Reflections on the impact of Nina Olson by Luz Arevalo

As I mentioned in a post on July 8, we are offering reflections on Nina’s impact during the month of July before she retires.  We start off series with a reflection by my fellow Boston clinician, Luz Arevalo.  Luz directs the LITC at Greater Boston Legal Services.  Few clinicians are more passionate advocates than Luz.  So, her comments about Nina’s tone have special meaning.  If you have a reflection and have not sent it in to us yet, I invite you to send it to me at kfogg@law.harvard.edu.  Keith

It was during the 2003 LITC conference that I first heard Nina Olson speak. I remember being struck by her defiant tone. I consider myself educated and yet, it was not until I began to do tax work that I learned there was such a thing as a Taxpayer Advocate. Within the IRS nonetheless. Still, I remember wondering why the feisty tone right there, in a large room full of hundreds of advocates in their own right all of whom were on her side. She gave us lots of data that included taxpayers assisted, types of cases, and ongoing efforts for better customer service. She mentioned the attorneys who worked with her and the topics she planned to address in her annual report. But what always stayed with me was her tone.

Nina came to Boston in 2016 to address the bar. I cannot remember all she said because I was too nervous thinking about what I wanted to say, and making sure she saw my then entire team. By then, I had heard Nina speak, read much of what she wrote, and knew that she demanded perfection. For example, someone had committed the cardinal sin of using the phrase “churning cases” when referring to the work. She was furious and said “I don’t churn cases. I work the cases.” Point taken. So it was important that my team came across as I know it: ready and diligent. I gave her my thanks for supporting a second Boston clinic, for sending Keith Fogg our way, and she said she had big plans for Boston.

Having had a small taste of what is like to build a team and fight for support, one can’t help but admire someone who built an entire national network, some would say with international impact. When my clinic’s private funding was cut because the work needed was not “entirely legal,” I had a WWNS* (*WWNS= What Would Nina Say) moment and asked the funder how many accountants fight for due process?

As I see it, Nina had a vision to get the IRS to do its job, only better. I admire her constancy and zeal in identifying and recruiting key people to share that vision, and make it happen. Her work is not for the faint of heart, but then again, she never struck me as one to faint. And if the skill needed is that of a defiant warrior, so be it. She harnessed it. Or maybe she was born feisty. It suits her, and it left us a legacy worth preserving.

Thank you Nina, for all you did. I think you have touched virtually every taxpayer’s life for the better. Our sky will be a bit less bright without you.