August 03, 2018 From the Chair-Elect

The Coming Year

By Eric Solomon, Ernst & Young LLP, Washington, DC

It is an honor for me to be the next Chair of the Tax Section, and a privilege to have the opportunity to serve our members, the tax community, and the public. 

We operate in an evolving environment that requires us to recognize and anticipate change and adapt to it.  The Tax Section is not immune from the need to see the trends and proactively respond to them.  We need to be constantly evaluating our offerings and operations to improve them in light of the shifting needs of our stakeholders.  With this in mind, as Chair I wish to continue and enhance the programs and initiatives of my predecessors, at the same time taking steps to position the Tax Section to thrive in the future.

With the assistance and support of an excellent team of Section Officers, Council, Committee Chairs and Tax Section staff, I look forward to focusing on the following areas in the coming year.

Pro Bono & Public Service

One of the most important contributions of the Tax Section is pro bono services.  These activities include: (1) the Elder Tax Law Initiative, started by our current Chair Karen Hawkins, which provides tax assistance to this growing share of our population; (2) the Adopt-A-Base program, led by Wells Hall, which helps military personnel prepare their tax returns; (3) the Partnering for Pro Bono program, in which volunteer attorneys work with low-income taxpayer clinics; (4) the Calendar Call program, in which volunteer attorneys provide national coverage at Tax Court calendar calls; (5) the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, where practitioners help prepare tax returns for low-income taxpayers; (6) pro bono CLE webinars, where experienced low-income tax practitioners share their knowledge and experience; and (7) assistance to victims of natural disasters, where volunteers advise affected individuals regarding the tax implications of their losses.

These programs were recently highlighted at the Welcome Reception at the May meeting of the Tax Section in Washington, DC.  Under the energetic leadership of Bahar Schippel, Vice Chair for Pro Bono and Outreach, the Tax Section endeavors to help low-income individuals understand and comply with their tax obligations, as well as to resolve their tax difficulties.  The Tax Section provides opportunities for attorneys interested in pro bono work by encouraging them to participate in these programs as well as pro bono programs in their communities.

In addition, through the Tax Assistance Public Service (TAPS) fund, members of the Tax Section support the Christine Brunswick Public Service Fellowship Program, which enables new tax lawyers to spend two years providing services to low-income taxpayers. 

I express my gratitude and respect for those members who contribute their time or resources to pro bono efforts and encourage all members to contribute in some manner.  Interested persons can volunteer by contacting Bahar Schippel (bschippel@swlaw.com), or Meg Newman, the Tax Section’s General Counsel (megan.newman@americanbar.org).

Continuing Legal Education

One of the greatest strengths of the Tax Section is its continuing education offerings provided in many forms, including at the three annual meetings, other conferences, and webinars.  The three annual meetings are an excellent forum for Tax Section committees to present insightful panels about the tax law, especially now after the enactment of the 2017 Tax Act.  Under the leadership of Fred Murray, Vice Chair for Continuing Legal Education, the Tax Section is also hosting numerous timely and informative webinars. 

The Tax Section’s programs will be a timely and informative source of education about the forthcoming regulatory and other guidance interpreting the 2017 Tax Act.  I am sure you will want to attend our Fall Tax Meeting with the Real Property, Trust and Estate Law (RPTE) Section in Atlanta, GA, on October 4-6, 2018, at which you will hear from fellow practitioners and government officials about the latest developments.

Government Relations

The Treasury Department actively seeks comments on issues requiring regulatory and other published guidance.  Enactment of the 2017 Tax Act provides a special opportunity for the Tax Section to assist in the rulemaking process by submitting comment letters on various issues in the domestic and international tax areas.  The Tax Section will also communicate with government officials through periodic meetings with Treasury’s Office of Tax Policy, the IRS, and Hill staff.  Under the leadership of incoming Vice Chair for Government Relations Eric Sloan, Tax Section committees will be preparing comment letters that will assist the Treasury Department in identifying and addressing the numerous issues arising from the 2017 legislation. 

Diversity and Inclusion

The Tax Section is committed to diversity and inclusion.  At the 2015 May meeting of the Tax Section, Tax Section Officers and Council approved a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Plan, which was prepared by a task force chaired by our next Chair-Elect, Tom Callahan.  As stated in the D&I Plan, the plan seeks to encourage full and equal participation in the Tax Section by lawyers and law students with diverse backgrounds and perspectives, including individuals of color, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, Native Americans, individuals of diverse national or religious backgrounds, individuals of diverse ethnic or cultural heritages, individuals with disabilities, military veterans, and individuals of diverse ages and professional experiences.

