August 11, 2017 From the Chair-Elect

Leading the Tax Section into the Future

By Karen L. Hawkins, Hawkins Law, Yachats, OR

I undoubtedly hold the record in the history of the Tax Section for taking the longest time to get from the Chair-Elect to Chair position: eight years, four months, and three days. But who’s counting?

I was first honored to serve as Chair-Elect of the Section in FY2008-2009. Four months before my scheduled assumption of the Chair position, I resigned to join then-Commissioner Doug Shulman at the IRS as Director of the Office of Professional Responsibility. The decision was a very difficult one. The Tax Section has been (and continues to be) a major source of academic improvement, skill development, and strong personal bonding for me. It is no exaggeration to say that I am who, and where, I am today because of my 39-year engagement with the Section and its members. In 2009, I was eager to give back to the Section in recognition of all the benefits I had received as a member. My enthusiasm in that regard has not wavered with the passage of time. It is this history and relationships that I think of as I assume the Chair position in August.

Every chair wants to leave a legacy of some sort, and unquestionably, each has. I don’t want to fumble my opportunity.  Of course, much of what happens during my year as Chair will not be in my control. External forces, such as tax legislation, government allocation of resources, and unanticipated political events, will all undoubtedly impact my personal agenda as well as the Section’s activities and involvement. I, however, have several broad goals on which I hope to focus during the year, with the assistance of the strong leadership team of Committee Chairs, Council Vice-Chairs, and Directors joining me on this adventure.

Inclusivity

The Tax Section has a long history of supporting diversity and inclusion at all levels. To that end, in 2001, the Section leadership adopted and published the Section’s Diversity and Inclusion Plan setting forth a series of long-term goals. In 2015, the leadership revisited the plan to assess the progress made and recommit to its goals. The broad focus of the 2015 Plan emphasizes diversity in all its iterations, as I hope you will read. This commitment will continue to be a top priority for me over the next year. I hope to focus on one area in particular, which speaks to the future of the Section itself: inclusion of those who are not necessarily “like us”—those with different skill sets; those from smaller firms and solo practitioners; those of different political persuasions; and beginners in tax law. Throughout this coming year, I encourage each of you to join me in reaching out and getting to know at least one “stranger” at each of our three Section meetings. I encourage you to be mindful of both the explicit and implicit biases that might affect your judgments of, and associations with, others. Be mindful of who you are selecting as panelists, as dinner companions, and who you spend time with during receptions. Take some risks; get a little uncomfortable. The Section cannot afford to leave out interested and interesting people.

Pro Bono & Public Service

Pro bono services have been near and dear to my heart since I started the first formally recognized Pro Se–Pro Bono Tax Court program in San Francisco, California, in 1992. The expansion of that concept to all calendar call locations, coupled with the tremendous work done by the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinics (unequivocally supported by the Section’s membership) has resulted in something of which we can all be proud. The same can be said of our VITA and Adopt-a-Base programs, which now encompass over 40 military bases. All of these activities provide wonderful examples of how generous and committed our membership has been in assisting those who would not otherwise be able to afford the tax and legal services provided.

The Section has another opportunity to be of service to an underserved and growing part of the U.S. population: seniors. The 2010 census counted more than 40 million individuals in the U.S. aged 65 and older. As the “baby boomers” age, it is estimated that by 2020 nearly 55 million individuals will be aged 65 or over; and more than 6.5 million of them will be 85 or older.  Many are opting to live in assisted living facilities not because of any debilitation, but because they have no (or geographically distant) children. Others are “aging-in-place” with the assistance of home-care providers (sometimes relatives, sometimes strangers). According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there were about 22,200 assisted living facilities in the U.S. in 2014, housing nearly 900,000 seniors—70% of whom are women, and 83% of whom are aged 75 or older. The majority of these seniors will be in assisted living for a year or longer, with 16% remaining for three years or more. I also suspect, but only from anecdotal evidence, that a large portion of this aging population has connections to the military. Financial abuse of the elderly is on the rise, and many state laws provide insufficient protection. I believe this population of seniors deserves some of our pro bono attention.

