June 14, 2019 From the Chair

Your Tax Section Supporting the Profession

By Eric Solomon, Washington, DC

May Tax Meeting

The Tax Section held its May Tax Meeting in Washington, DC, on May 9-11. Fortunately, unlike the January meeting in New Orleans during the government shutdown, IRS and Treasury representatives were able to attend the May meeting and shared their perspectives on recent developments. Similar to recent meetings, various panels addressed guidance relating to the 2017 Tax Act, such as additional proposed regulations regarding qualified opportunity funds and international tax guidance.

The featured speaker at the plenary session on Saturday, May 11, was IRS Commissioner Charles P. Rettig. Chuck has served in various roles in the Tax Section, including most recently Vice Chair for Administration. He was previously a Council Director, Chair of the Civil and Criminal Tax Penalties Committee, and for a number of years Co-Chair of the Tax Section’s annual Criminal Tax Fraud Conference. In his plenary session speech before an audience of approximately 300 people, he stressed his efforts to rebuild the morale and staffing at the IRS. He announced that the IRS is now hiring to rebuild its ranks after years of attrition.

Chuck and Chief Counsel Michael J. Desmond also attended the First Time Attendee, Young Lawyer & Law Student Reception, where they urged young tax professionals to join the Tax Section to take advantage of the opportunities for professional development and to build lifelong personal relationships. In addition, Chuck spoke at the Tax Bridge to Practice session, where he talked about his life and career in tax law. At the Administrative Practice and Court Procedure & Practice luncheon, Chuck received the Jules Ritholz Memorial Merit Award, which is given in recognition of outstanding dedication, achievement, and integrity in the field of civil and criminal tax controversies.

In addition to his remarks at the First Time Attendee, Young Lawyer & Law Student Reception, Chief Counsel Desmond was the featured speaker at the Administrative Practice and Court Procedure & Practice luncheon. Michael previously served in several roles in the Tax Section, including as a Council Director, Chair of the Standards of Tax Practice Committee, and Chair of the Tax Shelters Committee.

At the Welcome and Celebrating Pro Bono Reception on May 9, we recognized Nina Olson, who is retiring as the National Taxpayer Advocate on July 31. She has served in that role since March 2001 and has been a longstanding supporter of the Tax Section. This year she received the Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award for her multi-decade commitment to pro bono programs, including low-income taxpayer clinics (LITCs). Nina had previously received the Tax Section’s Distinguished Service Award in 2017. We applaud Nina for her contribution to the tax system, and we extend our congratulations on her retirement from the IRS. Nonetheless, we do not expect Nina to retire completely. We anticipate that she will move on to new ventures dedicated to improving the tax system.

As always, the Tax Section staff did an outstanding job organizing the meeting. Special thanks to meeting planners Haydee Moore, Sarah Deschauer, Michelle Chuang, and Genevieve Lynn for their great work. Also, thanks to Director John Thorner and all the rest of the Tax Section staff for everything they do to make Tax Section meetings a success.

This meeting was the last meeting at the Grand Hyatt. Next year’s May Tax Meeting will be held in roomier space at the Marriott Marquis Washington, DC.

As discussed in previous columns, registered attendees at Tax Section meetings can access the complete set of meeting materials by clicking on a zip file distributed by e-mail after the meeting. In addition, whether or not you attended the May Tax Meeting, all Tax Section members have complimentary access to all the written materials from past meetings in TaxIQ, the Section’s meeting archive at ambar.org/taxiq. Audio recordings of individual sessions are available through DCP, our outside digital conference partner, at http://www.dcprovidersonline.com/.

Distinguished Service Award

At the plenary session of the May Tax Meeting, Emily A. Parker of Thompson & Knight in Dallas received the Distinguished Service Award. This annual award was first given in 1995 to recognize outstanding service to the tax profession. The award honors individuals with distinguished careers in tax law who have provided an aspirational standard for all tax professionals to emulate.

As I said in remarks at her award presentation, I met Emily in the early 2000s when she was Deputy Chief Counsel and then Acting Chief Counsel at the IRS. I admire Emily for her intelligence, legal skills, common sense, and no-nonsense direct approach in dealing with people and solving problems.

