San Diego Recap
The Section’s Midyear Meeting in San Diego was a resounding success: nearly 1,200 attendees (a record for recent times) were able to get the full benefit of hearing all of our scheduled government speakers when Congress resolved their budget disputes just hours after sequestration had commenced. The committees once again provided timely and top-notch continuing education presentations and materials on myriad aspects of the new tax law. All sessions eligible for continuing education credit were recorded and may be ordered through our outside digital conference provider, DCP.
The goal is always to provide a seamless meeting experience for all attendees, but the staff went above and beyond for this meeting in managing expectations in the face of a potential government shutdown, in making a last-minute event venue adjustment, as well as in handling a significant disruption caused by a hotel workers’ protest. Kudos to the entire staff.
The Section Luncheon and Plenary Session featured Professor Edward Kleinbard from the University of Southern California, Gould School of Law. His presentation, entitled “What’s a Government Good For? Fiscal Policy in an Age of Inequality,” was timely and thought-provoking, and was delivered with a degree of humor that kept the audience enthralled. I invite you to view Professor Kleinbard’s presentation here.
Also during the plenary, we awarded two outstanding contributors with the Section’s Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award. Kathryn Sedo of Minnesota spent 37 years as a professor and instructor in the Tax Clinic (which she founded in 1981) at the University of Minnesota. With her clinic “hat” on, Kathryn was responsible for a number of precedent-setting tax cases. She has an A.B. in economics and a J.D. from the University of Michigan. Kathryn is now retired and “dabbling” in private tax preparation and practice. Dale Kensinger, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, spent 27 years in various positions with IRS Chief Counsel’s office before becoming Director of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School’s Federal Tax Clinic. Not content to enjoy retirement, since 2013 Dale has volunteered at the Harvard Tax Clinic at the rate of 500 hours a year. Congratulations to both Kathryn and Dale for their well-deserved recognition! You can read more about both of them in the Pro Bono Matters section inside this issue of ABA Tax Times.
In its 17th year and enjoying immense success, the Annual Law Student Tax Challenge finals, organized by our Young Lawyers Forum, were also held during the Midyear Meeting. Congratulations to the winning teams and all who participated. The competition winners and video clips from the oral rounds are available in the Young Lawyers Corner section of this issue of ABA Tax Times.
As a continuing added benefit, registered attendees at the San Diego meeting can now access the complete set of meeting materials with one click to a zip file that is distributed by e-mail after the meeting. If you were unable to attend, I encourage you to review the programming schedule to see what you missed that might be of interest. In addition, whether you attended or not, all Section members have complimentary access to all the written materials from San Diego (as well as previous Section Meetings) on the website: (1) in a static database called TaxIQ, which is organized by meeting and committee name, and (2) in an easily searchable database on Westlaw made available as a member benefit from the Section’s publishing sponsor, Thomson Reuters. Both options can be accessed from the TaxIQ page. Audio recordings of individual sessions are available through our outside digital conference partner, DCP, at http://www.dcprovidersonline.com/abatx/.
Pro Bono Update and Call for Action
As I have been reporting, Bahar Schippel, Vice-Chair (Pro Bono & Outreach), is progressing with identifying partners with whom the Tax Section might collaborate in providing pro bono legal assistance to our growing elderly population. I announced at the San Diego meeting that the Section will be partnering with the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) on their outreach efforts in Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City concentrating on elderly taxpayers. The Taxpayer Advocate has identified seniors as a significant vulnerable population on which she wishes to have TAS focus. Over the next few months, Bahar will coordinate our volunteers (a number of whom have already stepped forward) to join with TAS personnel during these targeted problem-solving days. If you reside or work in the three targeted cities, be aware this opportunity is available and consider stepping up (and/or encouraging others in your firm to step up).
In addition to the above, we are just wrapping up another successful season of Adopt-a-Base. I would like to thank all our volunteers, especially Wells Hall, for heading up these efforts.
Existing Section programs can use more volunteers. For example, the Partnering for Pro Bono Program pairs tax attorneys from the private bar with Low-Income Tax Clinics throughout the country to accept referrals for pro bono assistance, guidance on tax issues, or mentorship.