Consequently, I have asked Bahar Schippel, Vice-Chair (Pro Bono and Outreach), to begin the process of identifying partners with whom the Tax Section can collaborate in providing pro bono forms of legal assistance in which our members have expertise: estate and trust advice and planning; Medicare and employee benefits advice and assistance; general financial and income tax advice. We will be starting preliminary conversations with AARP, ABA Senior Lawyers Division, ABA RPTE, and the ABA Commission on Law and Aging to determine their interest in such a collaboration. I hope, before the end of this year, to call upon Tax Section members to lend their support, time and expertise to this new tax assistance for elders pro bono project in concrete ways.

Continuing Legal Education

One of the Section’s most powerful member benefits comes in the form of timely, high quality continuing education presented during our three annual meetings and through webinars and other specialty conferences—like the Philadelphia Tax Conference and the International Tax Enforcement Conference—held throughout the year. I am committed to maintaining the current high quality of these educational products and in expanding the delivery options and topics. To that end, I have asked Fred Murray, our in-coming Vice-Chair (CLE), to collaborate with the Government and Public Sector Lawyer’s Division of the ABA to offer a webinar in the coming months on the ethical obligations and dilemmas of federal government lawyers. Fred is also exploring the use of podcasts to deliver some of the live meeting panels to those who are unable to attend in-person meetings. Of course, I also anticipate providing timely and quality programming by members, for members, once we see any proposed tax-related legislation from Congress.

Austin Meeting

Most of you are aware that our Joint Fall CLE Meeting with RPTE will be in Austin, Texas, on September 14 – 16, 2017. This will be my first meeting as Chair so I hope to see you all there. Professor Michael Graetz has committed to speak at the Joint Plenary Session and Luncheon on Saturday, September 16. Statistically, many of you have skipped the Plenary Session and Section Luncheon at past meetings. I’d like to make a “pitch” for why you should come to the Austin session to hear Professor Graetz speak.

Michael Graetz is currently the Columbia Alumni Professor of Tax Law at Columbia Law School. Between 1983 and 2009, Professor Graetz was the Justus S. Hotchkiss Professor of Law at Yale University. His publications include The Burger Court and the Rise of the Judicial Right (2016); Follow the Money: Essays on International Taxation (2016), The End of Energy: The Unmaking of America’s Environment, Security and Independence (2011); 100 Million Unnecessary Returns: A Simple, Fair, and Competitive Tax Plan for the United States (2008); Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight over Taxing Inherited Wealth (2005); True Security: Rethinking Social Insurance (1999); The U.S. Income Tax: What It Is, How It Got That Way and Where We go From Here (1999). He is also the co-author of Federal Income Taxation: Principles and Policies, a leading law school course book. Additionally, he has published more than 80 articles on a wide range of federal tax, international tax, health policy, and social insurance issues.

From January to June 1992, Professor Graetz served as Assistant to the Secretary and Special Counsel at the U.S. Treasury Department. In 1990 and 1991, he served as Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy. In 2013, Graetz was awarded the Daniel M. Holland Medal by the National Tax Association for outstanding contributions to the study and practice of public finance. He has been a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellow, and he received an award from Esquire magazine for courses and work in connection with the provision of shelter for the homeless. He served in the Treasury Department in the Office of Tax Legislative Counsel. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Professor Graetz is a dynamic and knowledgeable speaker, and I am delighted he has agreed to join us in Austin. No doubt he will be prepared to comment on the current state of both tax and health care legislation. Don’t miss Professor Graetz’s timely comments at the Plenary Session.

Leadership Team

I am incredibly lucky to serve this year with an extraordinary group of individuals. As many of you know, Eric Solomon is the Chair-Elect.  I couldn’t be happier to have someone of such stature and competence as my back-up. I look forward to having the benefit of Eric’s vast government experience and his boundless energy throughout the year.

