Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” As I think about the past year, I take comfort in those words. I think, if nothing else, that the Tax Section took a step—and it was a step in the right direction.
It’s hard to believe that I’m writing to you now as Immediate Past Chair. I am planning to celebrate the new freedom that comes with having fewer responsibilities—and am already starting to fill my calendar with all the things I ignored while trying to keep my head above water as Chair. I’m proud that the Tax Section has made very real progress on some very difficult issues during my year. Although there are challenges ahead as we all learn to navigate our new normal, I take great comfort in knowing that the Tax Section is in good hands with Wells Hall as the new Chair and Scott Michel as the new Chair-Elect.
The Section has continued to grow more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. Both the Tax Section and our profession have considerable work ahead, but I’ve been impressed by the extraordinary efforts that so many Tax Section members have made this year to move these issues forward. Caroline Ciraolo, Vice Chair of Membership, Diversity, and Inclusion, helped the Section design and launch the Loretta Collins Argrett Fellowship, a three-year fellowship that seeks to create a more accessible and equitable pipeline into the Tax Section and the tax bar. Although the Tax Section expected to offer only five three-year fellowships for the inaugural program, the pool of applicants was so strong that we expanded the program to cover eight fellows instead of five. The new inaugural class of the Loretta Collins Argrett Fellows are an extraordinary group.
One happy surprise from the fellowship process was the outpouring of interest in the fellowships. Although we expanded the program to cover eight fellows, there were over ninety highly qualified applicants that we were not able to choose. Accordingly, in addition to the mentorship program and the events that have been arranged for the fellows, the Section expects to support additional efforts—such as the Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship program, informal mentorship programs, affinity groups and additional diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) gatherings—that can engage the applicants that were not chosen and attract them to become future members and leaders of the Tax Section. In addition to her heroic individual efforts on this front, Caroline assembled an engaged and energized fellowship committee whose support was instrumental in helping to design the program. The first meeting for the Loretta Collins Argrett Fellows will take place during the Fall Tax Meeting in Dallas (see below). If you attend, we hope you’ll take time to meet the fellows.
The Section is pleased to announce the formation of the new LGBTQ+ Lawyers in Tax Forum (LLTF). This group will provide LGBTQ+ attorneys and law students who are interested in tax an intentional community in which they can grow and thrive in their personal and professional lives, using the three pillars of the group: (1) community, (2) mentorship, and (3) leadership. Further details will be announced shortly, including information about an in-person launch event at the Dallas meeting. Please stay tuned!
The new LGBTQ+ Lawyers in Tax Forum is modeled after the Women in Tax Forum, which Joan Arnold helped form and incubate during her tenure as Chair. It has become a safe space for women tax lawyers to meet, share experiences, and provide support for one another. Individuals need not be Section members to join the Women in Tax Forum or the LGBTQ+ Lawyers in Tax Forum. However, as a member you can easily join these forums or any of the Section’s other substantive or nonsubstantive committees (of which there are over 40) by accessing your online profile and adding committees using the Manage Memberships function. It’s my strong hope that the Women in Tax Forum and the LGBTQ+ Lawyers in Tax Forum are just the beginning and that the Tax Section will continue to add affinity groups for members and nonmembers alike. If you are interested in organizing such a group or you know someone who has such an interest, please let us know. The Tax Section is invested in supporting such initiatives as fundamental to the Tax Section’s future success.
As a white woman, I appreciate that I lack the life experiences and in-depth perspective needed to truly understand the breadth and depth of the issues that face people that are BIPOC or LBGTQ+ or persons with disabilities. Nonetheless, as an unconventional woman who was trying to fit in at a time when the profession was both stultifyingly conventional and predominantly male, I developed a passion for changing the status quo. That starts with working to eliminate bias. I plan to continue to speak out—even when I am perhaps not the best person to do so—because it seems clear that the bigger the choir, the more likely it is that we will be heard.
