May 30, 2020 From the Chair

The Section’s Response to COVID-19

By Thomas J. Callahan, Thompson Hine LLP, Cleveland, OH

I hope this article finds everyone healthy and safe.

Times change quickly. At the time of the last ATT issue, the Section had just completed a very successful Midyear Meeting, and we were looking forward to a series of spring meetings, including the May Meeting in Washington, DC. The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously changed the landscape. Beginning in late February, Section leadership began making the difficult decisions to cancel the Section’s spring meetings—including the ABA/IPT Advanced Tax Seminars, the U.S. and Europe Tax Practice Trends Conference, the May Meeting, and the U.S. and Latin America Tax Practice Trends Conference. At the same time, we began to focus on developing effective ways to deliver timely information to our members and the public regarding the impact of COVID-19. Our efforts in this regard will be discussed in more detail below. Importantly, I want to recognize all of the hard work and dedication of our Section leadership, Section members, and Section staff in responding to the challenges of COVID-19. I want to especially thank Julie Divola, our incoming Chair Elect, for her efforts in organizing the COVID-19 webinar series that has been so successful over the past few months.

Reacting to the Pandemic

On March 26, the Section launched the COVID-19 Tax News and Information webpage to provide members with the latest resources related to the pandemic. The resource page is updated daily, and it includes legal and regulatory updates, comments submitted to the government, and disaster and pro bono information.

The COVID-19 Tax News and Information webpage also lists each presentation in the COVID-19 webinar series. This webinar series, launched on April 21, is designed to provide the latest guidance and analysis, as well as answer questions, concerning pandemic-related tax issues. These free webinars have been popular with both our members and the public, and most of the webinars offer CLE credit.

The Section has also focused on providing timely comment letters to the government regarding tax issues arising as a result of recently passed legislation and related IRS guidance. These letters have focused on topics that require immediate attention. I encourage you to review the Government Submissions section of our website.

I am very grateful to our Section leadership, Section members, and Section staff who have worked tirelessly on preparing comment letters. As part of the Section’s response to COVID-19, we have streamlined the comment process to provide prompt and succinct responses to issues raised by recent legislation and related IRS guidance.

Virtual Meetings

Although in-person meetings have been temporarily suspended, we continue to explore ways to provide timely information in a virtual environment.

  • To that end, we are pleased to announce the Virtual 20th Annual U.S. and Europe Tax Practice Trends Conference, which will provide panel sessions previously scheduled to be held in Munich. The virtual meeting will consist of seven webinars presented on a weekly basis between June 2 and July 7. Registration is available for individual webinars, or the entire series may be purchased by Section members at a discount. We are excited to provide panels that include experienced speakers and that will provide information regarding important international tax developments.

We are also developing a Virtual 2020 May Meeting series to provide some of the sessions that were intended to be held in Washington, DC. Our committees and Section staff plan to roll out this series of CLE webinars beginning June 10 and continuing through the end of July. As soon as the schedule is finalized, we will announce this virtual series by email to Section members.

Fellowships

The Section continues to invest in and encourage the development of emerging leaders and public service attorneys. In that regard, we are pleased to announce the recipients of the 2020-2021 John S. Nolan Fellowships:

  • Carina Federico, Crowell & Moring LLP, Washington, DC
  • Morgan Klinzing, Pepper Hamilton, Philadelphia, PA
  • Galina “Allie” Petrova, Petrova Law, Greensboro, NC
  • Nancy Rossner, The Community Tax Law Project, Richmond, VA
  • Monisha Santamaria, Joint Committee on Taxation, Washington, DC
  • Timothy Todd, Liberty University School of Law, Richmond, VA

We look forward to these practitioners’ involvement in the Section now and in the future.

We are also pleased to announce the 2020-2022 Christine A. Brunswick Public Service Fellows. Shailana Dunn-Wall, a graduate of University of Nebraska College of Law, will work with Legal Aid of Nebraska to help residents of Nebraska claim the benefits of the Earned Income Tax Credit. Terri Morris, a graduate of University of Richmond School of Law, will work with the Community Tax Law Project of Richmond, Virginia, on their Fight Against Financial Abuse project. Terri will focus her activities on helping domestic violence survivors deal with tax issues arising from domestic abuse.