If you have been thinking about taking on a pro bono case but don’t know where to start, the Section regularly provides CLE opportunities – many of them free or at significantly reduced cost – to help tax practitioners advance their skills in representing low-income clients. As a recent example, on March 7, veteran practitioners from the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic community and Section members with experience taking pro bono matters guided participants through a collections case for a low-income client during a free 90-minute webinar. A link to the recording of the program is available on the website for members who were unable to participate in the live program on March 7. I strongly encourage anyone interested in getting involved in the elderly assistance program or the Partnering for Pro Bono program, or in taking pro bono cases in general, to listen to the archived program.
Interested persons can volunteer for any of the opportunities described above by contacting Bahar Schippel at email@example.com, or Meg Newman, the Section’s new Chief Counsel, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As has been reported on multiple occasions, the Section finalized its editorial services agreement with Northwestern University, Pritzker School of Law for future publication of The Tax Lawyer. The transition work has begun in earnest, and the first issue to reflect the transition from our current Georgetown J.D. student editors to our incoming Pritzker School LL.M. student editors will be the Fall 2018 issue.
The Publications Committee and staff have been very active during the latter part of 2017 producing the 30th Edition of the Sales and Use Tax Deskbook and the 22nd Edition of the Property Tax Deskbook. In addition, we are pleased to announce that the 7th Edition of Effectively Representing your Client Before the IRS has been completed and is in the process of being distributed (free of charge for the first set) to all LITCs in the country. The publication is also available for purchase and is a highly recommended reference for lawyers involved with tax controversy representation at any level.
The Section also is offering yet another member benefit in the form of a digital-only version of a “Guide to Multijurisdictional Admission to Practice Requirements for State and Local Tax Lawyers.” This new guide is a must-read for those practicing and/or representing clients in more than one licensing jurisdiction.
New Tax Act – We Still Have Your Back
In San Diego, as the voice of our nation’s tax lawyers, the Tax Section delivered up-to-the-minute CLE programming on relevant topics in the 2017 Tax Act. As we all know, there are gaps and ambiguities in much of the statutory language which need clarification/guidance. The Section will be addressing this need in three key ways. First, we will continue to offer webinars on key topics affected by the new law. A schedule of upcoming webinars, all being carefully orchestrated by Fred Murray, Vice-Chair (CLE), can be accessed here. Second, I have established two task forces to address technical corrections and guidance needs across multiple committees in two major areas affected by the new law: International, to be led by Carol Tello (Council Director), and Passthrough Entities, to be co-led by Ron Levitt (Council Director) and Jeanne Sullivan. The core membership in each group has been identified from the relevant committees, and each is working at top speed to get submissions drafted in a timely manner. Several of the other committees impacted by the Tax Act have also formed subcommittees to focus on responding to the Act, and all committees have been asked to generate lists of pressing issues from the Tax Act relevant to their area of tax law. Third, Julian Kim, Vice-Chair (Government Relations), will be organizing a series of courtesy calls with the relevant tax-writing committees where our leadership can discuss some of the more pressing areas of the new law in need of technical correction. We are hoping to have something to report on this before the May Meeting.
As noted above, the Section has a flurry of webinar offerings on its calendar this spring. Law Student members have been able to access these webinars at no cost. I am exercising my discretion to extend access to the Section’s future webinars, at no additional cost, to all full-time teaching tax faculty affiliated with any ABA accredited law school and who are also members of the Tax Section. If a full-time tax faculty member is not a Section member, they may pay for the first webinar at the going rate and be automatically enrolled as a Section member for the balance of the year, thereby accessing the balance of the webinar offerings (as well as prior webinars) at no additional cost. I hope tax faculty around the country will view this as a worthwhile added benefit for their Section membership.
New ABA CLE Task Force
At its Midyear Meeting in Vancouver, the ABA Board of Governors adopted a resolution, proposed by President Hilarie Bass, to create an organization-wide Task Force for coordinating any proposed CLE programming related to the new Tax Law enacted in December and its implications for tax practitioners and the broader ABA membership. The resolution charged the Tax Section with oversight for the Task Force activities. I have appointed Eric Green (email@example.com), a member of the Tax Section CLE Committee, as Task Force Chair.
