Teaching SALT to the Next Generation With Tram Le

Hosts & Guests

Judy Vorndran

Meredith Smith

Tram Le CPA, Attorney & SALT Professor


Teaching SALT to the Next Generation With Tram Le

Meredith Smith [00:00:04] Welcome to SALTovation, a podcast series featuring the leading voices, Insult, where we talk about the issues and strategies to help you make sense of state and local tax. Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of the SALTovation podcast. Today, we continue our Meet the Team series with our Texas team member and university professor Tram Le. Tram, thanks for letting us in and sharing your story with us today.

Tram Le [00:00:36] Well, thank you for having me, Meredith.

Meredith Smith [00:00:38] And of course, Boss Lady Judy audience here. Hi, Judy.

Judy Vorndran [00:00:42] Hello, Meredith.

Meredith Smith [00:00:43] I am trying to think of different things to call you.

Judy Vorndran [00:00:46] I love it.

Meredith Smith [00:00:48] It's really challenging that the other part of my brain is already off topic. So we're going to dove right in. You are a CPA and a lawyer and you have toggled between Texas and Colorado. Can you share with us your career background in your story?

Tram Le [00:01:02] Yeah, absolutely. I kind of have a very interesting career story, probably a little different than most people. But I mean, starting out you know, growing up, I actually wanted to be either a professional musician or music teacher and have my own business because growing up, I played piano, violin. I was in my church choir. So I have a lot of that background growing up. I loved it. So then going into college, I was trying to grow up. I went to business school because I figured, you know, if I want to have my own business, I need to know business. I know music. I have that background. I ended up continuing to play violin through college and took these business classes and took accounting classes. I think my first semester as a freshman and I just loaded up because I wanted to get through school so I could start my business, progressed through college. And when I was, you know, I was forced to decide what major. Right, because I was like, well, I'm in music and I'm taking all these business classes. And my advisor was like an accounting professor, actually. And he said, man, you have all A's and all these difficult classes, you should become an accountant. And I'm really high.

Judy Vorndran [00:02:17] You wants to become an accountant

Meredith Smith [00:02:20] here to keep the books so I can play violin professionally.

Tram Le [00:02:24] Yeah, exactly. I was like, these are skills and skill sets and things I think I need to know so I can be successful anyway. So I was like, well, OK, I guess I'm almost finished school within three years, my undergrad. So I rushed to finish. I got an accounting degree and as I was graduating I had a lot of different job offers. I mean, I did internships at CPA firms. I worked a lot of, I don't know, just different places. I worked in retail. I also worked at doctor's offices and just kind of worked so I could tell, you know, to see really what I wanted to do. But at the end of the day, I actually interned at the federal government, which is Jio. It's a legislative branch of government. And I just really enjoyed it. You know, I really enjoyed it because the type of work I got to do that was engaged and really helped, I felt like it made a big impact. Meaning we looked at government programs, we looked at policy, we made recommendations to Congress on various legislation, how various agencies were operating, what was efficient, and what wasn't working. What were they spending money appropriately for? So I got to see all that. And I was like, oh, my gosh, this is awesome. So that's right off the bat, I abandoned my music career. I decided to become an accountant, got my CPA. I worked for the federal government. It wasn't a dream I had growing up, obviously, but there was, you know, and it was very fulfilling until it wasn't, you know. I mean, the longer I worked in government, I think I spent, I don't know, almost eight years at Jio. And I think it just dawned on me that, you know, what I was doing was really important. I just felt like, you know, I wanted to do more. And so that was my push to go into law school. I was like, well, if I go to law school, I'll be more versed in the policy side, the laws, the legal side. And so there I went, pursued a law degree and quit my job. My husband was very supportive of that. So there I went. But I guess in terms of my timeline, in terms of school and then, you know, I grew up in Texas, well, born in the Philippines, my parents were immigrants from Vietnam and I was born pretty much en route to America. So, I mean, the life I knew right was from the time my parents arrived in Texas until I started working. I met my now husband. There's some mutual friends and he was from Colorado. We dated for a long distance, I don't know, six, seven years. Of course, I remember it was a long time. I think I was a sophomore in college when I met him. And then we got married about six years later. So we just celebrated our fifteen. Your anniversary last week on Thanksgiving, so tired. Thank you. I know that I'm amazed. I'm like I still feel like I'm a kid, but I'm like, no, I'm not. I've been married for 15 years. I've known half my life. But he's from Colorado. So I guess, you know, when we got married, it was a decision time where I could stay in Texas and try to find a job. He's an engineer. He's like, well, I can find a job maybe. But with the federal government, I was able to move laterally to Colorado and he didn't have to job hunt. So that's how I ended up in Colorado.

