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September 21, 2021 From the Chair-Elect

Walking the JEDI Path

By Julie Divola, Pillsury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, San Francisco, CA

It is a privilege and an honor to serve as the next Chair of the Tax Section. For the coming year, I hope that Section leadership can build upon the success of its predecessors while recognizing how important it will be for our organization to remain nimble in these turbulent times. In the wake of the financial and emotional devastation of the past year, it seems more important than ever to recognize and expand the Section’s work for its members, the tax community and the public.

As members likely realize, it takes a proverbial village to run the Tax Section. We face the year ahead with the support of an amazing Tax Section staff and a wonderful group of Section Officers, Council Members and Committee Chairs.

If you had asked me about my goals for the Tax Section in January 2020, when I was nominated to be Chair-Elect, I think they would be very similar to my goals today. However, the emphasis on those goals, their priority and my reasons for pursuing them have been informed by the events of the past year.

Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

When asked by family and friends what it means to become Chair of the Tax Section, my response has always been the same: It is an opportunity to give back to the organization and community that has given so much and has meant so much to me. Perhaps even more importantly, it provides a means of acting on something I and the Section are truly passionate about—advancing justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) in the Section and in our profession.

Decades ago, when I began attending Tax Section meetings, I felt like an outsider. A wonderful mentor who had been the first woman hired by my firm once mentioned that when she started at the firm, she felt the same way that Alice must have felt after falling down the rabbit hole. My journey was easier by orders of magnitude, thanks to the groundbreaking work of underrepresented people like my mentor. But her description hit a chord with me since both my law firm and the Tax Section meetings seemed surreal to me as a young lawyer. Fast-forward to today and there is a sense of security and belonging because of the many individuals throughout the years who were willing to mentor and sponsor me despite our differences (and, at times, because of them).

As a white woman I cannot fully appreciate the challenges faced in the past—or now—by members of other underrepresented groups. I only know that we all have a voice that needs to be heard to improve the Section, our profession, and, most importantly, our tax system. In the United States, the tax system is a huge component of our social policy. It affects everyone and can only be fair—and perceived as fair—if it treats all members of our society equally. The Tax Section and our profession is committed to the development of an equitable, efficient and workable tax system. The first and most important step to achieving that goal is to promote justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the Tax Section and in our profession.

Tax Section Chairs in recent years have done so much for which we today are grateful to advance the diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts of the Section. Karen Hawkins initiated a project led by Eric Solomon in 2017 that resulted in a thoughtful update to the Section’s Diversity & Inclusion Plan (D&I Plan) and creation of the Section’s Diversity in the Profession Committee (DIPC). Last year, Joan Arnold was a driving force in establishing the Women in Tax Forum, a safe space for members to gather to celebrate and support the women of the Tax Section. This year, a new officer position of Vice Chair for Membership, Diversity, and Inclusion was created to focus on advancing the membership and the Section’s JEDI initiatives. On a personal note, I remain mindful that my nomination as Chair was helped (and certainly not hindered) by the fact that I will be the second woman to serve sequentially as Chair of the Section.

Despite the Section’s progress, it’s important to acknowledge that we need to do better. Fortunately, Section leadership is fully committed to promoting diversity and a culture of justice, equity, and inclusion. Caroline Ciraolo, inaugural Vice Chair for Membership, Diversity, and Inclusion, and Wells Hall, Section Chair-Elect and Chair of the DIPC, will be leading this effort on behalf of the Section. But this effort requires intentionality in acts both large and small from all of us. Please join me in embracing new members from diverse backgrounds and in helping to weave equity, diversity, and inclusion and, ultimately, justice into the fabric of the Section.

Pro Bono and Public Service

The Section has long been committed to pro bono and public service programs. The complexity of the tax law, combined with the tax system’s fundamental role in delivering social benefits, makes such programs critically important. The events of this past year have highlighted the crucial need for such programs.

The pandemic exacerbated the existing structural inequalities in our society. At the same time, the greatest (and sometimes only) economic relief for the most vulnerable members of society has been delivered through the tax system. As an example, research by the Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy suggests that the recently revised Child Tax Credit is expected to reduce the rate of child poverty by approximately 45 percent. Although this reduction cuts across all racial lines, it particularly benefits children in underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups.