We have now begun the process of forming the Task Force by reaching out to the various ABA Sections, Divisions, and Forums to invite them to appoint a representative, keeping in mind the ABA’s commitment to diversity. It is understood that not all entities will have enough connection to tax to be interested, but we hope that the entities with interest will step forward to help ensure a successful collaboration among us all with significant direct benefit to many ABA members.
Nominations for 2018–2019 Council
Under the leadership of past Section Chair, George Howell, the Nominating Committee met in San Diego and proposed, at the plenary session, a slate of officers and Council Directors for the fiscal year commencing mid-August 2018. The quirk in timing is associated with the larger ABA Annual Meeting where all other leadership positions are elected. Since the Section does not attend the Annual Meeting, our election occurs telephonically in August to correspond with the ABA Annual.
Under Section Bylaws, yours truly will become “immediate past chair” (quite a coveted position, I hear), and Eric Solomon, currently chair-elect, will step into the chairship. Please join me in congratulating all of the nominees – the full roster of which is available inside this issue of ABA Tax Times.
Distinguished Service Award
I am delighted to report that the Distinguished Service Award Committee met in San Diego and selected Susan Serota from New York City to be the recipient of this year’s Distinguished Service Award (DSA). The DSA was established in 1995 to underscore the Section’s respect for, and support of, professionalism within the tax bar. The Distinguished Service Award Committee annually selects one Section member to receive the Distinguished Service Award for outstanding service to the profession. Susan, who was only the second woman to chair the Section in its 75 + year history, will be the third woman to be recognized with the award since its inception. I am especially pleased to be presiding over the award ceremony at the Plenary session in May since it will mark ten years between Susan’s and my terms as Section Chair. During that period, she has served as a role model and inspiration for me and many others in the tax profession.
International Conference on Taxpayer Rights
The Tax Section is pleased to be a “Participating Sponsor” of the 3rd International Conference on Taxpayer Rights, convened by Nina Olsen in her capacity as Taxpayer Advocate. The conference will be held May 3-4, 2018 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Our sponsorship enables Section members to take advantage of reduced registration rates (use code: EARLY-TPR2018). Registration and other conference materials are available through the conference website www.taxpayerrightsconference.com. There are videos and materials from the last conference up on that website as well.
While the early registration period is now closed, Tax Section members can still receive the early registration rate of €215 by using the code provided above. It is also recommended that if you plan to attend, you book your hotel room early since May is during Amsterdam’s busy season and rooms fill up quickly.
Future Meetings Format
As many of you know, the Section locks in its meeting dates and hotel contracts about five years in advance. As a result, nothing happens overnight. However, as a result of feedback from many of you, one significant change finally has been made which will be effective commencing in 2020: the May Meeting will, with one exception, no longer meet in conflict with Mother’s Day! In order to effect this change, we have also changed hotels to the Marriott Marquis Washington, D.C. which will also give us expanded meeting room space and size (something else many of you have commented on over the years). I am excited about the prospects for our future meetings in D.C. as a result.
In addition to the above change, I have asked Fred Murray, Vice-Chair (CLE), to explore options for future meetings—both in timing and format. Feedback continues to grow regarding overlapping/conflicting committee meeting schedules over the compressed day and a half. In addition, our member demographic is changing to a degree that weekend meetings are not as attractive as they used to be. Fred will be looking at these and other aspects of our meeting format with the goal of presenting a draft proposal to Council in May. In the interim, he will be soliciting opinions/comments from interested persons. If you wish to express your thoughts/opinions please email them to Fred at Counselor@att.net.
Next Up – Washington, D.C.
I hope you are already marking your calendar to attend the entire meeting in Washington D.C. on May 10-12 at the Grand Hyatt. This is where our working relationship with government officials comes to the forefront. Committees will be planning specific panels intended to highlight the new tax law and any available guidance that has been issued by that time. In addition to what I hope will be another dynamic plenary keynote speaker, as noted above we will present the 2018 Distinguished Service Award to Susan Serota for her many contributions to the Section and the profession. On the opposite end of the career spectrum, we will also use the occasion to recognize the 2018-19 class of Nolan Fellows (named for the late Jack Nolan, the first recipient of the DSA, to recognize a select group of the Section’s up-and-coming young tax lawyers), as well as announce the 2018-2020 Christine Brunswick Public Service Fellows.
I look forward to welcoming you to the May Meeting. ■