Emily was the first woman attorney at Thompson & Knight. She was promoted to partner and rose through various leadership positions at the firm and ultimately became the firm’s managing partner. She has had a highly successful career as a tax litigator and is an active member of the Tax Section, having served in numerous roles over the years, including as a Council Director, Vice Chair of Professional Services, Vice Chair of Government Relations, Vice Chair of the Appointments to the Tax Court Committee, and Chair of the Natural Resources Committee. Emily has held leadership positions in the Dallas Bar Association and the State Bar of Texas, and serves her Dallas–Fort Worth community, working especially with organizations advocating on children’s issues. She is a founding member of the Women’s Foundation of Dallas and serves her law school alma mater, Southern Methodist University, as a member of the Executive Committee of the Dedman School of Law. For her outstanding legal career, for her pioneering efforts on behalf of women, for her service to our government, for her contributions to the Tax Section and other professional organizations, and for her service to her community, Emily has earned the Tax Section’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award.

Emily is the third woman in a row to win this award, but only the fifth woman since the award’s inception. A biography of Emily is included in this issue of ABA Tax Times. Readers may view her remarks at the award presentation here. You can learn more about the Distinguished Service Award at www.americanbar.org/groups/taxation/awards/dsa/.

Christine A. Brunswick Public Service Fellowships

At the May Tax Meeting we announced the recipients of the Christine A. Brunswick Public Service Fellowships. Developed in 2008, this program seeks to address the growing need for tax legal assistance and to foster a greater interest in tax-focused public service through funding and other support to young lawyers engaged in tax work in underserved communities. The fellowships are named after Christine Brunswick, who was the Tax Section’s Executive Director for more than 20 years. Christine was a strong proponent of advancing public service efforts in tax law and fostering a fair and equitable tax system. You can learn more about the Christine A. Brunswick Public Service Fellowships at www.abatapsendowment.org/public-service-fellowship.html.

The recipients of the 2019-2021 Brunswick Fellowships are Evan Phoenix and Andre Robinson. Evan will work in Los Angeles with Bet Tzedek Legal Services to provide tax education, advocacy, and representation on behalf of current military service members, veterans, and ESL (English as a second language) taxpayers.  Andre will work with the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services in New Orleans to provide education and tax services to taxpayers returning to society after being incarcerated, as well as to micro-business and small-business owners.

Evan and Andre will join the 2018-2020 Brunswick Fellows, Omeed Firouzi and Anastassia Kolosova, who are continuing in the second year of their fellowships. Omeed is working in Philadelphia with Philadelphia Legal Assistance to provide education and legal assistance to workers misclassified as independent contractors and conduct advocacy and awareness efforts to decrease the practice among employers. Anastassia is working in Detroit with the Accounting Aid Society to conduct outreach and education activities for vulnerable populations in Detroit and expand the organization’s ability to provide legal representation to low-income taxpayers.

John S. Nolan Fellowships

At the May Tax Meeting we also announced the 2019–2020 class of recipients of the John S. Nolan Fellowships. These fellowships are awarded to a select group of talented young lawyers who are actively involved in the Tax Section and have shown leadership qualities. The fellowships are named after John S. Nolan, a distinguished member of the tax bar, a substantial contributor to the activities of the Tax Section, and the first recipient of the Distinguished Service Award. You can learn more about these fellowships at www.americanbar.org/groups/taxation/awards/nolans/.

The 2019–2020 Nolan Fellows are:

  • Arielle Borsos of Caplin & Drysdale in Washington, DC
  • Phillip Colasanto of Agostino & Associates in Hackensack, NJ
  • Sarah Haradon of Holland & Hart in Denver, CO
  • Travis Thompson of Sideman & Bancroft in San Francisco, CA
  • Shamik Trivedi of Grant Thornton in Washington, DC
  •  Lany Villalobos of Dechert in Philadelphia, PA

Association New Membership Model

As I have discussed in previous columns, the American Bar Association has adopted a new membership model to increase ABA membership. The new model includes a revised Association dues structure, which will reduce the number of categories of Association dues and will lower Association dues for younger practitioners and solo/small firm practitioners. The new dues structure will be effective for the fiscal year starting in September 2019. Dues to join the Tax Section, which are in addition to Association dues, will remain at $75 per year for 2019–2020. As a result of the Tax Section’s separate Memorandum of Agreement with the Association, which provides the Tax Section a certain measure of financial independence from the Association, we do not anticipate that the Tax Section will be negatively affected to any significant degree by any cost cutting the Association might need to undertake as a result of the anticipated short-term decrease in Association revenues.

