The Mentor/Mentee Dynamic
Our Section website highlights several of the reasons to be a member of the Tax Section: “The Section of Taxation gives you insight into current developments in tax law, connects you with the brightest minds in tax and provides cutting-edge continuing education.” After reflecting on the remarks of Pam Olson, the 2023 recipient of the Section’s Distinguished Service Award, it occurred to me that perhaps these talking points could be rephased and directed toward our young tax lawyers by adding: “The Tax Section’s brightest minds in tax will serve as your mentors and help you advance your practice to the next level.”
After acknowledging that she had “stood on the shoulders of giants,” Pam Olson recognized Fred Goldberg, B. John Williams, the late Ken Gideon, and numerous other mentors who guided her in her career. Like Pam, many of us owe whatever success we have attained in the tax profession to one or more mentors we have met either through college, law school, work, or at some professional meeting.
There are many definitions of a mentor, generally referring to an experienced person who guides and nurtures the development of another person. A mentor may surface during the educational process from a teacher’s work with a student, in connection with the normal manager-subordinate relationship at work, or from relationships developed through professional organizations such as the Tax Section. A mentor is someone who has attained the trust of the mentee and becomes someone the mentee would like to emulate. Good mentors take an interest in their mentees as individuals, give advice when it is needed, and in many cases, broaden their mentees’ horizons and encourage them to “reach for the stars.”
Pam Olson also noted that, in many cases, the mentor benefits from the relationship with the mentee. She referred to Gary Wilcox, a colleague with whom she worked at IRS and Treasury, as “the credit card she never wanted to leave at home.” Pam also noted that “bringing beer” seemed to promote a comfortable relationship between mentors and mentees.
I am sure that every Section member recalls one or more mentor/mentee connections in their professional careers. I had the privilege of starting my career practicing tax law with Richard E. Thigpen, Jr. and the law firm of Thigpen & Hines, PA in Charlotte, North Carolina. My corporate tax professor at Duke Law School, Richard D. Hobbet (another mentor), recommended me to Dick, and we hit it off from the start.
I loved my work and the people I was working with at Thigpen & Hines, a boutique tax firm. Dick’s father, Richard E. Thigpen, was still practicing and took an interest in me, giving me interesting tax problems and matters to work on and always giving me constructive feedback. Dick always made sure my plate was full of work, and I could not have been happier. In those days, in Charlotte, North Carolina, tax lawyers had to cover everything—individual, trust, estate, wills, partnership, corporate, audits, appeals, and tax litigation. There were times when Thigpen & Hines dominated the entire Tax Court calendar. Other tax lawyers at the firm, Randall Groves, Ken Essex, and Woody Efird, as well as Dick Sr. and Jr., were great mentors for a young tax lawyer.
When the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) was enacted, Dick told me that he wanted me to take that part of the firm’s practice and run with it. I read all of the guidance and regulations that came out. I attended an ABA seminar on the new law in New York City with Dick’s encouragement. The new law required that every pension and profit-sharing plan be amended to comply—perfect work for a young associate. We amended over two hundred plans in the next few years, and we got many new client referrals. Meanwhile, Dick encouraged me to be well rounded as a tax lawyer. We tried numerous Tax Court cases and civil cases in state and federal courts with juries.
Thigpen & Hines had the best tax library in town, so other lawyers often visited our office to research in our library. I quickly got to know the lawyers with other firms in downtown Charlotte. We developed mutual respect and lifelong personal and professional relationships. Dick encouraged me to get as much CLE as was available to me and to become active with the North Carolina and American Bar Associations. We attended the North Carolina Bar Association annual meeting every year, where Dick seemed to know everybody. His father had been President of the NCBA in 1948-49, and Dick was no wallflower. Dick impressed on me the value of being active in the Tax Section. Dick was appointed as the first Chair of the newly formed NCBA Tax Section, served as President of the NCBA (1988-89), was active in the Civil and Criminal Tax Penalties Committee of the ABA Tax Section, and later served as President of the American College of Tax Counsel (1993). Whatever success I have realized during my career as a tax lawyer, I owe it to my early years practicing tax law at the feet of Dick Thigpen, Jr. He was a great role model. The mentoring and guidance that I received from him has been invaluable to me.
Of course, not every young lawyer is blessed with mentors and role models like mine. The leadership of the Section recognizes the value of attracting young lawyers to the Section and helping them develop into future leaders of the tax bar. Loretta Collins Argrett, the first African American woman to serve as Assistant Attorney General, Tax Division, of the Justice Department, actively championed women and recruited them for positions of leadership. She restructured the division not only to increase its effectiveness and efficiency, but also to provide advancement opportunities for legal support personnel, many of whom were African American “single moms.” At one point during her tenure at Justice, the three top positions in the division were held by women. Loretta shared with the inaugural class of Argrett Fellows the importance of role models in her career development, and the fellows are each provided a mentor who guides them as they integrate into the committees and forums of the Section.
The Tax Section is filled with distinguished role models who have served in the highest levels of the IRS and Treasury, and who lead the tax practices in their law and accounting firms. A mentor may be an active Section member who suggests that a young lawyer attend a Section committee meeting, join them for a committee dinner, or speak on a panel; or who introduces them to other influential members of the tax bar; or is simply the person who approves a reimbursement request submitted to a firm or employer.
We should all recognize the role of the Tax Section in mentoring the next generation of tax professionals. Whether you are in a position to exercise one or more (or all) of the mentor functions or roles mentioned above, remember that you are showing respect for your personal mentors (who may have taken an interest in you and done the same for you) when you ”pay it forward” for a younger generation mentee. This is especially important in these times, when so many young lawyers have been working remotely during and after the Covid 19 pandemic, isolated from the opportunity to collaborate with other professionals on a regular and routine basis by stopping by the office, having lunch, showing up for social gatherings after work, and attendance at Tax Section meetings. Consider prioritizing your role as a mentor for those who look up to you.