The Tax Section has played an active role in addressing the needs of low-income taxpayers in an increasingly virtual world through training, direct assistance, and government relations. On the training front, the Section has provided up-to-date programming throughout the pandemic related to the challenges facing low-income taxpayers. We have linked Section members to opportunities to support taxpayers struggling to navigate tax issues with the IRS. We make all the recordings available to the public for free on our website including the sessions from our full Section Meetings, and we will continue to post them as we produce additional material this year.

We have continued our traditional direct service programs by using a virtual format. This included assisting our Armed Forces by providing remote instruction at military bases through our Adopt-A-Base program. We also participated via Zoom in planning and organizing virtual IRS Settlement Days and engaged with the Tax Court in its virtual Calendar Call and remote procedures planning. On August 17, the Tax Section provided a virtual information session for members interested in helping low-income taxpayers access the advance Child Tax Credit.

The Tax Section has been on the forefront of analyzing policy concerns arising from the early-enacted pandemic CARES Act to the recently enacted advance Child Tax Credit. On September 17, the Tax Section sponsored a webinar to discuss the future of the advance Child Tax Credit. On our Government Submissions page, there are various Section responses to pandemic-related legislation and a more recent submission regarding the rollout of the Child Tax Credit.

These programs and others have flourished under the committed leadership of Sheri Dillon, Vice Chair for Pro Bono and Outreach, and Meg Newman, General Counsel for the Tax Section, as well as the support of the countless Section volunteers committed to these programs. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Sheri Dillon ([email protected]) or Meg Newman ([email protected]). If you are interested in learning more about TAPS or donating, you can do so here.

Government Relations

The Section actively supports the development of an equitable, efficient, and workable tax system. Most reasonable people acknowledge that “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society” (credited to Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr.). In addition, how a tax system is designed and implemented reflects our country’s values and priorities. The Section plays an important role in providing input to the tax system’s development. Each year, the members of the Section submit dozens of comments to the Internal Revenue Service, the Treasury Office of Tax Policy and other government entities. Section members also interact with government officials, including staff at those offices and legislative staff, through periodic meetings.

The past few years have brought about sweeping changes in the tax laws, including the CARES Act and the 2017 Tax Act, which remain an ongoing source of new and important interpretive guidance. New legislative proposals and the Administration’s “Green Book” suggest that more tax law changes may be on the horizon. In addition to changes in the tax laws, the last 18 months have heralded unprecedented cultural shifts and evolutions in our thinking that invite us to revisit the ways in which our tax laws are applied. Under the leadership of Kurt Lawson, Vice Chair for Government Relations, comments on the tax laws and their application promise to be a critical aspect of the Section’s mission for the year ahead.

Continuing Legal Education

The Section has long been recognized as a provider of exceptional continuing legal education. In the face of unprecedented challenges, the Section pivoted last year and developed virtual meetings that, to the extent possible, replicated the experience of our in-person meetings.

Decisions on whether meetings should be organized as in-person or virtual are made months in advance. The Fall Tax Meeting, scheduled for September 20–24, 2021, will be fully virtual. Despite the success of the virtual meetings, we appreciate that there is no substitute to meeting in person. It’s our personal relationships, forged at meetings, that act as the glue for the Section. Although we have not made a final decision on the matter, the current plan is to hold the Midyear Tax Meeting, scheduled for January 27–29, in person in Orlando. Nonetheless, because the digital platform significantly broadened the reach of the meetings, we also plan to incorporate a significant virtual offering for those who cannot join us in Orlando.

The virtual meetings were only made possible by the heroic efforts of Joan Arnold, who prioritized them as Section Chair; Tom Greenaway, Vice Chair for Continuing Legal Education; Melissa Wiley, Vice Chair for Committee Operations; the Section’s Committees under the leadership of the Committee Chairs; and the Section staff. Staff worked tirelessly—and with great attention to detail—to facilitate the smooth running of the virtual meetings. They’ll be facing a steep learning curve again as we pivot to a new hybrid platform.

The Section’s Leadership Team

The Section has a phenomenal leadership team for 2021–2022. Wells Hall, who has already contributed so much to the Section, is the Chair-Elect. I have already benefited from the wisdom and experience that Wells brings to the position. I am truly grateful to have Wells and Joan Arnold, as Immediate Past Chair, by my side as we face the year ahead.