Last year, Chair Karen Hawkins initiated a project, led by me, to update the D&I Plan.  As a result of this review, changes were proposed and approved by Section Officers and Council at the 2018 May meeting of the Tax Section.  As additional best practices are identified and lessons are learned, the Tax Section will continue to evaluate the D&I Plan to ensure its effectiveness.  The updated D&I Plan can be found on the Tax Section website.

As the Tax Section continues to implement actions in its D&I Plan, we must also be mindful of other negative practices, attitudes, and behaviors that are contrary to the welcoming environment we strive to achieve.  The Tax Section embraces ABA policy that verbal, sexual, or physical harassment of any kind that disrupts another person’s duties or job performance or that creates an intimidating, offensive, abusive or hostile work environment is unacceptable.

Leadership Team

The Tax Section has an excellent leadership team for 2018-2019.  Tom Callahan, who has devoted many years to the Tax Section, is the Chair-Elect.  Bahar Schippel returns for another year as Vice Chair for Pro Bono and Outreach, and Fred Murray returns for another year as Vice Chair for Continuing Legal Education. 

I look forward to working with Larry Campagna as the new Vice Chair for Administration, Megan Brackney as the new Vice Chair for Committee Operations, Eric Sloan as the new Vice Chair for Government Relations, and Keith Fogg as the new Vice Chair for Publications.

I want to express my special thanks to the outgoing Vice Chairs.  Julie Divola, outgoing Vice Chair for Publications, negotiated an agreement whereby Northwestern University has succeeded Georgetown University as the collaborating partner in the publication of The Tax Lawyer.  Julie was ably assisted by Anne Dunn of the Tax Section staff.  Under the leadership of Scott Michel, outgoing Vice Chair for Committee Operations, the Tax Section has improved various aspects of committee governance.  Under Julian Kim, outgoing Vice Chair for Government Relations, the Tax Section has submitted numerous comment letters to the government and has held successful meetings with Treasury’s Office of Tax Policy and the IRS.

The Tax Section’s Council members for the 2018-2019 year include Gregg Barton, Adam Cohen, Michael Desmond, Sheri Dillon, Catherine Engell, Diana Erbsen, Mary Foster, George Hani, Anthony Infanti, Ronald Levitt, Peter Lowy, Chris Rizek, Julie Sassenrath, David Wheat and Melissa Wiley.  Katherine David will continue as Secretary and Robb Longman as Assistant Secretary.  I look forward to the active engagement of Council members in Tax Section matters and with their assigned committees.  I also wish to acknowledge the efforts of all the committees and their officers, who are responsible for so much of the work for which the Tax Section is recognized.  

In addition, I want to extend special thanks to Bill Caudill, former Chair of the Tax Section, as well as Chuck Rettig (outgoing Vice Chair for Administration), Scott Michel, and Ty Hansen.    During his chairmanship, Bill formed a working group with these individuals to take immediate and effective steps to address the worsening financial situation of the Tax Section.  Karen Hawkins has continued the focus on improving the Tax Section’s financial status and I am committed to this task as well.  It is essential for us to control expenses and seek additional ways to increase revenue.  We will do our utmost to provide the best services to our members, the tax community and the public in a fiscally prudent manner.

Finally, I would like to recognize the support and counsel of Dick Lipton and Armando Gomez in their role as Section Delegates to the ABA House of Delegates.  They are the eyes and ears of the Tax Section regarding the Section’s relationship with the larger ABA, which like the Tax Section is changing as circumstances require.

Staff Team

The Tax Section is supported by a talented staff.  The success of Tax Section operations, especially the annual meetings, is largely because of the efforts of the Tax Section staff.  We are grateful for the work of John Thorner (Executive Director), Ty Hansen (Associate Director), Haydee Moore (Director of Meetings), Chris Tank (Director of CLE), Meg Newman (General Counsel), and Arnyae Neal (Director of Membership and Marketing).

I want to express my particular thanks to Anne Dunn (Director of Publishing), who has done such a tremendous job regarding all the Tax Section’s publications for many years.  Anne is retiring from the Tax Section.  We will greatly miss her professionalism, knowledge, and experience.  We wish her all the best in her future endeavors.

Closing Thoughts

Like all incoming Chairs of the Tax Section, I am daunted to follow so many dedicated and effective previous Chairs.  My task is particularly difficult because I follow Karen Hawkins, who has given so much to the Tax Section and the tax system for so many years.  As I said at the Plenary Luncheon at the May Meeting, Karen has displayed her commitment in many ways, including her commitment to pro bono, her commitment to diversity and inclusion, her commitment to serving small firms and solo practitioners, and her commitment to the tax system, particularly in her government service as head of the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility and in her many roles for the Tax Section.

I am honored to be Chair-Elect of the Tax Section and I look forward to the opportunities and challenges of the role.  I know we will work together to maintain the highest level of service to our members, the tax community and the public.