Scott D. Michel, who has done a stellar job of helping the Section’s committees operate smoothly during his first year as Vice-Chair (Committee Operations), will be returning for a second year.  Julian Y. Kim also has his first year as Vice-Chair (Government Relations) behind him, displaying considerable style and grace in navigating the labyrinths of the Section’s relationships with government. I have no doubt he will rise to the occasion as we wait for the tax legislation which is bound to come before year-end.  Bahar Schippel is returning as Vice-Chair (Pro Bono and Outreach) and will continue to ensure that the Section’s enormously successful Pro Bono and Outreach activities, such as the Tax Court Calendar Call and the Adopt-A-Base programs, will continue to run smoothly. As previously mentioned, Bahar will be a key player in my efforts to establish the new Pro Bono Tax Assistance for Elders.  The other continuing Vice-Chairs include Charles P. Rettig (Administration), an indispensable overseer of Section financial activity, and Julie A. Divola (Publications), who oversees multiple successful Section publications without ever getting ruffled. Last, but certainly not least, our newest Vice-Chair (CLE), Fred F. Murray, has already hit the ground running as he works with the Section staff to develop new products and delivery methods to ensure Section members have timely and quality educational products—particularly as we anticipate a high level of tax-related legislation activity from Congress within the year. I am excited and honored to work with such talented and dedicated professionals. 

The bulk of the work for which the Section receives recognition throughout the tax system is done by our committees, of course. We are fortunate to have a committed group of Council Directors who work tirelessly on behalf of the Section to assist the committees in their efforts.  The 2017–2018 Council Director contingent includes Sheri A. Dillon, Christopher S. Rizek, Adam M. Cohen, Melissa G. Wiley, Ronald Levitt, R. David Wheat, John F. Bergner, Thomas D. Greenaway, Roberta D. Mann, Carol P. Tello, Gary B. Wilcox, Catherine B. Engell, Gregg D. Barton, Michael J. Desmond, and Peter A. Lowy. Moving into the Secretary position will be Katherine E. David, and our new Assistant Secretary is Robb A. Longman.

I want to thank Joan C. Arnold for her excellent contributions during her tenure as Vice-Chair (CLE).  And a big “thank-you” also for the tireless efforts of outgoing Council Directors Alan I. Appel, Larry A. Campagna, and T. Keith Fogg.

I will be most fortunate to receive continuing support and counsel regarding the Section’s relationship with the American Bar Association from our Section Delegates to the ABA House of Delegates, Richard M. Lipton and Armando Gomez. Their guidance and historical perspective is invaluable.

Staff Team

The Section is lucky to have a talented staff to support it in all its many endeavors. A new Executive Director, John Thorner, joined the team in May and has hit the ground running.  None of our accomplishments will be possible without the continuing efforts and support of Ty Hansen (Associate Director), Anne Dunn (Director of Publishing), Jessie Tsai (Staff Counsel), Haydee Moore (Director of Meetings), Chris Tank (Director of CLE), and their incredibly talented support staff who make it possible for the Section to function smoothly.  I am fortunate to have such a first-rate administrative team behind me. We anticipate filling the vacant positions for the Director of Membership and Marketing and the Pro Bono Staff Counsel before the end of the year.

It is daunting to follow in the footsteps of the former Chairs of the Section. I am grateful to William H. Caudill for his graciousness in including me early and often in the business of the Section, so the baton could pass without a misstep. Bill steered the Section during challenging financial times with determination and humor while demonstrating a level of style and grace I can only aspire to emulate.

I am ready for the challenges to come and hope you will join me in keeping the Section of Taxation at the forefront of tax professionalism. I also hope that if you see me in the hallways during one of the Section meetings, you will feel free to say “hello” and anything else that’s on your mind. I may not always be able to accommodate, but I will always listen.

See you in Austin!