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The Clark Hill-ABA Connection: Deep Roots & A New Leadership Role

October 14, 2021

Reginald Turner and Stanley Blend Discuss Their Career Paths and Connections with the ABA

When Clark Hill was established in 1890, the American Bar Association was just 12 years old.

In the more than 130 years since, the two organizations have changed and grown together. As the legal profession developed, their legacies have been shaped by giants of the profession. Clark Hill, which now has 26 offices in the U.S., Ireland, and Mexico is a thriving international AmLaw 200 firm, and the ABA has grown into the world’s largest voluntary association of lawyers, judges, and other legal professionals.

Over the years, Clark Hill has been a consistent presence in the ABA with their lawyers serving in various capacities and leadership roles. Reginald Turner, a Clark Hill Member in the firm’s Detroit office and an accomplished litigator, government affairs advocate, and strategic advisor, became President of the ABA in August 2021. Stanley Blend, Senior Counsel in the San Antonio office and a Texas Board of Legal Specialization Certified tax lawyer, served as Chair of the ABA Section of Taxation in 2007-2008.

The two recently discussed the trajectories that led them to these national leadership positions at the ABA and other career highlights.

Question: What are the major milestones that prepared you for a national leadership role in the ABA?

Stanley: After graduating from the University of Houston Law Center in 1967, I completed an LL.M in Taxation at Georgetown University Law Center while serving in the office of the IRS Chief Counsel in Washington, D.C., where I made good friends who were prominent in the tax bar. Approximately three and one-half years into my four-year commitment I was asked to become an Assistant Branch Chief but would have to extend my commitment for one year, a rare but welcome compliment that I accepted.

In 1972, I was recruited to join Clark Hill’s office in San Antonio, a delightful city, but one that had very few tax lawyers. Because I was largely on my own practicing here in this specialty, I took advantage of my former connections and became active in the State Bar of Texas Tax Section and the ABA Tax Section. I was able to create and leverage a network of peers who had similar interests and were engaged with the nitty gritty of state and federal tax law.

Although I was younger than most other lawyers active in the Texas and national bar organizations, I was soon drafted into leadership roles in both. In 1984, I was elected Secretary of the State Bar of Texas Section of Taxation; in 1985, I was chosen as Section Treasurer of the State organization; and in 1987, I became its Section Chair.

My work with the Texas bar raised my visibility and intense engagement in the ABA soon followed, when I became a Vice-Chair for the national organization’s Tax Section in 2002. This was a time-consuming role resulting in strengthening its management and administrative structures, in collaboration with the Tax Section’s then-Chair who practiced in Chicago. My success in establishing a stronger framework for the Tax Section was rewarded with new responsibilities: I was chosen the Tax Section’s Chair-Elect in 2006-2007 and elected as Section Chair for 2007–2008. This required a great deal of travel and resulted in getting to know many of the Tax Section’s 20,000 members coast to coast.

This was an interesting path to a national leadership opportunity and one basically prompted by the scarcity of tax lawyers in San Antonio when I arrived at Clark Hill in the early 1970s.

Reggie: As President of the University of Michigan Law School Student Senate in the mid-1980s, I was mentored by Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, who encouraged me to attend the ABA national conference. I did so and have been a member and staunch supporter of the organization ever since.

Prior to assuming ABA leadership roles, I was President of the National Bar Association and the State Bar of Michigan, and a member of the Labor and Employment Sections of both.

I subsequently served the ABA in many roles, including as Delegate for Michigan in the ABA House of Delegates, as well as Chair of the ABA House of Delegates Rules & Calendar Committee, the Committee on Issues of Concern to the Profession, and the Committee on Credentials and Admissions.

Between 2011 and 2014, I was honored to chair the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, its Commission on the Lawyer’s Role in Assuring Every Child a Quality Education, and the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation. I was also privileged to edit the labor law chapter of the fourth edition of the ABA’s Business & Commercial Litigation treatise.

