March 12, 2021 From the Chair

Moving Forward in 2021

By Joan C. Arnold, Troutman Pepper, Philadelphia, PA

Happy 2021! I was more than happy to see 2020 in the rearview window, but I’m still waiting for the electric switch to be thrown to put 2021 in a new light. Somehow the ball dropping on New Year’s Eve just didn’t make it happen. I’m still working from home, still doing more Zoom calls than I care to, and still trying to chart our path as an organization without the ability to have in-person meetings.

But 2020 wasn’t all bad. On a personal level, we welcomed our first grandchild, which makes me remember what joy is all about. She is now almost one, and through the use of facetime, pictures and videos, it’s almost like we have been there to see her grow. Almost.

On a professional level, I realized how fortunate I am to have built up decades of relationships with clients and colleagues in the tax field. It sustains me through the trying times. I wonder, though, how those are faring who have many fewer years of experience and fewer colleagues to lean on. How can we make the Tax Section relevant to them, not just for substantive offerings but for the nurturing of a career and the person carrying out the career? How can we reach out to a broader, more diverse community to better advance and support the role of tax lawyers in the profession and break down implicit bias?

Improving Virtual Meetings

As the Tax Section, we are doing more than just wondering. At our all-virtual Midyear Tax Meeting, we included an increased number of networking events with the goal of inviting more people into the mix. I know that in one event that I attended there were more than a few lawyers new to the field who were there to make contacts and develop their career paths. The Women in Tax Forum held a session on developing executive presence, and it had more than 300 attendees registered.

Our attendance this year was 1,578, exceeding last year’s Midyear Tax Meeting by 400. This year’s attendance included 126 students, up from 29 students the previous year. We would not have achieved those numbers had we not been virtual. Just as at the fall meeting, we had very robust participation from the government, with 532 registered attendees.

Addressing Diversity and Inclusion

We have also been paying close attention to our efforts in advancing diversity. The Tax Section has a Diversity in the Profession Committee (DIPC) that was formed in 2018. The DIPC has taken the lead in developing programs with the goal of addressing both the need for and the means of achieving diversity. For example, the DIPC created the Ginsburg tribute program for the plenary session at the Fall Tax Meeting about the use of a tax case to advance equality. The DIPC has initiated and continues to run the Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship program to support diverse people or people interested in advancing diversity in attending Tax Section meetings.

As a corollary to forming the DIPC, Council in 2018 adopted a revised Diversity and Inclusion Plan. It sets forth our goals and action items for achieving more diversity in our Section. The plan is also summarized here as is relevant to the committees of the Tax Section. I hope you will take some time to read it and act on it.

For me, personally, the focus on diversity has caused me to rethink my vocabulary and how I present issues. For example, when I am making a presentation or teaching, can I get away from examples and terminology that continue to support implicit bias? Do I always need to talk about husband and wife when I want to talk about attribution between spouses? What about using husband and husband? Wife and wife? Would the change of terminology make more people feel welcome in our Section? I am of the view that making a conscious choice to use different examples makes me more aware of my implicit bias and helps to break it down. When the committees are writing those ever-important comments for submission to the government, how can they be more inclusive in their language?

On a Section level, the Council is acting to support our Diversity and Inclusion Plan. Recently, the Council approved creation of a Vice Chair, Membership, Diversity, and Inclusion (VCMDI). This position will work with staff and Section leadership to ensure we meet member needs and continually broaden our diversity and include people of diverse backgrounds in all Section activities. The Nominating Committee seeks nominations for this new Council position; see the announcement in this issue. You will see a greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion as we move forward.

Planning Future Meetings

Speaking of moving forward, our May Tax Meeting will be May 10–14. It will be all virtual. I hope you attended the Midyear Tax Meeting and saw its much-improved virtual meeting technology, which we will also use for the May Tax Meeting. We are planning additional networking events and expanded CLE opportunities. Information can be found here, and I hope to see you there.

As of now, we are looking at the possibility of a blended meeting for the Fall Tax Meeting—some in person and some virtual. The final decision will likely not be made for some time, but we’ll keep you informed.

Before signing off, I need to give a great shout-out of thanks to our staff. They have done an incredible job to pivot from in-person meetings to virtual meetings, and they work tirelessly to make them better each time.

Thanks for reading and, as always, please contact me if you have any comments, suggestions, or questions.