by Keith Fogg
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.