Increasing the value of ABA membership is a critical element of the new membership model. Accordingly, the ABA is creating a large, new library of free online content for ABA members. The Tax Section is contributing to this library, which will have three parts: (1) material available to the public, such as contact information and marketing material; (2) content available to all ABA members, such as basic substantive material; and (3) content available only to a Section’s own members. ABA members who are not Tax Section members will have a limited number of opportunities per month to access content in the third category (material that is generally available only to Tax Section members). This online library is expected to be accessible at the time the new dues structure is initiated.

ABA Website Issues

As I discussed in my previous column, in October 2018 the ABA launched a new website. The new website has advantages compared to the previous website, but unfortunately also has some problems, such as functionality relating to login, event registration, and product purchases. The Association is continuing to work with its outside contractor to address these issues. While the Association is working to resolve the issues, the Tax Section has engaged its own outside contractor to handle meeting registration.

If you experience any problems with the ABA website, please reach out directly to Tax Section staff at (202) 662-8670 or tax@americanbar.org. We continue to work to ensure our members are appropriately served.

Pro Bono and Public Service

The Tax Section continues to excel at mobilizing and preparing members to address unmet tax-related needs of the underserved population throughout the country.

With respect to education and training, the Tax Section hosted a webinar in its ongoing free CLE series for private attorneys interested in representing low-income taxpayers on a pro bono basis. The webinar took place on March 7 and focused on advanced topics related to collections matters (it was the fourth in the series on collection work).  The next free CLE webinar in the series will be held on June 27 from 1:00-2:30 pm EDT and will focus on liens and levies. In addition, the Tax Section hosted a webinar regarding the impact of the government shutdown on IRS services.

The Pro Bono and Tax Clinics Committee put on an excellent CLE program at our May Tax Meeting, featuring a panel regarding tax implications for caregivers, a panel including National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson on due process rights of taxpayers, and a panel about a new Tax Section initiative regarding “Settlement Days” (more on this subject below). In addition, as it does for each of the three annual meetings, the Tax Section provided scholarships to four low-income taxpayer clinicians to help defray expenses to attend the May Tax Meeting.

The Tax Section continues to create strategic partnerships nationally to connect members to local pro bono opportunities in tax law. We are working on launching a program that will add support to our existing Calendar Call program by hosting Settlement Days prior to a scheduled calendar call in a given city. The Tax Section will provide training and best practice guides to pro bono attorneys and low-income taxpayer clinicians interested in meeting with unrepresented taxpayers to discuss settlement potential with the IRS attorneys assigned to their cases. This process will allow the pro bono attorneys more time to understand the legal issues in the case and provide guidance to taxpayers in a setting where the IRS is able to negotiate a settlement agreement and avoid taking the case to Tax Court. We will notify interested Tax Section members of the opportunity to participate in Settlement Days in their localities. We are excited to see this program develop over this coming summer and fall.

With respect to elevating the profile of pro bono work nationally, the Tax Section hosted its second annual Welcome and Celebrating Pro Bono Reception to kick off the May Tax Meeting. The event featured quotations from Tax Section leaders reflecting the importance of pro bono service on posters and in a program distributed to attendees. I was pleased to have the opportunity to honor in person our 2019 Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award winner, Nina Olson, who was unable to attend the Midyear Tax Meeting, where we announced her as the winner of the award. Attendees at the Pro Bono Reception had the opportunity to learn more about our pro bono programs and donate to the TAPS endowment, which funds the Christine A. Brunswick Public Service Fellowships. We look forward to continuing this tradition of annually celebrating the efforts and resources that Tax Section members devote to pro bono service.

At the May Tax Meeting, we also celebrated the completion of the first year of the Section’s Pro Bono Pledge Program. We recognized the inaugural group of participants at the Pro Bono Reception and will now be kicking off the second year. The goal of the program is to encourage Tax Section members to perform pro bono work or make a donation to the TAPS fund. The simple form can be completed online. I hope you will join me in making a Pro Bono Pledge to be fulfilled between now and the next May Tax Meeting.

If you have any questions about the Tax Section’s pro bono activities, please reach out to Bahar Schippel (bschippel@swlaw.com), Vice Chair for Pro Bono and Outreach, or Meg Newman, the Tax Section counsel responsible for pro bono activities (megan.newman@americanbar.org).

