May Meeting Recap
The Section enjoyed another successful meeting in Washington, D.C. Nearly 2,000 were in attendance at the Grand Hyatt to hear from the experts about recent tax legislation, including predictions for future guidance. We have just one more year at the Grand Hyatt—our longtime venue for the May Meeting—before the Section moves to the Marriott Marquis Washington, D.C., which will give us expanded meeting room space to accommodate our many programs and events.
On Thursday before the sessions began, the Section Council met to wrap up, or move to the next level, numerous projects that commenced during my term as Chair. My summary of those items appears throughout. Also on Thursday afternoon, the tenth Tax Bridge to Practice, sponsored by the Young Lawyers’ Forum and Diversity Committee, and the annual Low-Income Taxpayer Representation Workshop for new and pro bono practitioners, sponsored by the Pro Bono & Tax Clinics Committee, ran concurrently, both with enthusiastic participants. These two sessions provided a nice segue for the Welcome Reception with its “celebrate pro bono and public service” theme. Guests were greeted with a multi-media presentation covering the Section’s pro bono activities in every sector.
As expected, many committees focused their CLE panels on the myriad provisions in the 2017 Tax Act. Because the law is relatively new and because the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) will have greater involvement in significant tax regulations under the recent Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), there were more questions than answers from panelists. During the Friday and Saturday sessions, members expressed some frustration that government panelists were not in a position to comment on much of the law. I believe this is a natural result of the need to clarify how OMB and Treasury will implement the new MOA. Importantly, the thoughtful, articulate analysis and commentary from the private practice panelists more than compensated for any disappointment in the government’s perceived subdued demeanor. I heard rave reviews in every hallway.
Those who stayed to hear the Honorable David J. Kautter, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Tax Policy, speak at the Plenary Luncheon, heard the latest news: agreement has been reached as to which type of guidance will require OMB-Treasury collaboration; Treasury may, with some but not all guidance, issue a “pre-notice” to alert the public about forthcoming Notices of Proposed Regulation; the IRS expects to have all forms and instructions reflecting the tax law changes for 2019 completed well in advance of the filing season; and Mr. Kautter expects a significant volume of proposed regulations to be released for public comment before mid-August. Mr. Kautter’s presentation at the May Meeting is available here.
As a continuing added benefit, registered attendees at Section meetings 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 the May meeting, I encourage you to review the program 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 past meetings, including the May Meeting, 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/.
Diversity and Inclusion Policy Update
Diversity and inclusion are important principles for the Tax Section and they should be conscious considerations in all our activities. In 2001, the Section adopted a Diversity & Inclusion Plan, with concrete action steps, in furtherance of our commitment. The Plan was updated in 2015 and was just updated for a third time by a unanimous vote of Council at the Washington meeting. The updated policy is posted on our website for everyone to read, and I encourage you to do so.
A related subject at the forefront of everyone’s mind this year has been the continued reporting of incidents of sexual harassment at every level of society, which have become nearly a daily event. The Tax Section fully supports 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. I hope you will join me in making sure the Section is a safe and welcoming place for all who wish to participate.
Pro Bono Update and Call for Action
The Section’s commitment to pro bono is getting stronger every year and has two main prongs: providing assistance to those without financial resources to afford legal representation; and identifying and creating diverse opportunities for our membership to become engaged in pro bono activity. These are feel-good, do-good opportunities of which every Section member should avail him or herself. Please consider getting involved in one of the many programs coordinated through the Section and, please consider a contribution to the Section’s Tax Assistance Public Service (TAPS) endowment fund to help provide stable, long-term funding for the Section’s tax-related public service programs for underserved taxpayers.
Bahar Schippel, Vice Chair (Pro Bono & Outreach), reports that significant progress has been made in identifying partners with whom the Tax Section might collaborate in providing pro bono legal assistance to our growing elderly population. The Section has partnered with the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) on their outreach efforts concentrating on elderly taxpayers in Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City. The Taxpayer Advocate has identified seniors as a significant vulnerable population on which she wishes to have TAS focus. Going forward, Bahar will coordinate our volunteers (a number of whom have already stepped forward) to join with TAS personnel during these targeted problem-solving days which can hopefully expand to other cities.