DEI is not only critical for the future success of the Tax Section but also fundamental to the Tax Section’s mission of supporting the development of an equitable, efficient, and workable tax system. The tax system has a wide-ranging impact in terms of allocating resources and funding social programs, as well as reflecting societal values by virtue of its design. It is especially important that the people supporting changes in the tax system reflect the diversity of the society that system affects.
Another first this year is the launch of the Tax Analysts Public Service Fellowship, a collaboration between the Tax Section and Tax Analysts. This unique fellowship seeks to provide more experienced attorneys with an opportunity to transition into a practice dedicated to tax-related public service. For its inaugural year, the Tax Analysts Public Service Fellowship will provide a two-year fellowship with La Posada Tax Clinic, an important and impactful low-income taxpayer clinic located in Twin Falls, Idaho. If you are interested in learning more about the fellowship or the clinic, you might enjoy the recent People in Tax Podcast with Susan Morgenstern and Bob Wunderle, the director of La Posada.
The Tax Analysts Public Service Fellowship builds on the success of the Section’s Christine A. Brunswick Public Service Fellowship. The Public Service Fellowship program provides a two-year fellowship to recent law graduates and younger attorneys seeking to work in tax-related public service through a sponsoring organization. The Public Service Fellows provide direct assistance to marginalized taxpayers in underserved communities. The Section will be accepting applications for the 2023-2025 Brunswick Fellowship program until November 10, 2022.
The tax system continues to play an expansive role in the delivery of social and economic benefits, often to the point where the tax system provides the only access point to such benefits for vulnerable communities. At this time, it’s more important than ever for individuals to have access to tax representation through low-income taxpayer clinics and similar tax public service organizations.
I hope that members will consider supporting the Tax Section’s Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Endowment Fund (which provides support for the Loretta Collins Argrett Fellowship program) and its Tax Assistance Public Service (TAPS) Endowment Fund (which provides support for the Christine A. Brunswick Public Service Fellowship program). These funds are critical for these amazing programs that harness the power of the tax system in helping to make the world a better place.
The new tax provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 present a great opportunity for the Section to serve its members by providing premium continuing legal education both in-person and virtually. The Act also provides much needed resources to support the dedicated employees at the IRS and Treasury. Over the years, failures to adequately fund the IRS have impaired the agency’s ability to enforce the tax laws and provide taxpayer support. The Act helps counter these years of neglect by providing $80 billion of much-needed funding for the IRS over a ten-year period. Having a fully functioning IRS to enforce the tax laws and to provide taxpayer service is critical to our voluntary compliance system. It also allows for the delivery through the tax system of the many social and economic benefits that have been made available to marginalized taxpayers in recent years. The Tax Section is grateful for these IRS and Treasury employees’ commitment and participation in discussions about tax policy. Comments from prominent lawmakers suggesting that this increased funding will lead to a militarized IRS have been dismaying. Such baseless remarks undermine our tax system and put IRS employees at risk. All of us who know and respect the IRS should be working hard to counteract this dangerous discourse.
Upcoming meetings include the Virtual 2022 Fall Tax Exempt Organizations Symposium to be held on September 8 and the 2022 Fall Tax Meeting on October 13-15 to be held at the Hyatt Regency Dallas. If you are wondering why the Section would choose to hold an in-person meeting at a location that is as controversial as Texas, I can only say that the hotel contract was entered into years ago and it was not feasible, either financially or logistically, to change course for this meeting.
Looking back on my year as Chair, I am especially grateful for the wonderful staff and the fantastic Tax Section officers and the members of Council who, in each case, went above and beyond to support the Tax Section. All of them showed tremendous resilience, dedication, energy, creativity, and teamwork. The Section faced challenges as we all continued to struggle last year with the impact of COVID, especially on in-person meetings, and the increased polarization in society over nearly every issue. In spite of those obstacles, the Section was able to make true progress. I look forward to watching the Section flourish under the stewardship of its new and continuing leadership and the Section’s unparalleled staff.