board of Advisors of the NYU/IRS Continuing Professional Education Program. 

Then, in 1993, she became the first AA woman in Justice Department history to hold a position that required Senate confirmation and was confirmed by the US Senate as the Assistant Attorney General of the US Justice Department’s Tax Division.  

During her tenure, she was committed to a continuation of the Division’s national reputation of excellence and fairness in litigation of the cases within its jurisdiction (which, of course, was an easy task).  At the same time, she also was committed to increasing the diversity of its leadership as well as its litigators. There were hardly any Black litigators there. She selected Beverly Babers, an AA lawyer in one of the Civil Division Sections to be her Chief of Staff.  She was confident in her decision because she had met Beverly when she was a law student at Boalt Hall in CA and had followed her career.  Plus, Beverly’s Section Chief had praised her, and then reluctantly & graciously agreed to her moving to the front office.  She also selected a highly regarded Black lawyer in the Division’s Appellate Section, to be her personal Front Office staff Appellate Counsel —  as she did not fill the Deputy AAG for Appellate matters slot (political position) because she wanted to serve also in that capacity herself.  

Shortly after she arrived at the Tax Division, she selected a female chief (a white woman) of one of the Tax Division litigating sections to be her Deputy AAG for Civil Matters, which meant that she became the head of all the Division’s civil litigation sections.  She also promoted a white woman who was the head of its Dallas office, which had one section there, to be a Section Chief after conferring with Division managers as to why this woman had not been promoted to chief — as were all other managers of Division Sections— and learned they had no objections to Argrett’s plan to promote her.  

After a period of time, when she was having difficulty getting minority attorneys in the pool to be considered by the Recruitment Committee, she call Samuel Thompson, a prominent Black tax lawyer and professor whom she had met at ABA Tax Section Meetings (at that time, they were often the only two people of color in the room, no matter how large the room was) and asked him did he have any young Black lawyers he might recommend.  He highly recommended Tamara Ashford. The Division’s Hiring Committee, after review, etc. recommended that she be hired and she ultimately joined the Division, working in the Appellate Section.  Argrett was delighted!

Argrett has received several awards, e.g.,”Outstanding Tax Attorney Award,” (NBA Tax Section (1997); “Chief Counsel’s Award" (US Dept of Treasury, 1999); "The Charlotte E. Ray Award” (2004);  “Special Recognition for Contributions to the Tax System” (ABA, 2000) ; "ABA Margaret Brent Women of Achievement Award" (2005); and has been featured in two books:   Stories From Trailblazing Women Lawyers, Lives in the Law and Jewels:  50 Phenomenal Black Women Over 50.