As is tradition, I am writing my first column as the incoming Chair of the Tax Section, moving from the Chair-Elect position this month. It is with a bit of envy that I reviewed the incoming statements of the last three Chairs of the Tax Section. They each had goals that they wanted to accomplish, and the Section had to deal with the 2017 Tax Act and the rather dramatic upheaval in the tax law as we knew it. But the basic framework of how the Section works remained a constant.
As I write this, I, too, have goals that have developed over the years that I have been privileged to be involved in Section leadership. Nonetheless, we are now challenged in ways we could never have anticipated in determining how to deliver services and member benefits. The bedrock of our offerings—large in-person conferences—cracked back in March when we started to cancel conferences, first in Munich for the U.S. and Europe Tax Practice Trends conference, then in New Orleans for the ABA/IPT Advanced Tax Seminars, then our premier Washington D.C. May Tax Meeting, then our U.S. and Latin America Tax Practice Trends Conference in Miami. Now, as described more fully below, the Fall Tax Meeting that was to have been held in New York City will also be held virtually, as will the Philadelphia Tax Conference that is now scheduled for November 10-12.
To add to the mix, Congress passed the CARES Act, and there was a need on behalf of our members, the public, and the government to understand its impact. The Section, under the direction of Julie Divola and with direct cooperation with the IRS and Treasury, made a massive contribution to that understanding. The Tax Implications of COVID-19 webinar series includes 12 webinars that have enjoyed a total of 8,122 registrations. At the same time, through the efforts of Vice Chair of CLE Fred Murray and incoming Vice Chair of CLE Tom Greenaway, the Section developed 21 webinars for our members on substantive topics that would have been presented at our May Tax Meeting and 7 webinars that would have been presented at the European conference.
The confluence of the timing of the cancellation of the May Meeting and the passage of the CARES Act made for hectic planning for the virtual May Meeting sessions. With more time for preparation, we have been able to develop an even better plan for the Fall Tax Meeting. The Virtual 2020 Fall Tax Meeting will take place over four days: Tuesday, September 29 through Friday, October 2. The prospect of spending four afternoons locked into a computer likely sounds daunting. We have developed a program, however, that takes that into account. As for our in-person meetings, members will register for the overall program, and then come and go as they wish. We can’t offer pastries and coffee during the breaks, but we can make it a flexible and enjoyable experience. The meeting will start with a plenary session that should be of great interest, move through various CLE presentations and roundtables presented by various committees, host a Section Reception with networking opportunities, and close with a plenary session being developed in coordination with the IRS. The committee business meetings will be held separately to avoid any conflicts with the other programming.
At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, conducting meetings virtually may have an added benefit for our members who do not ordinarily come to the in-person meetings because of the time commitment, cost, or other practicalities: they may have greater access to the superlative educational experience the Section offers. This arrangement also will offer an enhanced opportunity to participate in a committee, because members do not need to be physically present at the conference to attend the business meetings. I do hope members will appreciate this opportunity and consider becoming more involved in committee work.
Back to goals. I’ve been active in the Section for more than 25 years and have reaped incredible rewards from that involvement, both professionally and personally. I have to admit, though, that becoming involved and advancing in leadership required a far greater degree of persistence and investigative skills than I had expected. At the beginning, it wasn’t apparent to me how the Section leadership worked, or what the benefits would be from participating. As I talk with newer members these days, I realize that we still have a lot of work to do in communicating these opportunities and challenges. Karen Hawkins was invested in creating greater transparency, and I expect to continue moving that effort forward. We need to be absolutely straightforward in how we work with individuals and committees to develop leaders, and we need procedures that are easy to understand and apply.
The Section also needs to continue to reach out to members to clarify their expectations from membership in the Section and use that to guide us in making changes. Last year we looked hard at whether we should move the in-person meetings from a Thursday-Saturday schedule to a Wednesday-Friday schedule. We decided to stay with what we have, but now we need to tackle issues of location and cost. That is intertwined with the needs and wants of our committees, as the current space usage at meetings is a significant constraint on the venues we can consider. Our staff does an incredible job of planning and implementing the meetings, but they need to know what the pressure points are for attendees.
One goal has already been launched: we started the Women in Tax Forum as a subcommittee of the Diversity Committee in fall 2019. Chaired by Heather Fincher and cochaired by Lauren Azebu, the forum had a “soft” launch at the Midyear Tax Meeting with more than 100 attendees. They gave us great ideas of what they need from the Section for support and advancement, including being part of a community. The Women in Tax Forum now holds Zoom teas on the first Friday of each month at 4:30pm ET to provide opportunities for the attendees to find that community. In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, the forum hosted a panel on allyship chaired by Loren Pond of Miller and Chevalier, which also sponsored the panel.
I am more than happy to discuss these goals with members. Please feel free to send me an e-mail or give me a call. Your input is always welcome.
The Leadership Team
The Section has an outstanding incoming leadership team for 2020-21. Julie Divola is our Chair-Elect, and her dedication and experience will benefit us greatly.
We have several excellent continuing vice-chairs. Larry Campagna (Vice-Chair, Administration) and Keith Fogg (Vice-Chair, Publications) both begin their third year of service in two key areas for our Section. Larry has led the effort to manage our finances responsibly, and Keith has led the effort to expand our portfolio of publications. I look forward to their continued leadership.
Sheri Dillon (Vice-Chair, Pro Bono and Outreach) enters her second year of service in a signature area for our Section, leading a variety of pro bono activities. It’s wonderful to have Sheri’s continued leadership in this area.
The Section welcomes three new vice-chairs this year. Tom Greenaway will be our Vice-Chair, CLE, and his leadership will be especially important for the Section as we deal with the pandemic circumstances. Kurt Lawson will be our Vice-Chair, Government Relations, and Kurt will guide our efforts to stay engaged with the Service and the Department of Treasury during these challenging times for the tax system. Melissa Wiley will be our Vice-Chair, Committee Operations. This position will also be especially important during the pandemic, and I look forward to Melissa’s leadership.
Our Section’s committees do so much important work, and we are fortunate to have Council directors whom we rely on to coordinate that work. The 2020-21 Council directors will be Jennifer Alexander, Jennifer E. Breen, Jaye A. Calhoun, James Creech, Katherine E. David, Diana L. Erbsen, Mary B. Foster, Cathy Fung, George A. Hani, Anthony C. Infanti, Summer LePree, Eileen C. Marshall, Julie C. Sassenrath, J. Robert Turnipseed, and Lisa M. Zarlenga. I look forward to their important work, as well as that of all the chairs and officers of our many committees.
Robb Longman will continue as Secretary and Christine Speidel, as Assistant Secretary. The Section will also continue to benefit from the contributions of Dick Lipton and Armando Gomez, our Section Delegates to the ABA House of Delegates.
As we move forward, I’m so grateful for Tom Callahan’s leadership as Chair during the past unusual and challenging year. We also benefited from the leadership of outgoing vice-chairs Megan L. Brackney (Committee Operations), Fred Murray (CLE), and Eric Sloan (Government Relations), as well as outgoing Council directors Gregg D. Barton, Catherine Engell, Peter Lowy, and David Wheat. Many thanks to them all. I look forward to building on their achievements to strengthen the Section’s value to its members and the tax community in these changed times. ■