Please permit me, in authentic Windy City braggadocio style, to explain why you should read this historic article, even if you have not had the good fortune to attend the University of Chicago Law School’s Federal Tax Conference. This is the story of the nation’s most prestigious tax conference—one of humble origins, great successes, near catastrophes, and (as of now) a happy ending. The star of the story is legendary Tax Professor Walter J. (Wally) Blum. Within this story we will describe—and destroy—Chicago’s second greatest urban legend, namely that Wally created, designed, planned, and was the driving force behind the inaugural (1948) Tax Conference. We’ll identify the Conference’s unique, 74-year, symbiotic relationship with Taxes—The Tax Magazine. We’ll reveal how the Conference nearly died on its 50th anniversary at the hands of its sponsor (the Law School) while simultaneously facing loss of its publisher. We’ll name the unsung heroes who created (in 1948) and those who later saved (in 1998) the Tax Conference from ill winds blowing. And we’ll describe how the Tax Conference’s Planning Committee (PC) re-designed, re-built, and re-branded the Conference into a rock star concert event status, consistently being the hottest ticket in the Tax World, in 2021 selling out all its online seats in 3 minutes and successfully holding one of the few “in-person-only” tax conferences in the same, pandemic-plagued year.
“But wait, there’s more!” We’ll take you back in time, from creation to COVID, through the nearly 75-year history of the Tax Conference, to revisit what was simultaneously happening in the ‘Real’ World, the Tax World, the Tax Conference World (as seen through the eyes of the Conference’s Chairmen and PC members), and Wally’s World (as seen by his many admirers and proteges).
And all of this against the backdrops of the Law School, the University as a whole, and the City of Chicago itself. It’s a long but rewarding ride on this train, so please hop on!