Tuesday, September 19, 2017
I was sad to learn that at the Austin meeting the ABA Tax Section Council voted to significantly reduce the academic speaker and academic leadership reimbursement policy, retaining it only for academics who meet the Tax Section's definition of "young lawyer" (under 40 or less than 5 years in practice). I believe this is a penny-wise, pound-foolish policy change and can serve only to damage the historically salutary close ties between tax practitioners and tax academics. I think my personal involvement with the ABA Tax Section would likely be much less had those reimbursements not been available to me. I explain more below the fold.
I practiced law for about 13 years before making a mid-life career move into academia at age 41. So I did not meet the definition of young lawyer. I do not believe I am an outlier. Tax is not a popular subject to teach (neither is Commercial law). As a result, schools tend to hire folks to teach tax who have actually practiced tax. Here at Texas Tech for example, of the last four tax hires, all have been similar to me, joining the academy after age 40 and after having practiced for more than 5 years.
When I went into academics I knew I was starting a new career and needed to work diligently to establish a respectable career path. One way I thought to do that was to participate in the ABA Tax Section meetings, in part because of the reimbursement policy. Travel funds are perennially short for untenured newbies. What really helps "sell" any conference to the Green-Shades in the Dean's office is that the conference thinks so highly of you that it is willing to share the cost! So if one is both (1) flying the institutional flag by being a speaker and (2) getting some cost sharing, then it's much easier to shake loose some money for the conference.
So I tried to get as many speaking opportunities as possible on Tax Section panels and I joined the Individual and Family Tax Committee leadership ladder. I did not do this solely because of the reimbursement policy. But the likelihood of my being able to attend three meetings a year for six years in my early career would have been much smaller but for the reimbursement policy. It is no coincidence, I think, that most of the leadership on that committee had been academics.
The ABA Tax Section meetings are also one of the very few section meetings that attract significant numbers of academics...enough to actually have a separate committee! I have attended other ABA Section meetings and find few, if any, academic connections there. But Tax Section meetings allow me to interact with more of my academic colleagues there than I can at some of the law school conferences. Yet most law schools are much less willing to fund travel to "practitioner" conferences than "academic" conferences. The Tax Section has traditionally valued that connection between academics and practitioners, believing that tax academics add value to the conferences.
Cutting back on that support may diminish the usefulness of Tax Section meetings for newbie (notice I don't say "young") academics. But for the ABA's reimbursement policy I would have been more likely to put my energies into other ways of establishing a reputation and developing a network of fellow academics. Now that I am a holder of a Pretty Good Professorship, I don't need the reimbursement. I have enough support to attend whatever conferences I like. But because of my early relationship with the Tax Section, I still attend at least one Section meeting per year. In fact I just spent this past Thursday participating on a great "Nuts and Bolts of Tax Collection" panel in Austin. I like to think that I added value. In might be that, in an alternative time line where there had been no reimbursement policy, I would still have been there in Austin. But the odds would be much less.
So that's why I am sad to see the Council reduce the academic reimbursement policy.