Question: What are other highlights of your legal career? 

Stanley: Among my career highlights are litigating and winning several tax cases on behalf of taxpayers in U.S. Tax Court, as well as serving as an expert witness on federal tax issues in other high-profile tax disputes.

With regard to my service as ABA Chair, the Tax Section broke the record on the number of comments that we wrote together and submitted to the IRS for consideration. We turned out 50 comments, the most ever turned out, giving the IRS the benefit of a group of bright tax lawyers across the country. These comments are very important to the IRS and the Treasury and are often influential in writing policy and legislation.

It’s also been gratifying to have several articles published as well as have the opportunity to speak to many professional audiences, principally on tax-related topics, including the State Bar of Texas, the ABA, and the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants, as well as various tax institutes. I also have served as a member of The  University of Texas-Austin School of Law Taxation Conference Planning Committee since 1980, and I was elected by my peers as a Fellow of the American College of Tax Counsel, which recognizes exceptional dedication, commitment, contributions, accomplishments, and achievements related to the practice of tax law in the United States.

Reggie: I served as a White House Fellow and an aide to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros during the Clinton administration, and represented Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer on the Detroit Board of Education from 2000 to 2003. In 2003, Governor Jennifer Granholm appointed me to Michigan’s State Board of Education, and I subsequently won a statewide election for a full term in 2006.

Another highlight was testifying before Congress on the nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito for the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 as President of the National Bar Association, the nation’s oldest and largest national network of predominately African-American attorneys and judges.

A third notable achievement was representing Citizens for Affirmative Action’s Preservation before the U.S. Supreme Court two years earlier in a pair of affirmative action cases that involved my law school alma mater, the University of Michigan. It was a memorable occasion, with a packed courtroom and dozens of other lawyers on each side of the argument.  Although the result was a split decision – with U of M’s race-based undergraduate admissions scoring system struck down but its Law School’s right to consider race in admissions upheld, I agreed with the majority that the more limited use of race in admissions decisions was appropriate. Indeed, the Court’s decision in that landmark matter has become the law of the land.

Question: What advice would you give young lawyers about getting involved with the ABA?

Stanley: I have always been an aggressive recruiter of young lawyers to get them involved with the ABA as soon as they enter the profession. There is the obvious advantage of meeting other young lawyers as a social and professional support group. And once you get to know them and progress in your practice, you have the advantage of accessing some of the most talented and knowledgeable lawyers in the profession. It’s helpful to have that immediate access to information and resources and to be able to call upon others for sage advice. Those relationships are invaluable to your development as a lawyer, and as an individual.

Reggie: I believe that the ABA is the voice of our profession and that it’s essential for us as preparers for the next generations of lawyers. I have asked ABA members to reach out and mentor young lawyers and law students and demonstrate how bar associations can make a positive difference in society. I firmly believe in “Each one, Reach one” as the mantra and way forward to a better society.

Concluding Question for Reggie: What do you hope to accomplish as ABA President?

There are a number of issues at the top of my list. As an organization, we will continue to aim to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion, and to support that goal we must continue to address a history of laws, practices, biases, and discrimination that have led us to where we are. There are broad sectors of disenfranchised citizens who are unable to participate in the political, economic, and social activities and benefits of society, and that has to be changed. I also want to continue addressing public policy that’s central to the administration of justice, such as legal aid funding, voicing support of an independent judiciary, and speaking in support of criminal justice reform, particularly when it reflects racism and structural injustice.

Concluding Question for Stanley: Do you have any advice for Reggie based on your ABA leadership experience?

Well, I don’t know that Reggie really needs my advice, but guess I’d say, don’t underestimate the value of the people who might be willing to help and don’t hesitate to ask for their help. Reggie is going to be asked a wide range of questions that he may not have answers to right away, so he’s going to need to lean into that support system. Even as just a section chair, I found that the time commitment and responsibilities can be overwhelming at times alongside your legal practice.

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