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December 21, 2022 From the Chair

It’s All About Membership

Wells Hall

Back to In-Person Section Meetings

In mid-October, we welcomed 831 in-person attendees for three days in Dallas for the 2022 Fall Tax Meeting. The State Bar of Texas Tax Section joined us for their fall meeting on Friday evening as well. From Thursday’s keynote address by retiring IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig to Saturday’s Plenary Session Panel on the Inflation Reduction Act, moderated by former IRS Chief Counsel and Chair of the Section’s Committee on Government Submissions, Michael Desmond, and the Section’s Vice Chair for Government Relations, Lisa Zarlenga, we all enjoyed the energy that springs from a vibrant in-person gathering of tax lawyers with common interests. The Loretta Collins Argrett Fellows were involved in all Section-wide sessions and receptions, as well as the committee meetings and dinners.

Between our last previous in-person meeting (the 2020 Midyear Tax Meeting) and our hybrid 2022 May Tax Meeting, the Section stayed in touch with members and survived financially through virtual meetings and CLE programs. Starting with the 2020 Fall Tax Meeting, the Section staff adapted to the challenges of the pandemic to stage the Section meetings virtually. The virtual meetings were well attended, and the Section was able to bring cost-effective and valuable content to its members. In addition, the Section was able to involve Section members who had not attended the in-person meetings for various reasons—costs and time out of the office being the most critical factors. To maintain our contacts with this new audience and further penetrate the virtual CLE market, we plan to continue to host some meetings virtually. Accordingly, the 2023 Fall Tax Meeting will be virtual only.

On December 12-14, 2022, the ever-popular 39th Annual National Institute on Criminal Tax Fraud and the 12th Annual National Institute on Tax Controversy was held in person at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada. The 2023 Midyear Tax Meeting (San Diego, February 9-11, 2023) and the 2023 May Tax Meeting (Washington, DC, May 4-6, 2023) will also be in person. Starting with the 2023 Midyear Meeting, we plan to enhance the value to members by including the audiorecordings of the meeting at no extra cost to registrants.

Virtual Offerings

In addition to the virtual 2023 Fall Tax Meeting, the Section has renewed the pre-pandemic pace of our virtual standalone webinars to offer members ongoing access to up-to-the-minute tax education and CLE credit. Below is a list of our recent offerings, but members should check frequently for announcements of additional engaging and relevant webinars.

November 15, 2022: Congress on the Case: An Inside Look at Senate Tax Investigations

December 6, 2022: Technological Advancements in Tax Practice and Impact of the Inflation Reduction Act on the IRS’s Capabilities and Service

December 7, 2022: An Update on U.S. Transparency Initiatives

December 13, 2022: Navigating Murky Waters: Ethics for ERISA and Executive Compensation Lawyers

Section Membership–Our Next Challenges

When I started practicing law in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the 1970s, approximately half of all lawyers in the United States were members of the American Bar Association (ABA). Every attorney in my boutique tax firm was an ABA member, so of course I signed up for membership in the Tax Section, as well as the Business Law Section and the Real Property, Probate, and Trust Law Section. I enjoyed reading the publications and materials that were distributed to Section members and used them to stay on top of recent developments, along with the hard copies of the weekly releases we subscribed to from the tax press, then dominated by CCH and Prentice Hall. As a young associate, I was able to be first on the distribution list for these materials and knew that I needed to read them quickly and pass them on. If something was of interest, I made a copy and read it at night and over the weekends. When a new tax law was passed—and there were many in those years—I obtained my own desk copy and read it from front to back.

By the time I attended my first ABA meeting, I was able to appreciate what the organization had to offer. I was a member of the Young Lawyers Division and made numerous local and national contacts in the bar. I gravitated towards the Tax Section but maintained membership in several other Sections. I found that the ABA and the Tax Section were important to the development of my practice and my career in tax law.

The ABA has changed since the halcyon days of the 1970s and 1980s. Even as free membership was offered to law students in 2016, as of 2017 the ABA had 194,000 lawyers, or approximately 14.4% of American lawyers, down from 50% when I joined. How can that be, you ask? Of course, many licensed lawyers do not engage in the active practice of law or simply feel that they do not need what the ABA has to offer.

On May 1, 2019, the ABA launched a new membership model aimed at reversing declining membership and revenue. The leadership hoped to attract additional dues-paying members over the first four years, offering a simple payment structure, more CLE courses, and access to the Law Practice Division and the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division at no cost. Attention was given to retaining law student members as they entered the practice of law with a graduated dues structure and five price points, starting at $75 per year and maxing out at $450 per year for lawyers practicing for 20 or more years. ABA dues for government, judges, public interest, solo, small firm (2-5 lawyers), and retired lawyers is $150 per year. Membership in the Tax Section for all categories is only $105. The new model has resulted in some improvement, with the average number of new members recruited monthly up to 2,100 from 1,900, and the new member retention rate up to 54% from 48%, but the ABA is seeking further improvement in those numbers.

