We Have Momentum—Remember the “Flywheel Effect”
The flywheel effect, introduced by Jim Collins in his book, “Good to Great,” states that organizations do not become exceptional as a result of a single intervention or initiative but rather from the accumulation of little wins that stack up over years of hard work, until a moment when momentum takes over to power sustained periods of accelerated growth. The flywheel effect emphasizes the importance of sustained effort and compounding returns in building a good organization. This enables an organization to build momentum in every cycle and achieve better results.
I had the good fortune to chair three in-person meetings of the Tax Section during the past year, which begins and ends with the ABA Annual Meeting in the fall. The pandemic had required us to hold virtual meetings from May 2020 through February 2022. The May 2022 meeting was conducted as a “hybrid” virtual/in person meeting. The virtual meetings were well attended and reached Section members who had not previously attended in-person meetings, usually because of the cost and time out of office. The virtual meetings kept the Section alive and allowed us to provide CLE content to our members but provided limited opportunities for networking and personal relationship development. These limitations on the synergies normally associated with Section membership slowed the flywheel down, but we did not permit it to stop.
Our Fall 2022 in-person meeting in Dallas attracted 831 attendees, plus 202 registrants for a separate virtual meeting of the Exempt Organizations Committee. The Midyear Meeting in San Diego garnered 1090 attendees. The flywheel had started to regain momentum. The May Meeting in Washington, DC, with nearly 1700 attendees, validated the existence of the flywheel effect. Three hundred members attended the Plenary Session luncheon on Saturday, featuring Danny Werfel, new IRS Commissioner and Natasha Sharin, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy and Counsel to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. The relevance of the ABA Section of Taxation was in clear view!
As noted in my Spring 2023 From the Chair column, Jen Breen is the Chair of our newly minted Membership Committee. This committee will help the Section stem the decline in membership anticipated from the retirements of baby boomers and reach out to the many new tax lawyers from law firms, accounting firms, corporate legal and tax departments, the IRS Chief Counsel’s Office, and other government departments who are entering the profession and have so much to gain from the Section. The membership initiative will keep the flywheel spinning and will be supplemented by the outreach of the new Corporate Counsel Committee, chaired by Jennifer Noel, which will serve as a home for in-house counsel and corporate tax directors. The Corporate Counsel Committee’s first program is planned in connection with the Fall virtual meeting on Thursday, October 19. Any Section member can join the Corporate Counsel Committee online. And, of course, there are our burgeoning Law Student Division and affinity groups, including the Young Lawyers Forum (YLF), LBGTQ+ Lawyers in Tax Forum, and the Loretta Collins Argrett, Nolan, Christine Brunswick, and Tax Analysts Fellows, and other groups that provide a welcoming space for new members.
We Need Our Members to Be Active to Keep the Flywheel Spinning
We have found that involvement in committee activities is the key to realizing the full benefits of Section membership. Committees are usually led by experienced tax lawyers who are the best in the field. Committee leaders welcome new committee members and seek to introduce young tax lawyers as members of panels and participants in comment projects. Committee involvement by members at all levels introduces members to speaking and networking opportunities during and outside of the Fall, Midyear, and May Meetings of the Section and ensures a strong leadership pipeline for the committees and for the Section.
Other opportunities for Section involvement for members include submitting articles to ABA Tax Times or other tax publications, participating in pro bono programs, contributing to a government comment project, or attending webinars and in-person meetings. And don’t forget the Section’s role in mentoring young tax lawyers.
Active involvement of more and more members in the many activities of the Section will increase the momentum of the flywheel and keep the Section at the top of its game and on top of the tax profession.
A bright spot in the finances of the Section this year was a significant bump in sponsorship of Section meetings by law firms, accounting firms, tax publishers, and other firms serving the industry. Much of the success of our sponsorship program is due to our sponsorship representative and agent, Michael Davis. We look forward to our continued relationship with Michael, our sponsoring firms, and the many yet untapped sponsors of our future meetings and programs. Please reach out to us if your firm is interested in sponsoring an upcoming meeting or program.
Recent Collaboration with the Civil Rights and Social Justice (CRSJ) Section
The Tax Section recently had the opportunity to collaborate with the CRSJ Section and co-sponsor Resolution 507 and an accompanying report for consideration by the ABA House of Delegates. The Resolution urges the amendment of existing laws and/or the enactment of new laws to provide financial support to tenants of rental housing, such as a refundable tax credit for lower-income renters, restoration of the Advance Child Tax Credit, and/or expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. The resolution further urges that the government provide administrative agencies adequate financial resources to implement and administer any such programs. Tony Infanti, Vice Chair of Pro Bono & Outreach, played a key role working with the CRSJ Section to finalize the Resolution and Report, which was approved by the Officers and Council Directors in May. The Resolution was presented by Armando Gomez, our Section Delegate, and approved by the ABA House of Delegates on August 7 at the Annual ABA Meeting in Dallas.
Among other initiatives, Resolution 507 supports the use of tax provisions to benefit those households that existing housing and homelessness programs—such as housing vouchers subject to impracticable waiting lists and severe restrictions on eligibility—are unable to serve. Refundable tax credits would be a more effective tool in addressing housing affordability and lifting households out of poverty. Tax credits can further achieve economic and housing justice for all, balancing the primary benefit to middle- and upper-income families from the home mortgage interest and property tax deductions and the exclusion of gain on the sale of a principal residence.
