Remembering Dale Kensinger

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

On January 15, 2020, Dale Kensinger passed away leaving a big hole at the Tax Clinic at Harvard Law School.  You can find his obituary here.  Until very recently Dale put in a few days a week doing volunteer work at the tax clinic, where he had his own dedicated office as part of the supervising team.

I first met Dale on March 14, 1977, when I started working for Chief Counsel, IRS in Branch 3 of the Refund Litigation Division.  Dale was one of nine attorneys in the branch and was the second most senior.  As a newly minted law school graduate, I remember thinking Dale, who was about 35 at the time, was really old.  He was also extremely knowledgeable, generous with his time and kind.  I was fortunate to start my legal career in a small branch of attorneys that included someone like Dale.

Dale moved on to the Kansas City office of Chief Counsel only nine months after I arrived.  I moved on after just 18 months because of a reorganization that sent all of us to field offices across the country or to other National Office divisions.  Dale worked in the Kansas City office from 1978 to 1999 where he became the Assistant District Counsel.  Other than seeing him at the occasional training program, our paths essentially did not cross during these years though we both worked for the same large organization.

He retired in 1999 and founded the low income taxpayer clinic at University of Missouri – Kansas City.  He also became active in the ABA tax section and quickly rose to leadership in the low income taxpayer committee.  When I retired in 2007 and began teaching at Villanova, I reconnected with Dale through the ABA Tax Section.  Then Dale retired again in 2009 to move from Kansas City to Boston to be near his daughter, Elizabeth.  Following his retirement from the UMKC clinic, Dale became less active with the ABA but he was not finished helping low income taxpayers. 

My colleague at the Legal Services Center at Harvard, Dan Nagin, arrived in 2012 to start a veteran’s clinic and quickly found that he had many clients who needed tax assistance.  Dan searched around for someone who could help these clients and connected with Dale.  Dale worked with volunteer students from Harvard to service the veteran clients until Dan could convince the Harvard faculty to formally start a tax clinic.  When the tax clinic formally started in 2015, I came to Harvard as a visitor to get it going and had the incredibly good fortune to have Dale there already to guide me once again.

Dale served three years in the air force during the Vietnam War.  His time as a veteran, his kind and patient nature as well as his deep knowledge of tax practice, allowed him to fix the tax problems of many veterans, and others, during the five years I worked with him in the tax clinic at Harvard.  He not only handled a substantial docket but he mentored students, fellows and me.  The tax clinic misses him on many levels.  His clients miss him deeply and several have commented to me over the past two months how much he helped them and how much they hoped and prayed for his recovery.

Because of his extraordinary service to low income taxpayers in his retirement, Dale was selected in 2018 as the co-recipient of the Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award which is the only annual award given by the Tax Section.  The ABA Tax Section describes the award and the selection criteria as follows:

This award was established in 2002 to recognize one or more individuals or law firms for outstanding and sustained achievements in pro bono activities in tax law. In 2007 the award was renamed in honor of the late Janet Spragens, who received the award in 2006 in recognition of her dedication to the development of low income taxpayer clinics throughout the United States.

Throughout the 50+ years of his career as a tax lawyer, Dale provided a model of caring about finding the right answer through his legal skills and caring about his clients with his interpersonal skills.  At the tax clinic we are reminded daily of Dale’s work as we try to finish what he started with the clients he was representing.  We were very fortunate to have him as a colleague and a role model for so many years.  I will miss our regular talks about baseball, politics, difficult clients, difficult IRS employees and wonderful granddaughters.  Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family at this time.


  1. William Schmidt says

    When I started at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2009, the tax clinic had different directors but it is still going strong today thanks to a solid foundation from Dale. I heard about Dale both at UMKC and at ABA tax meetings. I don’t believe I ever met him, but everyone always had good things to say about Dale. I agree he will be missed.

  2. Joseph Barry Schimmel says

    I had the privilege of serving on the ABA Tax Section Low Income Taxpayers Committee with Dale (and with Elizabeth Atkinson, who was Chair while we served as Vice Chairs). Dale was a pleasure to work with, and to spend time with. Hs dedication to taxpayer rights was amazing, as was his knowledge. I missed him when he left the Tax Section and “retired” to Boston, and I was glad to begin seeing him again at Tax Section meetings once he began volunteering at Harvard. He will be missed by many, but not least by me. I hope his family finds comfort knowing how many lives Dale touched through his kindness and good deeds.

  3. Jerry Borison says

    I had the good fortune to know Dale in his early days of LITC work. He was there with me, Janet Spragens at American U., Nina Olson at the Community Law Center, Les Shapiro at what was then IRS Office of Professional Responsibility, and a host of others (at SMU, Georgia State, SMU and Quinnipiac) helped get this concept off the ground and get Congressional funding. He was a super guy and he will be missed.

  4. Stephen Shay says

    I first met Dale when he started to work at the Harvard Low Income Tax Clinic, though I had heard of Dale by reputation long before. Dale was passionate about getting the law right and doing his best for the client. He was unfailingly courteous and thoughtful of others. Everyone who worked with Dale professionally will miss his example of practicing with decency and integrity.

  5. Carl Smith says

    I met Dale first in the early ‘aughts through the ABA Tax Section, where I greatly admired his work and dedication to low-income taxpayers. My next significant interaction with Dale was far more meaningful. It began Jan. 2, 2019, when I took over as acting director of the tax clinic at Harvard for 6 months, while Keith took a sabbatical. Twice a week, Dale would officially report to me on the docket of over a dozen cases that he was managing — mostly doing OICs or work for vets. We chatted about various client strategies. But, what I will most miss about Dale is the times at least once a day when he got coffee from the room adjacent to mine and came in holding the mug unannounced — just wanting to chat about life in general, politics, etc. What a great and gentle man!

Comment Policy: While we all have years of experience as practitioners and attorneys, and while Keith and Les have taught for many years, we think our work is better when we generate input from others. That is one of the reasons we solicit guest posts (and also because of the time it takes to write what we think are high quality posts). Involvement from others makes our site better. That is why we have kept our site open to comments.

If you want to make a public comment, you must identify yourself (using your first and last name) and register by including your email. If you do not, we will remove your comment. In a comment, if you disagree with or intend to criticize someone (such as the poster, another commenter, a party or counsel in a case), you must do so in a respectful manner. We reserve the right to delete comments. If your comment is obnoxious, mean-spirited or violates our sense of decency we will remove the comment. While you have the right to say what you want, you do not have the right to say what you want on our blog.

Speak Your Mind