Comment Letters

As a result of the enactment of the 2017 Tax Act, the Treasury Department and IRS continue to draft and issue substantial amounts of interpretive guidance. The Tax Section continues to prepare and submit numerous comment letters, including recently on proposed regulations regarding the definition of interest under section 163(j), the treatment of corporate taxpayers and consolidated groups under section 163(j), the impact of section 163(j) on real estate, the impact of section 163(j) on passthrough entities and their owners, foreign tax credits, section 168(k) expensing for consolidated groups, and the base erosion and anti-abuse tax (BEAT). The Tax Section has also submitted a comment letter on final regulations regarding the section 199A deduction for owners of pass-through entities and sole proprietorships, as well as comment letters about the interaction of section 108 and section 163(j), and issues arising under new section 1061 relating to carried interest.

The Treasury Department and IRS highly value Tax Section comments and read them carefully.   Please volunteer to join a comments project. For more information, contact the leadership of the relevant committee.

Publications

ABA Tax Times was launched as an electronic news publication to allow the Tax Section to use innovative methods to keep members more timely informed about our profession. We are, therefore, pleased to launch a pilot podcast series of interviews with tax professionals about their careers. The People in Tax podcast interviews are conducted by James Creech and will be distributed online in a number of ways, including through Tax Times, social media, and podcast feed. Tax Times will continue to publish its series of People in Tax text-based interviews. You will find a link to the first podcast interviews in this issue.

If you have any questions about the Tax Section’s publications, please reach out to Keith Fogg (kfogg@law.harvard.edu), Vice-Chair for Publications, or Todd Reitzel, the Tax Section’s Director of Publishing (todd.reitzel@americanbar.org).

Tax Section Membership Recruitment

As I have discussed in previous columns, the future of the Tax Section depends on our membership. We need to adapt to provide benefits attractive to the changing needs of our members. We need to increase the number of practitioners in all membership categories, especially younger practitioners who hopefully will become Tax Section members for many years. Accordingly, we will soon set in motion an action plan for member recruitment to reach out more effectively to potential members and to retain current members. The action plan will focus particularly on attracting young and diverse professionals. The action plan will emphasize the many benefits of joining and staying in the Tax Section, including the educational programs and publications, the ability to interact with government officials through comment letters and meetings, the opportunity to participate in pro bono activities, and the creation of personal relationships with fellow members that last throughout one’s career.

International/State and Local Tax Meetings

The Tax Section was one of the organizers of the 19th Annual U.S. and Europe Tax Practice Trends Conference, April 3-5, in Paris. Other organizers included the Taxes Committee of the International Bar Association and the USA Branch of the International Fiscal Association. The conference featured a keynote speech by Grace Perez-Navarro, Deputy Director of the Centre for Tax Policy and Administration of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which was one of the co-sponsors of the event. Grace described the global tax challenges for the 21st century, including the current debate about taxation of the digital economy. Market countries are seeking to tax inbound digital commerce. The key questions are whether there is sufficient nexus to the market jurisdiction and, if there is sufficient nexus, how much profit should be allocated to the market jurisdiction.  Grace described the urgency of the debate and future action steps by the OECD and its Inclusive Framework of countries. The conference also featured numerous panels on current international tax issues, with European and American panelists presenting their perspectives.

The Tax Section will host the 12th Annual U.S. and Latin America Tax Practice Trends Conference on June 12-14 in Miami. This conference will focus on practical planning strategies for multinational corporations and their advisors and provide insight into how government tax officials view the evolving international tax landscape.

Together with the Institute for Professionals in Taxation, the Tax Section hosted the annual ABA/IPT Advanced Tax Seminars in New Orleans on March 11-15, covering state and local income, sales/use, and property taxes. These seminars featured a distinguished multidisciplinary faculty who provided a practical examination of current state and local tax issues. The attendance at all three segments was outstanding, with record attendance at both the income and the sales/use tax segments. Next year’s program will be held March 16-20, 2020 in New Orleans.

Fall Tax Meeting in San Francisco

The Fall Tax Meeting will be held October 3-5, 2019, at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco. This meeting will present an excellent opportunity to hear about the latest developments from government officials and experts in private practice.

Our plenary speaker at the Saturday lunch will be Martin A. Sullivan, Chief Economist and Contributing Editor for Tax Analysts. You will not want to miss his insights focusing on the intersection of economic and tax policy.

Can you believe that we are already talking about the fall? It will be here before you know it. We look forward to seeing you in San Francisco in October.


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