It is both exciting and humbling to be presented with the opportunity to serve as Chair of the Tax Section for 2016-2017. As we formulate our plans for the upcoming year, it is inspiring to consider what was accomplished over the past year under the indefatigable leadership of our outgoing Chair, George Howell. It was my good fortune to have worked with George on a number of significant projects, including the formulation of important initiatives with our colleagues in the government, the organization of the Tax Assistance Public Service (TAPS) endowment task force, and the development of a workable implementation plan that responds to the ABA’s new CLE diversity requirement (which I discuss later in this column). I want to thank George for his unflagging energy and good work over the past year. His will be a hard act to follow.
2016 – 2017 Objectives
I have three objectives for the coming year:
- Focusing on the high quality output of our Committees in the areas of CLE programming and government submissions. The breadth of knowledge and diversity of experience and backgrounds that the Committees bring to these two important areas are vital to the Section’s continued success. These are valuable benefits for our members and the tax community.
- Continuing the promotion of the Section’s pro bono and public service efforts—a longstanding priority for the Section—within the constraints of our limited resources, including raising funds for the Tax Assistance Public Service (TAPS) endowment.
- Attracting new members, particularly younger and diverse tax lawyers, to the Section, and identifying new opportunities to meet their needs.
Committee Programs and Law Improvement Projects
The Committee and Section CLE programs at our three main meetings are extraordinarily valuable to our members and the tax community in general, and they continue to be the best value around. They provide opportunities for members to network and become active, as well as a foundation for other activities and initiatives that serve our members, including other conferences, publications, and webinars. At our last May meeting, there were over 150 panel presentations of the highest quality with invaluable government participation and presenters from across the country. We must continue our focus on these first-class Committee programs and presentations, as they truly provide an important service to the tax bar and underscore the high value of membership in our Tax Section.
The volume of law improvement projects produced by our Committees this year has been particularly impressive. This significant work must continue. We know that the government values the Section’s perspective and our government submissions reflect a breadth of knowledge and experience and provide a public service for which we can be truly proud. These projects are the result of the outstanding and sometimes difficult work under significant time pressure of numerous volunteers from our substantive Committees.
Over the last year, there have been 36 comment projects submitted to the government—a dizzying feat. The current legislative environment combined with the resource constraints imposed on the Service means that the government continues to need our help in developing guidance. I am following George Howell’s lead in urging each substantive committee to strive to undertake at least one law improvement project over the next year. Participation in a comment project can be one of the most rewarding and meaningful aspects of your Section membership, as well as a great way for our Committees to involve younger lawyers.
New Diversity Requirements for Tax Section Programs
The ABA Board of Governors recently voted in favor of a new policy requiring speaker diversity on all programs of ABA Sections, Divisions, and Forums (which includes the Tax Section). Any program with three or more presenters, including the moderator, will be required to comply. Programs with three or four presenters must have at least one diverse member; programs with five to eight presenters must have at least two diverse members; and programs with nine or more presenters will be required to have at least three diverse members. If a program fails to comply, the ABA will not seek CLE accreditation for that program. The effective date of this new policy is March 1, 2017. Rest assured that your Section officers, staff, and Board of Governors liaison worked hard to moderate this new policy, and the final version reflects this work.
The Tax Section has worked to incorporate diversity in all of its programs for many years. Speaker diversity, as apparent in the Final Program for the 2016 May Meeting, easily exceeded the new requirements on an overall meeting basis. However, we must now comply on a panel-by-panel basis. Each of our Committees must continue to work to ensure adequate diversity in panels in compliance with the new requirements, or the Section not only runs the risk of not being able to provide valuable CLE credits for our members, but also of losing credibility with our increasingly diverse membership.
In anticipation of the new policy going into effect, we are working through the ABA Section Officers Conference to clarify operational questions regarding its implementation. Fortunately, we have several months to prepare. We owe it to our members and our profession to support these efforts to increase diversity in our programs.
Pro Bono and Public Service
The Tax Section has vibrant pro bono and public service programs that have been cultivated over many years. The Tax Section is committed to continuing these important programs within the constraints of its limited resources. We fund recent law school graduates, known as Brunswick Fellows, for two-year fellowships designed to provide representation to low-income taxpayers. The Section also provides many opportunities for members to participate directly in pro bono activities through the Tax Court calendar call, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), and Adopt-A-Base programs. All of us have an obligation to give back to the tax system, and participating in one or more of the Section’s pro bono programs is a great way to do that. For information, I encourage you to refer to the Section’s website, or contact the Section’s Pro Bono Counsel, Derek Wagner.
In order for the Section’s pro bono and public service efforts to continue to thrive, it is critical that they have adequate funding. The TAPS endowment has been set up for this very purpose. Its initial focus is to assure funding for the Brunswick Fellowships that the Section awards each year. In addition, it may also enable the Section to enhance support of its other pro bono and public service initiatives.
As George Howell noted in his farewell, we have set an ambitious fundraising goal of $2.5 million for the TAPS endowment, with approximately $425,000 raised to date. I believe we can achieve our target over the next four years, but it will require widespread participation. I am pleased that all of the Section’s officers have made contributions or pledges, but we need broader support (particularly from our Committee leadership and other groups within the Tax Section). If you have not already given, I encourage you to read more about the good work of our Brunswick Fellows and to contribute to the TAPS endowment .