Existing Section programs can always 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.
The process of reviewing performance of the Adopt-a-Base program for the 2018 filing season and thinking about how to improve the program in scope and efficiency for the 2019 filing season has already begun. Over the coming months, Section staff and leaders of the program will develop a recruitment and volunteer management plan. The goal is to use the new Higher Logic Pro Bono community and the improved ABA website capacities to create a centralized registration system.
In order to prepare members who have knowledge of tax law but no experience representing low-income taxpayers, the Section offered a free webinar eligible for CLE credit on March 7. Veteran practitioners from Low-Income Tax Clinics and members with experience handling pro bono matters walked 450 participants through how to approach a collections case for a low-income client. A link to the recording of the program is available on the website. As a result of this first success, and the growing demand for further training, we will be offering the second part in the Nuts & Bolts Collections webinar series on June 13. You may register here.
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 participate in these training webinars.
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 General Counsel, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prior to the passage of the 2017 Tax Act, the Section identified a demand for up-to-date CLE programming. Starting in November 2017, the Section presented eight CLE webinars on the new tax legislation to 2,195 registrants. A future webinar schedule can be accessed here.
I announced several months ago that I was 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 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. Many faculty have taken advantage of this opportunity to join the section. I hope tax faculty around the country will view this as a worthwhile added benefit for their Section membership.
New Tax Act – Redux
As we all know, there are gaps and ambiguities in much of the statutory language contained in the 2017 Tax Act which need clarification/guidance. The Section will continue to address this need in two key ways. First, we will continue to offer quality 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, led by Carol Tello (Council Director), and Passthrough Entities, co-led by Ron Levitt (Council Director) and Jeanne Sullivan. Further, several of the other committees impacted by the Tax Act have 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 areas of tax law. And, of course, the leadership of each interested committee will be monitoring the government’s activity for guidance which requires comments and on which program topics can be built.
In addition to monitoring for future guidance in connection with the new tax law, Section committees have produced eleven sets of quality comments on various proposed regulations or in response to requests for comments on process during this fiscal year to date. A list of those comments is provided here.
Distinguished Service Award
I was delighted to lead the celebration of Susan Serota as this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Service Award during the Plenary Luncheon in Washington. 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 was especially pleased to be presiding over the award ceremony since it marked ten years between Susan’s and my terms as Section Chair. During that period, she continued to serve as a role model and inspiration for me and many others in the tax profession. A biographical sketch about Susan is available in this issue of ABA Tax Times: readers may read her remarks or view her presentation here.
Recognition of Nolan Fellows and Brunswick Scholarship Recipients
In addition to presenting Susan Serota with the DSA, the Section recognized the current Nolan Fellows whose terms end August 31st and congratulated the new Fellows who will begin their terms on September 1st. The six new Nolan Fellows for the 2018-19 year are:
Giselle Alexander, Phoenix, AZ
James Creech, San Francisco, CA
Yongo Ding, Washington, DC
Frank DiPietro, Bloomington, IN
Jeffrey Dirmann, Hackensack, NJ
Anne Gordon, McLean, VA
The newly selected and continuing Brunswick Scholarship recipients were also announced and acknowledged. They are:
Catherine Martin, Community Legal Services, Philadelphia, PA
Omeed Firouzi, Philadelphia Legal Assistance, Philadelphia, PA
Anastassia Kolosova, Accounting Aid Society, Detroit, MI
Next Up – Atlanta, Georgia
I hope you are already marking your calendar to attend the entire Joint Fall CLE Meeting on October 4-6 at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta, Georgia, when we expect to have a significant number of proposed regulations to analyze, dissect, and critique, as well as top-notch continuing education panels from our committees. You won’t want to miss it. ■