The Distinguished Service Award is the highest honor awarded by the Section of Taxation of the American Bar Association. The award is reserved for individuals who have had a distinguished career in taxation and who have provided an aspirational standard for all tax lawyers to emulate. The 2019 recipient of this award is Emily A. Parker – a landmark tax litigator, passionate and reasoned leader, long-time community advocate, and dedicated and effective mentor.
Texas Roots and Early Career
Emily was born in East Texas and grew up in Henderson, Texas, a small town in the middle of the prolific East Texas Oil Field. She was the youngest, and surprisingly the most laid back and irresponsible, of four children. Her father owned a furniture store, and her mother raised their family. Whether or not solicited, her mother imparted words of wisdom that have had a lasting impact on Emily, including (1) “My mama didn’t raise a fool”; (2) “If you claim the credit, you have to take the blame”; and (3) “People don’t change when they get older, they just get more so.”
Emily excelled at Stephen F. Austin State University, where she began as a pre-med major, before deciding to pursue law. Graduating in three years, Emily left East Texas for Dallas and Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law. There, Emily began her first year as one of 10 women in a class of 150 students. Although number two in her class, Emily received no summer associate job offers and left Dallas for Los Angeles after her second year. She returned to Dallas and, upon graduation, became the first female attorney at Thompson & Knight in 1973.
Oil and Gas Tax Litigator
For two years, Emily tried a wide variety of cases ranging from dog bites to insurance subrogation. J. Waddy Bullion, a senior partner and nationally renowned oil and gas tax attorney, then told Emily that she was wasting her time and should come work for him as a tax lawyer.
Remembering her mother’s advice, she immediately said yes and learned quickly from the legend. Emily discovered she was well suited for tax law, a practice she considers “intellectually interesting” and “entirely logical in an alternate universe.” Emily enjoys engaging in verbal and written combat, so tax controversy became the perfect fit for her skill set. When firm clients resisted working with a woman lawyer, Waddy scolded them for ignorantly choosing not to work with the firm’s best tax lawyer. Clients now describe Emily as their “go-to outside counsel” for issues with no clear answer because her skill and judgment are without parallel.
With more than 20 reported cases and victories in landmark cases from oil and gas taxation to estate tax valuation, Emily built a national reputation and client base. See, e.g., Texaco Inc. v. Commissioner, 98 F.3d 825 (5th Cir. 1997) (transfer pricing case relating to crude oil subject to Saudi Arabian pricing edict); Gulf Oil Corporation v. Commissioner, 914 F.2d 396 (3d Cir. 1990) (case involving platform intangible drilling costs and the ownership of an economic interest in Iran); Sun Company Inc. v. Commissioner, 677 F.2d 294 (3rd Cir. 1982) (case involving deductibility of drilling costs of offshore exploratory oil wells); Estate of Bright v. United States, 658 F.2d 999 (5th Cir. 1981) (estate tax valuation case involving community interest in 55% of the stock of closely held corporations); and Texas Instruments Inc. v. United States, 551 F.2d 599 (5Cir. 1977) (case addressing the investment tax credit on tapes and films with recorded seismic data). A victory in Container Corp. v. Commissioner, 134 T.C. 122 (2010), aff’d, 107 A.F.T.R.2d 2011-1831 (5th Cir.), compelled Congress to change the law to avoid the resulting large potential loss of revenue.
Like Emily, many of her reported cases use colorful language. Some of her favorites: (1) “Although the Commissioner is entitled to change his mind, he ought to do more than stride to the dais and simply argue in the opposite direction.” Transco Exploration Co. v. Commissioner, 949 F.2d 837, 840 (5th Cir. 1992); and (2) a $3 million income tax avoided “by the stroke of the scrivener’s pen,” consistent with Emily’s argument to the Fifth Circuit that, while perhaps “an unintended ‘loop hole’ in the tax law,” it was “in the tax law” and should be left for Congress to change. Petroleum Corp. of Texas, Inc. v. United States, 939 F.2d 1165, 1170 (5th Cir. 1991). While Emily does not win every case, she is always an aggressive advocate, as the Fifth Circuit recognized when describing one of her briefs as “legal spun sugar.” Burke v. Miller, 639 F.2d 306, 306 (5th Cir. 1981).