We should all work to attract new members to the Section. If you are reading this, I suspect you find membership in the Tax Section to be worthwhile. If you have benefitted personally and professionally from membership in the Section, I’d like to challenge you to make an earnest effort this year to identify one or two prospective members from your firm or wider contacts and recruit them to the Section.
The effectiveness of these connections is evident at every level in the Section. One of our members was a young lawyer when the Bankruptcy Reform Act was enacted some years ago, and he was asked by the Tax Section to participate. His participation with the Tax Section formed the foundation for his long career in the bankruptcy tax bar. Another member served on the Law Student Tax Challenge and ended up hiring one of the student competitors who is now looking forward to a promising career with her firm. The Tax Section provided the opportunity to hire a young lawyer and also introduced the young lawyer to a job. Another young tax lawyer from a small town came to the Section and was warmly received for her hard work and intelligence. That member eventually was asked to serve on a Capitol Hill tax committee. Ultimately, that member was confirmed as a United States Tax Court Judge, all in significant part due to that member’s work with the Tax Section. I myself have had important client referrals and connections over the years which arose from the Tax Section. Our Members have served as Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Chief Counsel, Director of the Office of Professional Responsibility, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Tax Policy, Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division, and United States Tax Court Judge. This list goes on and on. The Tax Section provides a very valuable service to our members, and we should work to tell prospective new members about it. The personal outreach of our individual members is critical to our future as a Section as we strive to continue to be relevant to the changing needs of our members.
I also want to highlight the critical roles that the Section’s Diversity Committee and Young Lawyers Forum (YLF) are playing in attracting new members. The Diversity Committee presents truly inspiring programs and draws lawyers from diverse groups and backgrounds to the Section. The YLF organizes the highly competitive and successful Annual Law Student Tax Challenge, which enters its 16th year this fall. It also regularly presents the Tax Bridge to Practice program—an introduction to tax practice which covers both substantive tax and career-building topics.
Each of you can help in this effort. I urge each of you to engage in a one-to-one campaign to make the Section and its Committees a more attractive and inclusive place. Formulate in your mind what one or two things make the Tax Section a valuable proposition for you, and tell prospective new members about it. Encourage a new lawyer from your firm or organization to attend a Section meeting. Extend a warm welcome to all new faces that show up at Committee meetings. Invite a new lawyer to work on a Committee project or participate in a CLE panel. Attend a Diversity Committee meeting or YLF program. Doing these sorts of things will make a difference.
We have three CLE-packed meetings to look forward to over the next year—the Joint Fall CLE Meeting with RPTE at the Westin Boston Waterfront in Boston, the Midyear Meeting at the Hilton Bonnet Creek and Waldorf Astoria in Orlando, and our traditional May Meeting in Washington. We also have some outstanding CLE programming that will occur outside of these three meetings, including the International Tax Enforcement and Controversy Conference in October and the Philadelphia Tax Conference in November, as well as a variety of webinars. I hope that you will attend one or all of the upcoming Section meetings, as well as participate in the other CLE opportunities offered by the Section. The quality and price of the Section’s meetings and CLE cannot be beat.
The Section is fortunate to have a very talented incoming Chair-Elect and a group of Vice-Chairs who bring a wealth of experience to their roles. As most of you know, Karen L. Hawkins is the incoming Chair-Elect. I am delighted to work with Karen over the next year and look forward to having the benefit of her experience and energy. Scott D. Michel, the incoming Vice-Chair (Committee Operations) replaces Thomas J. Callahan, who kept the Section’s committees operating smoothly. Julian Y. Kim, the incoming Vice-Chair (Government Relations), takes over for Peter H. Blessing, who did a masterful job managing the Section’s relations with the government. Bahar Schippel, the incoming Vice-Chair (Pro Bono and Outreach), takes over for C. Wells Hall, who provided his passionate dedication to the many Pro Bono and Outreach programs offered by the Section, such as the Tax Court calendar call, VITA, and the Adopt-A-Base programs. The continuing Vice-Chairs include Charles P. Rettig (Administration), Joan C. Arnold (CLE), and Julie A. Divola (Publications). I am thrilled to work with such dedicated individuals. I also want to thank Tom, Peter, and Wells for all of their good work during their tenures as Vice-Chairs.
I also want to acknowledge our Council Directors who work tirelessly for the benefit of the Section. Outgoing Council Directors are Megan L. Brackney, Lucy W. Farr, Mary A. McNulty, John O. Tannenbaum, Stewart M. Weintraub, and Hon. Cary D. Pugh. Incoming Council Directors are Sheri A. Dillon, Christopher S. Rizek, Adam M. Cohen, Melissa G. Wiley, Ronald Levitt, and R. David Wheat. Continuing Council directors are Alan I. Appel, Larry A. Campagna, T. Keith Fogg, Kurt L.F. Lawson, John F. Bergner, Thomas D. Greenaway, Roberta D. Mann, Carol P. Tello, and Gary B. Wilcox. Continuing as Secretary will be Catherine B. Engell, and as Assistant Secretary, Katherine E. David. Of course, no list would be complete without the expression of gratitude for the long and faithful service of our Section Delegates to the ABA House of Delegates, Richard M. Lipton and Armando Gomez.
I must also acknowledge the many contributions made by the Section’s staff, led by our Executive Director, Janet In. Janet and her wonderful staff are the backbone of the Section. They make it possible for the Section to function smoothly. The institutional knowledge and range and quality of the services and support that they provide is consistent and first-class. I anticipate that 2016-2017 will be another active year for the Section. I am excited and humbled with the opportunity to serve as Chair, and I welcome your ideas and participation. ■