Success during a very taxing summer for the Indiana/Leeds Summer Tax Workshop Series

For the past 13 weeks, the School of Law’s Dr Leopoldo Parada and Professor Leandra Lederman (Indiana University Maurer School of Law) have been running the Indiana/Leeds Summer Tax Workshop Series.

The series began on 21 May and ended on 13 August 2020, attracting on average around 100 attendees per week. This impressive number included participants from countries including Angola, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, India, US, UK, Luxembourg, Nigeria, Mexico and Singapore, among many others, covering five continents.

We spoke to Dr Parada about this innovative and incredibly successful series. 

Where did the idea come from and what was the original aim of the workshops?

After a few weeks into the lockdown and with the whole world moving into remote online working, I started thinking that this could be a great opportunity to capitalise. I contacted several tax colleagues around the world to discuss doing something online but many were just starting to feel the burden of working from home with children and other family obligations.

Just when it seemed that, understandably, nobody wanted to take on even more work with the organisation of weekly online seminars over the summer, my colleague Professor Rita de la Feria mentioned to me that Professor Leandra Lederman, a tax law professor from Indiana University Maurer School of Law, who I also knew from the global tax circle, was thinking about doing something online, too. Professor de la Feria put us in contact via e-mail and the rest is history. Leandra and I started exchanging some preliminary ideas, and in a week, we had everything ready for the call for abstracts, including also our own brand logo: “Indiana/Leeds Summer Tax Workshop Series”.

As for the original intent of the series, I must recognise that this was very humble. We just wanted to create a platform for discussion during COVID-19. After all, we had to spend the summer most probably locked at home. However, it soon became in something bigger (unexpectedly bigger) with well-known representatives from international forums, NGOs, think tanks, and other global tax policy actors attending the series. There were moments when it felt as if you could be attending a mini tax branch of the United Nations and it was great to see that evolution.

It has been exhausting but comforting at the same time, and I have personally learned a lot with the papers presented.

How did you approach the guest speakers?

Well, as we had 13 weekly sessions to fill out, we faced the risk of not finding all the speakers that we needed. In addition, we wanted the best works-in-progress to be presented in our series. Therefore, we thought about a mixed approach inviting some well-known speakers ––that is, people who would attract audience just for being there–– such as Professor Allison Christians (McGill University), Professor Michael Devereux (Oxford University) or Professor Ruth Mason (University of Virginia), and opening a call for abstracts for the rest of the available spots. The surprise came here because once we opened the call for abstracts, we received around 50 excellent applications ranging from junior to senior scholars, and from all around the world. It was very impressive.

As you may imagine, the selection process was not easy, especially because we wanted to make a line-up as inclusive as possible, balancing between well-consolidated and more junior scholars, males and females, and from different countries of origin, too. We did our best and I was very happy with the final line-up. We had fantastic early career colleagues, such as Dr Stephen Daly (King’s College London) or Dr Ricardo García Antón (Tilburg University), as well as more senior scholars such as Professor Diane Ring (Boston College) and Professor Ana Paula Dourado (University of Lisbon).

Were you surprised by the workshop’s success?

Absolutely. As with any new project, you have a certain degree of scepticism and you try not to fill out your thoughts with these ideas of big success. I was happy to accomplish the original intent of the series; keeping our brains busy during lockdown. However, the reaction of the people in the global tax policy arena was simply fantastic, and everybody wanted to participate in our workshop series.

I attribute this success basically to three main elements. First, we were able to catch the need for a new platform to discuss international tax policy in times where traveling was not possible. We got the need and filled out the space first. Second, we opened the series to everyone, and I mean everyone. This was not the classic elite group of scholars telling each other how good your work is. Totally the opposite. We had such a variety of people attending, ranging from tax practitioners, global policy makers and students from all around the world, and all of them had a voice in there. This certainly enriched the discussions in every session. Third, and finally, we were able to create (or perhaps just came naturally) a dynamic format that gave the series a distinctive feature. Attendees received the full paper a week in advance and came with questions and comments. The presentations were not more than 20 minutes, and then we had a bit more than an hour for discussion. 

Which has been your favourite workshop?

That is a difficult question. We had such a variety of styles among the speakers that it is difficult to pick just one. However, I would say Professor Allison Christians’ session. Professor Christians is always very dynamic and straight forward presenting her ideas, being able to really engage the audience into a vivid discussion. I very much liked her presentation about “Accurately Counting Value in the International Tax System” because she touched on some controversial issues related to the taxation of tech giants and value creation, and the audience reacted accordingly. There was a very interesting and intense exchange of ideas during that session. Indeed, it was one of those sessions in which we would have liked to go on for another hour but we simply didn’t have time.

Will you carry on the workshops next summer?

I am pretty convinced that now many people around the world recognise the Indiana/Leeds Summer Tax Workshop Series as a serious centre for the international tax policy debate and Leandra and I would love to bring the Indiana/Leeds Summer Tax Workshop Series back in 2021 so stay tuned!

Watch the recordings of the presentations (12 out of 13) on YouTube.