Shailana and Terri join 2019-2021 Brunswick Fellow Evan Phoenix, who is continuing his work in Los Angeles with Bet Tzedek Legal Services to provide tax education, advocacy, and representation on behalf of members of the military, veterans, and ESL (English as a second language) taxpayers.

The Brunswick Fellowships are funded by the Tax Assistance Public Service (TAPS) Endowment fund. More information on the TAPS Endowment fund, including how to contribute, is available at http://abatapsendowment.org/.

Publications

Despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic, our Section publications continue to provide uninterrupted benefits to our members. The Tax Lawyer continues to provide superlative scholarship, and the recent Spring issue also includes special features such as the 2020 Erwin N. Griswold Lecture and the 2019 Recent Developments in Federal Income Taxation. ABA Tax Times also continues to provide important perspectives on tax matters, including practice points, interviews, special features, and Section news. The Tax Lawyer and ABA Tax Times provide insightful information, and I encourage you to review these publications at your convenience.

The Section also continues to develop helpful book content for the tax community. Our editors are well underway on the eighth edition of Effectively Representing Your Client Before the IRS, which is targeted for a January release date. I’m also pleased to announce the development of a second edition of Careers in Tax Law. Also in development are books on tax practice standards, tax issues for people with disabilities, tax issues for immigrants, and Supreme Court decisions affecting federal and state taxation. If you have a book idea to propose to the Section, more information can be found at ambar.org/TaxBookProposals.

Pro Bono

The Section has led a multifaceted approach to meeting the needs of individuals affected by the COVID-19 crisis. We have hosted multiple calls and webinars to help low-income tax clinic and pro bono attorneys understand how best to advocate for clients affected by the pandemic. We have also been involved in outreach and issue-spotting regarding the delivery of economic impact payments authorized by the CARES Act. I want to acknowledge and thank Sheri Dillon, our Vice Chair for Pro Bono and Outreach, for her leadership in connection with the Section’s pro bono response to COVID-19.

At the request of IRS Commissioner Rettig, the Section has worked with the ABA to contact various organizations that can help identify vulnerable populations for purposes of claiming economic impact payments. Many of the targeted individuals do not have access to computers and they do not have bank accounts. Thus, locating these individuals and providing them with economic impact payments is an important public service. I want to thank Scott Michel for his leadership on this initiative.

Even before the pandemic, the Section completed another successful season of the Adopt-A-Base program. A number of our Section members provided training to military volunteers who prepare tax returns for service members at the applicable military base. I want to thank Wells Hall for his continuing leadership and commitment to the Adopt-A-Base project.
Our Section has an ongoing commitment to pro bono service, and we will continue to adapt to the challenges before us.

Tax Connect

Tax Connect is an improved listserv providing a space for Section members and committees to connect through interactive discussions and content sharing. I encourage you to explore using Tax Connect to stay engaged with your tax community peers. To get started, visit https://connect.americanbar.org/abataxconnect and use your ABA login. If you have questions or need help, let us know.

Membership

The Section appreciates your membership and wants to ensure that we are providing you with valuable benefits. If you have not recently viewed our COVID-19 webinars or other pandemic resources, I encourage you to do so now. Your membership allows the Section to provide you with these resources, but it also allows us to assist low-income taxpayers, assist the pro bono community, and provide advice to the government on current tax issues.

If you have any other questions about your Section membership, please let us know. The Section leadership and Section staff will continue to monitor pandemic conditions and will make decisions on future activities and meetings. We will keep you informed as we move through the process.

Thank You!

Finally, I want to again thank all of our Section members and Section staff who have done an outstanding job of organizing and participating in the activities and projects over the last couple of months. I do not have enough space in my column to thank everyone by name—but please know that I am extremely grateful for all of the hard work and dedication you have provided to the Section. I am convinced that we will come through this crisis stronger than ever—and this is due to our commitment to each other and to the public we serve.