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CPE: Invaluable Lessons Learned

November 7th, 2011 by Judd Ballard

The 18th Annual Hartman State and Local Tax Forum took place in Nashville, TN two weeks ago.  Typically a collection of CPA’s and attorneys, it consists of a fairly balanced mix of state representatives, taxpayers and practitioners.  The conference is an excellent gathering of SALT’s version of Mount Rushmore – Wilson, Pomp, Frankel, Lindholm, Duncan, Rosen, etc.

Topics include nexus, apportionment, combined reporting, etc.  Presenters always jump at the opportunity to provide an update on recent relevant court cases, particularly those relevant to the southeastern states.  And, as expected, the popular sales tax topic this year is the ongoing multistate battle with Amazon.

However, technical discussions aside, I took more away from this year’s trip and conference than any of recent memory.  Please explain?  Don’t mind if I do.

Lesson No. 1: Courtesy

Actually quite the opposite.  About seven minutes into our non-stop, one hour flight from CMH, I received Lesson No. 1.  Airplane etiquette does not apply to business travelers.  Nor does client confidentiality.  Four gentlemen (term used loosely) chose to discuss the architectural plans relating to their recent client visit in Columbus.  Loud.  From across the aisle for all to hear.  Consistently referring to the client by name.

Mind you, this was a Southwest flight.  And what is everyone’s favorite Southwest policy?  That’s right, choose your own seat.  Please.  Sit in the same row, or at least on the same side of the aisle.  This plane was half full at best.

Subset to Lesson No. 1 – People using those blue tooth telephone pieces that hang from your ear are allowed, if not encouraged, to talk as loud as they want…in Panera…in the middle of the busy breakfast hour.

Lesson No. 2: Prospecting

When I was younger and assumed I’d play baseball the rest of my life, my dad’s motivational pitch to me was, “no matter how hard you work, there’s always someone out there working harder.”  Suffice to say, Lesson No. 2 is not limited to baseball, or even sports.  No matter how much time and effort you spend trying to make that good first impression on a potential networking contact or prospective client, someone else is laying it on much thicker.  I understand, at the end of the day, every one of us must have that salesman side.  But where does it stop?  80% of it is hard to listen to.  When does one start being ashamed?  The conversation that took place during the opening night reception was almost comical.  If there was just a way to listen in on all of them…

Lesson No. 3: Essentially

Finally, Lesson No. 3, if you’re a presenter/speaker, you better be prepared to use big words, several cliché’s, and willing to make up at least one word.  Why do attorneys love using the word “essentially” so often?  I wish I had a count for the three day period.  Double digits.  It’s like their way of saying, “here’s how the law is written, but I’ll put it into layman’s terms for you.”

My favorite cliché has become “to the extent”.  To what extent?

By far the most overused word among tax practitioners is primarily.  Primarily because they’re always trying to argue a point, and that word apparently carries significant weight.

The best made-up word spoken during the conference was “federalation”, which come to find out means “federal legislation”.  Use it in your own sentence and let me know what you think.

Finally, the most inspiring word of the week, “litigious”.  Hands down.  Several presenters attempted to use it, although none were able to accurately fit it into their argument.

Nonetheless, the Hartman SALT Forum and its collection of SALT All-Stars did not disappoint.  Quite honestly, I’m already eagerly awaiting next year’s trip.

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