The Colorado and Denver Bar Associations offer so many excellent benefits and opportunities that membership and participation in the American Bar Association (ABA) often goes by the wayside for many Colorado attorneys, including myself. For active ABA committee members, the ABA annual and midyear meetings serve as opportunities for committee members to meet face-to-face to discuss issues confronting the committees, brainstorm future programming and develop proposed policy positions. If you are not already an active American Bar Association committee member, you may wonder why you would want to attend an ABA annual meeting. After experiencing the ABA’s Annual Meeting in Chicago at the end of July, I saw three primary motives for attending: 1) CLE Credits, 2) Policy Making Opportunities and 3) a Tax Deductible Vacation. While every attorney has different reasons for making a pilgrimage to the ABA Annual Meeting, there is a prevailing consensus that the event is worthy of the hype.
The most obvious reason to attend the Annual Meeting is for the CLE opportunities. If December 31 of your three-year CLE period is creeping up on you, the Annual Meeting offers an excellent forum at which CLE bingeing is the norm. Between Thursday and Sunday, you could earn more than 20 CLE credits. Considering that the All Access Pass has a price tag of $500, each CLE credit would cost you around $25 — an excellent deal, especially since you don’t have to take long lunches, leave work early or sit through monotonous webinars to earn your credits one by one.
The CLE presentations offered at the ABA Meetings are on cutting-edge topics taught by some of the top practitioners in the nation. Some of the CLE presentations that I attended included a tour of recent Supreme Court decisions, a debunking of the myths surrounding copyrights and trademarks and a status report on the regulation of drones in the United States.
If you long for the “good old days” of student government and Robert’s Rules of Order, now is your chance to become one of the 559 Delegates to the ABA House of Delegates. New attorneys can be a delegate to the Young Lawyers Assembly and shape the ABA Young Lawyers Division’s position on issues facing the House of Delegates by debating resolutions raised by other young attorneys. The House of Delegates is the policymaking body of the ABA. Among its many endeavors, the House of Delegates creates and revises the ABA’s Model Rules, which are adopted by entities across the nation. Even if you are not a Delegate, you can still attend many assembly meetings and watch colleagues debate significant issues that are facing the national legal community.
A warning to the wise: If your reasons for attending the Annual Meeting are based on motives No. 1 or No. 3, do not become a delegate. A delegate’s time commitment is significant and will conflict with your ability to binge on CLE presentations and take in the surrounding attractions.
Tax Deductible Vacation
The third reason to attend the ABA Annual Meeting is if you need a tax deductible excuse to get out of town. As a tax attorney, I can’t imagine a better reason. I overheard several attorneys regaling colleagues with stories of how they’ve attended the ABA meetings for years and “written it all off.” If this is your reason, just be sure your deductions are in compliance with Section 162 of the Internal Revenue Code, which permits income tax deductions for travel expenses related to a taxpayer’s trade or business. Deductions not reimbursed by an employer are deductible on Schedule A, so if you itemize, your expenses related to attending the Annual Meeting are deductible including: annual meeting registration fees, hotel, flights, baggage, 50% of meals or the IRS’ standard meal allowance, taxi fares, dry cleaning and Wi-Fi. If your family attends, their expenses are not deductible. As with any tax deduction, keep adequate records to substantiate your expenses in the event of audit and include a schedule of the conference events and a diary documenting the events that you attended.
These meetings also invite attendees to reunite and socialize with fellow practitioners with whom they have established relationships through their involvement with the ABA. Whichever reason(s) you choose to cite, I strongly encourage you to consider attending an ABA Annual Meeting or the midyear meeting. You can take my word for it that you will be glad you attended come April 15. D
Klaralee Charlton (Chair-Elect of DBA-YLD) is an associate with Katz, Look & Onorato, P.C. and practices in their tax and estate administration divisions. Klaralee graduated from the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law and received her Masters of Tax from the University of Denver. She can be reached at email@example.com.