More on the May Meeting
The May Meeting at the Marriott Marque in Washington, DC drew nearly 1700 registrants. Three hundred members were able to stay for the plenary session on Saturday, featuring remarks from Danny Werfel, our new IRS Commissioner, and Natasha Sharin, Associate Professor of Law and Management at Yale University and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy and Counsel to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
We recognized the second class of Loretta Collins Argrett Fellows: Goldburn Maynard, Jorge M. Obén, Sonia Shaikh, Sonya Watson, and Linda Whitfield. The 2023-2024 class of Nolan Fellows includes Bibiana Cruz, Omeed Firouzi, Brian Gardner, Samuel Lapin, Joshua Savey, and Caitlin Tharp.
Finally, we opened the application period for the 2023-2025 Tax Analysts Public Service Fellowship. This fellowship is meant for more experienced tax attorneys and is funded entirely through a generous contribution by Tax Analysts. Applications for the second Tax Analysts Public Service Fellow are due June 30.
It was great to see the filled committee meeting rooms during the May Meeting discussing cutting-edge tax developments, including the recent guidance from the IRS and Treasury implementing the Inflation Reduction Act. All registrants have access to the audio-recordings of the May Meeting at no extra cost. Non-registrants can order the audio recordings for a nominal charge.
New Corporate Counsel Committee
At the May Meeting, we held an organizational meeting of the new Corporate Counsel Committee. The committee will serve as a home for—and hopefully attract more participation in—the Section by in-house counsel and corporate tax directors. There are many benefits of getting corporate counsel and tax directors more involved in the Section, including CLE, pro bono, comments on proposed regulations and networking with Section members. The Corporate Counsel Committee will have its own meetings and programs. It will also co-sponsor joint programs with other Section committees, as well as with the Corporate Counsel Committees of other ABA Sections, including the Litigation Section and the Business Law Section. The committee’s first program is planned for the Fall virtual meeting.
If you serve as an in-house counsel or tax director or otherwise have an interest in participation in the new committee, please join the committee online. You can also contact me ([email protected]), Jennifer Noel ([email protected]) or Jennifer Austin ([email protected]), and we will get you involved.
New Membership Committee
After extensive discussions (commencing with the Summer Leadership Meeting and continuing with the Fall and Mid-Year Officers and Council Meeting) and input from a Membership Task Force, the Section leadership has determined that growing our membership base should be a high Section priority. Jennifer Breen will serve as Chair of the new Membership Committee, under the direction of Caroline Ciraolo, Vice Chair – Membership, Diversity, and Inclusion.
In 2019, the ABA launched a new membership model aimed at reversing declining membership and revenue. The leadership hoped to attract additional dues-paying members by 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 enter 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, non-profit/public interest, judges, solo and small firm (2-5 lawyers), and retired lawyers is $150 per year. Membership in the Tax Section for all categories is only $105, making the Section a great bargain for a tax lawyer. The Membership Committee plans to promote the Section’s brand to reach more tax practitioners across all categories.
The first project of the Membership Committee—involving all the Officers, Council Directors, the Membership Task Force, the Nolan Fellows, and the Argrett Fellows—was an effort to bring recently lapsed members back to the Section. Results have been positive, and many of us making the calls have found the exercise to be an enjoyable one, reconnecting with many Section members whose lapsed membership was inadvertent. Some had changed firms, addresses or offices, while others had retired from full-time law practice. Most did not receive or simply overlooked the dues notices.
Other membership initiatives under development will include the following:
- Recruiting more law student members with outreach through law schools and targeting graduates to retain them as dues-paying members;
- Recruiting new members through the Young Lawyers Forum (YLF), LBGTQ+ Lawyers in Tax Forum, Argrett, Nolan, Brunswick, and Tax Analysts Fellows, and other groups that provide a welcoming space for new members;
- Recruiting new members from law firms, accounting firms, corporate legal and tax departments, IRS Chief Counsel’s Office, and other government offices by meeting demands for virtual programing and providing additional member value;
- Encouraging Section committees and state bar tax sections to engage more young lawyers to participate in committee and Section programs, comment projects, CLE programs, and other activities, thereby improving member engagement and retention; and
- Providing additional value to Section members and continuing to expand the Section’s virtual CLE offerings with current topics, including replicating our best programs and panels.
As Membership Committee Chair, Jennifer Breen will be recruiting Council Directors, committee chairs, fellows, and other active Section members to join the new Membership Committee. Please let her know of your interest by emailing her at [email protected].
Section Support for an Equitable, Efficient, and Workable Tax System
Pursuant to its mission “to support the development of an equitable, efficient, and workable tax system,” the Section is submitting comments on the 2023-2024 IRS Priority Guidance Plan. The Section continues to support the funding of the IRS, the confirmation of a new Chief Counsel of the IRS, and the appointment of Tax Court judges to fill the open slots on the court.
Upcoming Section Events
The Section is sponsoring several in-person, virtual, and hybrid programs to provide members ongoing access to current tax education and CLE credit. Look out for additional offerings in the future as Chris Tank, our Director of CLE, rolls out innovative programs to meet the demand.
Upcoming in-person Section meetings include the 15th Annual U.S. and Latin America Tax Practice Trends Conference at the Mandarin Oriental, Miami, Florida (June 14-16, 2023).
The Fall Virtual Meeting
We look forward to your participation in the Virtual 2023 Fall Tax Meeting on October 16-20, 2023. Mark your calendars—registration will open soon.