Pamela Mann

Representing Nonprofit Organizations

Pamela Mann

Pamela Mann, Partner and Chair of the Tax-Exempt Organizations Group of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP discusses what it is like to be an attorney representing nonprofit organizations.

Pamela Mann

Pamela Mann, Partner and Chair of the Tax-Exempt Organizations Group of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP discusses what it is like to be an attorney representing nonprofit organizations.


Years in Practice (law/this practice area):  39/28

Education:  University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Oberlin College (undergrad)

Place of Current Employment:  Partner and Chair of the Tax-Exempt Organizations Group of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP (January 2013 – present).

Prior Experience:  Law Offices of Pamela A. Mann, LLC (1996-2012); Chief, Charities Bureau, New York State Attorney General’s office (1985-1995).  Prior to 1985, worked in various public interest jobs.

Recent Professional Publications/Presentations:  Organize yearly PLI conference on Advising Nonprofit Organizations (2002-2013); regular speaker at seminars for attorneys and nonprofit professionals; publications include: Nonprofit Resources, American Bar Association Press, 2007 (co-managing editor) and Nonprofit Governance and Management, American Bar Association Press, 2002 (co-author).

What is it like to be an attorney representing nonprofit organizations?  Is there a typical day you can describe?
The work is extremely varied, as are the clients we represent. Yesterday, for instance, I advised an animal rights organization on potential liability issues relating to an upcoming fund-raising event, analyzed for a social service organization founded in 1806 and owning land in North Carolina the advisability of filing objections to a development project for which an adjacent property owner is seeking approval from local authorities, worked on a religious organization’s changes to its governance structure, and drafted a memorandum on the pros and cons of forming a new organization as a public charity or a private foundation.

What challenges do you experience in your practice?
The primary intellectual challenge is to harmonize the conflicting demands of the tax-exempt organizations provisions in the federal tax code and those in the relevant state laws, given that they often point in two different directions, in recommending courses of action for our clients. The primary practical challenge is to provide high quality legal services at the lowest possible cost.

What aspects of your practice make it interesting and rewarding to you?
The variety of the issues, the fascinating work that our clients do, and the opportunity to solve complicated problems make this work rewarding and interesting.

What educational or vocational background and skills are helpful in excelling in this practice area?
Having taken law school courses in exempt organizations or having a background in tax, particularly exempt organizations-related tax, is helpful but not essential. Most people who work in this area learn on the job, as I did at the Charities Bureau.

What does it take to become successful in this practice area?
As in all areas of the law, it is helpful to be a good writer, a good listener, and a problem solver. Being active in bar association work is a good way to keep up with developments in the law, as well as to network with other lawyers who work in this area. New York City is one of the few areas of the country where a reasonable number of attorneys specialize in this work, and bar committees provide a venue for developing working relationships.

Could you share some of the most important things you have learned over the years being an attorney representing nonprofit organizations?
First, nonprofit organizations are unique in the law because they are formed to pursue goals unrelated to anyone’s personal interest. I’ve also learned that harnessing those goals in making day-to-day business decisions can be extremely challenging and often requires, if not the assistance of an attorney, at least that of an advisor who can fashion a solution that serves both the immediate practical goal and the overall charitable mission.

Did you have mentors who helped you define and shape your career and its direction? How did you form these relationships?
I have been very fortunate to have mentors throughout my career. When I started practicing law in 1974, female attorneys were rare, and women in a position to be mentors and role models were rarer still. However, my first legal job was with a female trial judge, and she was a wonderful role model and teacher. She strengthened my resolve to pursue a non-traditional career that was oriented toward serving the public interest. Early in my career, I worked with a group of women from around the country who produced the first national conferences on Women and the Law, and, through that work, I developed enormously useful contacts with people who inspired and taught me. Also, when I left the Charities Bureau to start my practice, many members of the exempt organizations bar – most of whom I had met through my work as Chief of the bureau and on the City Bar’s Committee on Nonprofit Organizations -- were incredibly generous with their wisdom and guidance on matters both substantive and practical.

What are your interests/hobbies/pursuits outside of your practice area? How do you make time for them?
My husband and daughter are incredibly important to me, and making time for them and for my extended family is my highest non-work priority. Once our daughter was out of the nest, family time had a different cast to it, but it remains central. I am a classical singer, and, except when my daughter was very little, I have always performed in a choir and sometimes have also done solo work. I exercise regularly, and I am an avid skier and traveler. The way to make time for these things is to view them as equally as important as one’s work and to build them into one’s schedule in the same way as one schedules work appointments. There will, of course, be times when work deadlines or other exigencies take precedence, but this strategy limits those occurrences.

What practical advice can you give to law students and young lawyers considering this practice area?
The most important thing to do is to get relevant substantive experience in this area by taking any relevant courses available at your law school. Also, working on pro bono matters to get some experience representing nonprofits can be helpful, and that avenue is often available to young lawyers in big firms.

Could you recommend any reading materials about your practice area?
I am not aware of any materials about this practice area. As far as materials about the substantive law, a review of the Internal Revenue Service’s website gives an overview of the tax rules, and the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau website also contains relevant information about the state law, as does the website of the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO). Independent Sector’s website and the Council on Foundations’ website contain general information about the nonprofit sector, and both organizations publish excellent books on various aspects of the relevant law and best practices.

Interview conducted by Carroll D. Welch, Assistant Director, New Directions Program, Pace University School of Law and Chair of the Career Advancement and Management Committee, April 2010; updated June 2013.