We have an outstanding group of Vice Chairs who will be continuing: Melissa Wiley returns as Vice Chair for Committee Operations, Sheri Dillon returns as Vice Chair for Pro Bono and Outreach, Tom Greenaway returns as Vice Chair for Continuing Legal Education, and Kurt Lawson returns as Vice Chair for Government Relations. We are also fortunate to welcome an exceptional group of new Vice Chairs: David Wheat as the new Vice Chair for Administration, Roberta Mann as the new Vice Chair for Publications and, as mentioned above, Caroline Ciraolo as the inaugural Vice Chair for Membership, Diversity, and Inclusion.

I am grateful to our outgoing Officers for their important work on behalf of the Section. It is humbling to follow in the footsteps of Joan Arnold, our Immediate Past Chair. She worked with strength and purpose to oversee a successful year for the Section in the most challenging of circumstances. Larry Campagna, outgoing Vice Chair for Administration, did an outstanding job of preserving the Section’s finances in the most turbulent of times. Keith Fogg, outgoing Vice Chair of Publications, navigated the smooth transition of The Tax Lawyer to its new educational affiliate, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and helped raise the Section’s already strong publications to a new level. I also want to add a special thanks and acknowledgement to William Lyons who stepped down in May after fourteen years of extraordinary service as Associate Editor-in-Chief of The Tax Lawyer. Working with Bill was truly a privilege, and the Section will continue to benefit from his experience since he has agreed to stay involved with The Tax Lawyer and in the Section.

The Council Directors for 2021–2022 include Jennifer Alexander, Jennifer Breen, Jaye Calhoun, John Colvin, James Creech, Katherine David, Cathy Fung, Rachel Kleinberg, Summer LePree, Robb Longman, Eileen Marchall, Susan Morgenstern, Vanessa Scott, J. Robert Turnipseed, and Lisa Zarlenga. Christine Speidel will become our new Secretary, and Lany Villalobos will be our new Assistant Secretary. I look forward to working with the Council on the governance of the Section and oversight of the Section’s substantive Committees. I want to thank our outgoing Council Directors Diana Erbsen, Mary Foster, George Hani, Anthony Infanti, and Julie Sassenrath for their invaluable contributions to the Section. I also want to extend my gratitude to our Committees and their officers for their many contributions to all the Section’s activities.

Julie Sassenrath will become one of our two Section Delegates to the ABA House of Delegates and Armando Gomez will continue in that position. The Section Delegates play a critical role as stewards of the Section’s relationship with the ABA. I also want to express my sincerest gratitude to our outgoing Section Delegate, Richard Lipton, for his exceptional contributions to the Section over the years. I take comfort from knowing that the larger ABA, as well as the Section, will continue to benefit from Dick’s wisdom and experience as he serves in his new role as a member of the ABA’s Board of Governors.

The Section’s Staff

It’s impossible to write about the success of the Section without acknowledging the critical role played by the Section’s administrative staff. Our outstanding staff supports every material element of the Section’s operations, including the Section meetings, government relations, pro bono and public service activities, CLE, and publications. In large part, it is the dedication of the staff and their willingness to go above and beyond that allows the Section to stay on course during these turbulent times. The Section owes deep gratitude to Ty Hansen (Associate Director), Haydee Moore (Director of Meetings), Chris Tank (Director of CLE), Todd Reitzel (Director of Publishing), and Meg Newman (Chief Counsel, with responsibility for Pro Bono, Government Relations and Committee Operations). Please also welcome Genevieve Borello, who recently started as Director of Membership, Marketing, and Diversity.

Naming any individuals is difficult because there are so many others (both staff and members) that have made significant contributions to the Section. Although they cannot all be named individually here, I know members and leadership join me in gratefully acknowledging those contributions. They are truly important to the Section’s efforts.

Despite the challenges, the year ahead presents new opportunities. The Tax Section is in good hands with its amazing team, including Joan Arnold as Immediate Past Chair, Wells Hall as Chair-Elect, our Vice Chairs, our Council Directors, our Committees and their officers, our unparalleled staff, and so many others who give so much to the Section. Our experience with virtual meetings will provide a solid foundation for our foray into hybrid offerings once in-person sessions are again possible, allowing us to continue to expand accessibility of our programming to the full membership. The Section can look forward to another exciting year of discussion, commentary, and interchange with government staff—one that may also allow us to resume in-person sessions that permit those chance encounters with old friends or new colleagues that provide so many great Tax Section conversations. In the meantime, please let me know any ideas you may have for adding to those discussions and interchanges. I invite all who can to participate in this year’s various meetings and activities and hope to see you there, whether virtually or in person.