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September 21, 2023 Pro Bono Matters

Parting Thoughts on Pro Bono (and Another Perspective)

Andrew R. Roberson and Katherine Roberson
Andrew and Katherine Roberson

Andrew and Katherine Roberson

I entered an appearance in my first pro bono Tax Court case over 15 years ago when I was a junior associate. Having clerked at the Tax Court for Judges Robert Ruwe and Joseph Goeke from 2000 to 2004 and spending the first few years of my law firm career working on large corporate cases, I was eager to get a taste of first-chairing a Tax Court case. Through contacts at my then-firm Latham & Watkins, I was able to meet Paul Harrison, who at that time led the low-income taxpayer clinic (LITC) at what was then the Center for Economic Progress in Chicago, and to volunteer to handle and supervise several pro bono tax matters. My mission was to get more experience in docketed cases to further my legal career and give back to the less fortunate. Mission accomplished—I was able to gain valuable experience that I believe helped me ultimately make partner and, as readers of this column already know, I was able to help many taxpayers resolve their tax disputes.

Becoming involved in pro bono tax cases led to other opportunities in the tax community. When I moved to McDermott Will & Emery in 2012, I was asked to help grow the firm’s pro bono efforts in the tax area. Around this same time, I represented low-income taxpayers in two precedential Tax Court cases that garnered attention in the innocent spouse and penalty areas. Special Trial Judge Peter Panuthos and Keith Fogg reached out to me to see if I would become more involved in the Tax Section and the Tax Court’s Calendar Call Program. This eventually led me to be a Vice-Chair and then Chair of the Pro Bono & Tax Clinics Committee. I made many new friends and contacts in the LITC community, at law firms, and in the government (including Nina Olson, who is now a dear friend). The benefits continued over the years as I continued to represent low-income taxpayers and speak at various conferences about pro bono tax opportunities and other tax issues. Additionally, I was asked to be a regular contributor to this column. (Many thanks to Linda Beale for all her hard work and assistance over the years.)

My first Pro Bono Matters column appeared in the Tax Section’s Winter 2014 edition of NewsQuarterly (since renamed ABA Tax Times). That column was a joint effort with Keith that discussed the Tax Court’s Calendar Call program and ways in which tax practitioners could assist LITCs in ensuring that volunteers were present at each calendar call to assist low-income taxpayers. I have continued to write a couple of columns each year, trying to promote pro bono in the tax practitioner community by sharing some of my experiences and those of others.

In all honesty, it has sometimes been challenging to come up with new pro bono topics to write about. My practice has also changed as I recently moved from law firm life to the Big 4 accounting firm life. Although I will continue to look for appropriate pro bono opportunities and to remain involved in giving back to low-income taxpayers, I have realized it is time for me to move on from writing this column and to allow someone else to share their thoughts with you and provide fresh ideas and viewpoints.

As I have shared before, it is much easier to talk about my pro bono experiences with my children Katie and Luke when talking about what I do at work than it is to talk about tax cases involving tax-free reorganizations, statutes of limitations, or even TEFRA partnership issues. And perhaps my favorite column over the years involved my experience with Katie watching and talking about On the Basis of Sex, the 2018 biopic following Justice Ginsburg’s early legal career and focusing on her and her husband—notorious tax attorney Martin Ginsburg—handling the Moritz case.

So, before I go, I wanted to give my daughter Katie an opportunity to share a few words and provide another perspective. She is a wonderful young adult who hopes to be a grade-school teacher and work with children. (Thankfully she will not have to worry about billable hours if she becomes a teacher!) I hope that you enjoy her viewpoint and thanks for letting me share my thoughts with all of you over the years.

My name is Katie Roberson and I’m just starting my senior year of high school. My current plan is to go to college and then work as a grade-school teacher. I’m still looking at colleges and have a list of some where I plan to apply, but I haven’t made any decisions yet. I’m looking forward to doing something new and being independent.

Friends and teachers sometimes ask me what my dad does for work. My simple answer is that he is a “tax attorney” or a “lawyer.” When they ask what kind of law or what he specifically does, I repeat what he has told me for a long time which is that he represents companies and people in disputes with the IRS and sometimes goes to court.

Most family dinners at our house revolve around the question of “what did you do today?” With my dad the answer is usually that he had meetings or phone calls or spent time reading and writing. He doesn’t go into detail about clients he works with or what his cases are about. But, he has always talked about his pro bono court cases with me and my brother. I think he does it because it is easier to explain and he wants us to understand what “pro bono” means and why he does it.

My dad asked me to say a few words about what pro bono means from my perspective and what type of pro bono I have done. To me, pro bono means working for free for people who can’t afford to pay you. It is really just helping people that need it, similar to volunteering.

My pro bono has included packing meals at Feed My Starving Children and being a volunteer staff member at camp for middle school kids. I enjoy helping others, which is partly why I want to become a teacher. I have also found that volunteer activities can be fun. So, if you want to give back, volunteer, or do pro bono, you should try to find something that you enjoy doing and that benefits others.

    Andrew R. Roberson


    Katherine Roberson

    Naperville North High School

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