A Leader in the Law
Emily became Thompson & Knight’s first female partner in 1979. During the next 40 years, Emily served as the firm’s first woman Practice Group Leader, Hiring Partner, member of the Management Committee, and Managing Partner.
In addition to achieving success in private practice at Thompson & Knight, Emily served as Deputy Chief Counsel of the Internal Revenue Service—the nation’s top job for a tax controversy attorney—from 2002 through 2004. This was a particularly challenging timeframe shortly after the events of September 11, 2001, when there was immense pressure to deal with abusive tax shelters and tax shelter promoters. Emily became “the voice of reason,” dealing with strong personalities addressing problems in the system with “a natural Texas charm that put everyone at ease.”
Beginning in 2003 and through 2004, Emily also served as Acting Chief Counsel of the IRS, making her the only woman in U.S. history to lead the IRS legal team. She had ultimate responsibility for all legal matters, including supervising more than 1,500 attorneys in the Office of Chief Counsel, overseeing all litigation involving the IRS, and approving all published guidance issued by the IRS. Emily also successfully dealt with a wide range of constituencies outside of her comfort zone, including labor unions, Congress, and the press.
Service to the Profession and Community
Emily’s leadership and accomplishments extend beyond Thompson & Knight and the IRS, touching those throughout legal and local communities. Emily has devoted her time to serving the ABA Tax Section throughout her career. She served as Chair of the Natural Resources Committee from 1989 to 1991 and as Vice Chair of the Appointments to Tax Court Committee from 2000 to 2002, when government service required her to resign from that position. She served on Council from 2006 to 2009, as Vice Chair, Professional Services, from 2009 to 2011, and as Vice Chair, Government Relations from 2011 to 2012. Emily has also served as a member of the Nominating Committee, Appointments to Tax Court Committee, Court Procedure & Practice Committee, and Administrative Practice Committee. She has been a frequent speaker at the ABA Tax Section meetings, including before the Court Procedure & Practice Committee, Administrative Practice Committee, and Partnership Committee. She also gave the entertaining and insightful presentation “Stroke of the Scrivener’s Pen: Role of a Tax Planner and Litigator” at the 2016 Erwin N. Griswold Lecture before the American College of Tax Counsel.
Emily served as the Chair of the Dallas Bar Tax Section from 1981 to 1982 and served on the Council of the State Bar of Texas Section of Taxation from 1985 to 1987. Emily is a fellow of the American College of Tax Counsel, American Bar Foundation, Texas Bar Foundation, and Dallas Bar Foundation and served on the Board of Regents of the American College of Tax Counsel from 2009 to 2011. She is Board Certified in Tax Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. The State Bar of Texas Tax Section bestowed its highest honor on Emily in 2012, naming her as the “Outstanding Texas Tax Lawyer.”
Emily’s dedication to the Dallas–Fort Worth community runs parallel to her service to the legal profession and her peers. She is a tremendous asset to numerous local organizations with an emphasis on nonprofit organizations that advocate on behalf of children, including CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Child Abuse Prevention Center, Child Care Dallas, and Easter Seals of Dallas. She was also a founding member of the Women’s Foundation of Dallas. Today she continues her many years of service on the Executive Committee of the SMU Dedman School of Law.
Emily leads by example. She was the first to step through many doors previously closed to women and has inspired other female attorneys to achieve their own successes. As a dedicated and effective mentor, teacher, and coach, she helps associates meet her high expectations and standards by patiently answering their questions, listening, and advising. She creates opportunities for lawyers to succeed based on their unique skills, without preferential treatment or coddling. Emily’s keen intellect and vast knowledge of the tax law make working with her challenging and informative, and her passion and sense of humor keep it fun.
Emily’s success in rising to the very pinnacle of her profession is a testament to her intellectual curiosity, exemplary professional judgment, strong leadership skills, and commitment to excellence personally and on behalf of her clients and colleagues. For these many reasons, the Tax Section is honored and pleased to recognize Emily Parker as the recipient of its 2019 Distinguished Service Award. ■