In 2019, ABA Executive Director Jack Rives said that “We realized we need to do things differently, including articulating our value propositions better.” We recognize that the Tax Section needs to change its value proposition and offerings to meet the needs of an evolving membership base. We recognize that we must maintain the involvement of our law student members and retain them as full members after graduation. We want to grow our Section membership to include most if not all of the growing tax bar and expand to other tax professionals like enrolled agents. We need to continue to engage Section members who attended their first meetings while they were virtual or hybrid. We want to expand virtual CLE opportunities for all Section members through webinars, podcasts, and other media, including co-branding CLE programs with State and Local Bar Tax Sections. These new members must reflect the growing diversity of the profession. To ensure this, we will continue our focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and ensure the Loretta Collins Argrett Fellowship program and other diversity initiatives are sustainable by raising funds for our newly established Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Endowment Fund.

Section members can join as many Section committees as they would like, and involvement in committee activities is the key to realizing the full benefits of Section membership, which supports member recruitment and retention. Committee leaders welcome new members and are always looking to build a strong leadership pipeline and connect members with opportunities to take on new roles and tasks on behalf of the committee. Many committees also offer free non-CLE programming between Section meetings as a way to stay connected and informed.

Finally, we want members to understand how membership in the Tax Section promotes fair tax administration. One way we do this is by connecting members with pro bono representation opportunities. Members can join initiatives like our recent National Virtual Settlement Week, where over 75 Tax Section volunteers assisted more than 50 pro se taxpayers to favorably settle their cases with the IRS, or our many programs designed to assist military members throughout the country in accessing free tax preparation assistance. Another way the Tax Section achieves its mission of advancing justice in the tax system is through our government submissions. These neutral comments are designed to highlight areas where guidance is needed or the regulatory or administrative process may have resulted in unintended outcomes or barriers for taxpayers.

Here is how every member can help ensure the growth and vibrancy of the Section:

Most importantly, consider reaching out to tax colleagues inside and outside of your firm or organization and encourage them to join the Section and get involved in one or more of the activities listed above. Under the ABA’s Each One Reach One initiative, if each member of the Tax Section reaches out to one person in their network and encourages them to join the Section and a committee, we could double our membership from 14,000 to 28,000 and increase our committee involvement! This will help us keep up with the growth of the tax bar and continue to improve our value proposition for all Section members.

LGBTQ+ Lawyers in Tax Forum

Thanks to the leadership of Brandon King, the Section has established a new affinity group, the LGBTQ+ Lawyers in Tax Forum (LLTF). The LLTF strives to provide LGBTQ+ attorneys and law students an intentional community that honors their lived experiences and fosters relationships with others who share their identities. The LLTF will provide a forum to discuss topics of interest to LGBTQ+ attorneys, to build and sustain a strong presence of LGBTQ+ tax attorneys and aspiring tax attorneys within the Section, and to support and build on the Section’s existing goals of furthering diversity, equity, and inclusion.

ABA Giving Day

Thanks to everyone who stepped up and contributed to the Tax Assistance Public Service (TAPS) Endowment Fund as a part of ABA Giving Day on October 27, 2022. The Section raised $52,570 for the TAPS Endowment Fund, doubling the goal of $25,000. These funds primarily support the Section’s Christine A. Brunswick Public Service Fellowship through which recent law school graduates work with nonprofit organizations to provide tax-related legal assistance. If you missed the opportunity on Giving Day, you can still make your tax deductible gift for 2022 through the website.

Recognition of Commissioner Rettig

The Section congratulates Section member Chuck Rettig as he steps down after four years of service as Commissioner of Internal Revenue during trying times for the Service and the country. As Tax Section Council Director Les Book said when interviewed by Tax Notes,

A lasting legacy of Commissioner Rettig is his ability to lead the agency during very challenging times. On balance, the commissioner generally did an extraordinary job with a very tough task at hand. He was a cheerleader for the agency, and for its employees. He did a remarkable job connecting the IRS staff to their role as public servants and stuck to that message in a consistent, enthusiastic, and effective way.

Chuck’s address to the Tax Section from the Fall Tax Meeting is available to view. Chuck, thank you for your exemplary service. In particular, the Tax Section appreciates what you did for the morale of the Service and your support for the enhanced (and long overdue) funding of the essential functions of the Service as a part of the Inflation Reduction Act.

Register for the Midyear Tax Meeting–See You in San Diego!

We hope to see you (and your new member recruits) at the Midyear Tax Meeting at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront on February 9-11, 2023. Registration is open!

    Wells Hall

    Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, Charlotte, NC

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