Support for IRS Funding
On July 27, the Section submitted a letter to the leaders of the Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on Financial Services and General Government expressing strong support for providing the IRS with appropriate and adequate funding for Fiscal Year 2024 and subsequent years. Consistent with the Section’s mission “to serve our members and the public by providing education about taxes and tax systems, and by providing leadership to support the development of an equitable, efficient and workable tax system,” and prior Section submissions supporting IRS funding, the letter indicated that our Section members have noted significant improvements in the IRS’s taxpayer services as a result of the additional funding under the Inflation Reduction Act, some of which are anecdotal, and others backed by empirical studies and reports. The letter urges Congress to provide the IRS with appropriate and adequate funding so it can fulfill its core functions of providing taxpayer service, administering the tax laws passed by Congress, and collecting taxes properly due. This should be a bipartisan initiative and should be supported by all law-abiding and patriotic Americans.
Tribute to Dick Lipton
All Section members have benefited from the leadership provided to the Section by Richard M. Lipton over the years. Dick came up through the Real Estate and Partnership Committees and was first elected to the Section’s Council in 1990. He has since served the Section in many capacities, including as Chair (2001–2002) and as one of our two Section Delegates to the ABA House of Delegates. Dick’s name is well known and respected around the ABA. Most recently, Dick served as a member of the ABA Board of Governors and the Finance Committee, and his term ended at the close of the Annual Meeting of the ABA in Dallas. We wish Dick and his wife Jane the best as they look forward to a long cruise around the world, a little more golf, and all the rewards of a well-deserved retirement.
Thanks for Your Support—And for the Memories!
Whatever success the Section has attained during the past year is attributable to the extraordinary efforts of our Officers, Council Directors, and our Section Staff. Our Vice Chairs were each committed to the leadership of the Section in their roles of responsibility over Membership, Diversity, and Inclusion (Caroline Ciraolo, Vice Chair), Committee Operations (Mary McNulty, Vice Chair), Continuing Legal Education (Tom Greenaway, Vice Chair), Publications (Roberta Mann, Vice Chair), Pro Bono (Tony Infanti, Vice Chair), Government Submissions (Lisa Zarlenga, Vice Chair), and Administration (David Wheat, Vice Chair). Christine Speidel, Secretary, and Lany Villalobos, Assistant Secretary, ably recorded the actions of the Section Council meetings. Armando Gomez and Julie Sassenrath served as our experienced and capable Section Delegates to the ABA House of Delegates. Former Section Chair and Delegate to the House, Dick Lipton, served as a member of the ABA Board of Governors.
Each of our Council Directors has responsibility for two or three Section committees, often including committees they formerly chaired. This ensures that each committee chair will have his or her own Council Director as a resource. The Council Directors and their responsibility for committees were as follows: Leslie Book (Teaching Tax, Tax Policy and Simplification, Exempt Organizations), Scott Levine (Affiliated and Related, Corporate Tax, Employment Taxes), Stephanie Lipinski Galland (Energy & Environmental, SALT), Mary Slonina (Fiduciary Income Tax, Closely Held Businesses, S Corporations), Elizabeth Stevens (Transfer Pricing, Financial Institutions & Products, Insurance Companies, and Corporate Counsel), John Colvin (Civil & Criminal Tax Penalties, Court Procedure & Practice), Rachel Kleinberg (FAUST, Tax Exempt Financing), Robb Longman (Real Estate, Sales, Exchanges & Basis, Young Lawyers Forum), Susan Morgenstern (Pro Bono & Tax Clinics, Tax Collection, Bankruptcy, & Workouts), Vanessa Scott (Employee Benefits, Estate & Gift Taxes), James Creech (Individual & Family, Tax Practice & Technology, formerly Tax Practice Management), Cathy Fung (Capital Recovery & Leasing, Diversity, Tax Accounting), Jennifer Breen (Administrative Practice, Standards of Tax Practice), Jennifer Alexander (Partnerships & LLCs, Investment Management), and Summer LePree (Foreign Lawyers Forum, USAFTT).
During the year, our excellent Section Director, Haydee Moore, formerly Director of Meetings and a veteran member of our Staff, resigned to pursue another opportunity. Haydee provided effective leadership and management for our capable Section Staff, including Ty Hansen (Associate Director), Sarah Wiltshire (Director, Meetings), Greg Peacock (Director, Publishing), Chris Tank (Director, CLE), Meg Newman (Chief Counsel), and Genevieve Borello (Director, Membership, Marketing, and Diversity). Needless to say, the Section could not function without the tireless effort and full-time support of the Staff for the operations of the Section. It has been a joy and pleasure for me to work with them this past year.
It has been a great pleasure for me to work this year with Scott Michel, Chair-Elect and incoming Chair of the Section, and Alice Abreu, incoming Chair-Elect. Both Scott and Alice share my passion for the Section and enthusiasm for the future. The Section will be in good hands!
The Fall Virtual Meeting and Other CLE Offerings
We look forward to your participation in the Virtual 2023 Fall Tax Meeting beginning October 16–20, 2023. The registration link for the Fall meeting and links for other upcoming Section CLE offerings are available on the Section website.