Judy Vorndran [00:05:55] OK, and then that's why you went to law school in Colorado? Yep. Oh, I did not know that I knew you during law school, so. Yeah, OK.

Tram Le [00:06:07] Yeah. So from there the magic happened. I graduated from law school and I had a professor who said you should look at the LLN program in tax because of your background. And I'm like, OK, that sounds good. Why not? I love school, I love to learn. So then I got my L.M. and I think it was my actual last semester of the loan program. And I took a class and again, the magic happened, right. Because I was like, wow, this is so interesting. You know, it makes total sense. You know, it was a pretty small class because it's an elective. And I mean, I had peers in the class who totally hated the class. They're like, this is the worst class ever. And I looked over and I'm like, no, it's not. I was like, this is pretty cool. So when I graduated, I was like, I really like that area practice. I definitely kept an open mind. I had a tax background at the CPA, so I figured public accounting makes sense. And then that's where I met Judy. You know, I think I was eight, eight, nine months pregnant. Yeah, you're pretty pregnant with that. That was my second one with number two. Yeah. So, you know, it was kind of one of those things where I have to love the work. I mean, I was all I think it was thirty by then and I still love the work I have now. I have a family of a husband, a one year old, about to have another baby here. I had to make some decisions. And, you know, I had all the school and I love to work. I love to learn, but I also love my family. And when I met Judy, I knew. Right. Like, she totally was supportive of all that. And I just kind of sense that I was like, this is the right culture for me. So there I went.

Judy Vorndran [00:07:51] But now you guys both took the same professor, didn't you, Ed? Do you? Because you guys both got your website. Do you write, Meredith, because you guys would have taken the same Sult class. Professor Right.

Meredith Smith [00:08:02] Depends on if you would.

Judy Vorndran [00:08:05] Yeah. Yeah, I had Kozik. Yeah.

Meredith Smith [00:08:08] So I would have taken the class in either twenty six or I think in like twenty seven.

Tram Le [00:08:16] Oh yeah. No, I didn't start law school until 2007. Yeah.

Judy Vorndran [00:08:22] So a few years behind that. That's too funny. Right. Because it's funny that you guys both had something that introduced you to state and local tax. I had nothing in law school and my master's not

Meredith Smith [00:08:33] and I did not very well in my small class.

Judy Vorndran [00:08:38] And I think it's

Meredith Smith [00:08:39] because I over thought it because I was like, I'm doing this because I was working. We'll get into my story in a future episode hint. But I think I was so focused on, like, I just want to be good at my job, go to my job, good at my job. I'm taking this because I should, but I just think I, like, totally over thought it and just like totally. And I wasn't. I'm not a school person, but yeah, I did not do well in our school class. I do.

Judy Vorndran [00:09:05] It's not funny. It doesn't matter though. Like I always feel like even in my law school some of the people that are the bottom of the class are the most successful because they were intentional about what they chose to practice. And so being at the top of a class doesn't necessarily mean success. I mean, it's a good pivot point to get somewhere, but it isn't really who you end up being. Certainly the people at the top of class might have done well, but it's really kind of becoming more intentional about what you're doing. So I don't know that it's not that doing well in school is not a good thing, certainly, but it isn't always the path to success, in my opinion.

Tram Le [00:09:38] Well, Judy, I mean, I think the whole path to success I'm right now reading I know there's a question about what am I reading? But I mean, one of the books I'm reading right now is like designing your life. And it says, hey, being successful doesn't mean you're happy. It's all always thinking about that. Right. I'm always thinking about, well, how am I going to live and work and play. Right. Because I need a map because I've always been that way.

Judy Vorndran [00:10:06] So I think it's important to think about how you feel inside to like you were saying what resonated with you. And you're saying your peers were saying, oh, my gosh, I can't do this. And so many people say that about what we do. Oh, my head spins, oh, I can't stand it. Sales tax, whatever state I just hated. I think what you mean so much I mean, thank you for hating it, I guess, because it means less people want to like it. But I just think it's interesting that you kind of thought the complexity, which I think a lot of people find is untenable. They can't get through it, that you actually resonated with you. Curiosity and I feel that way, too. There's some creativity in where we get to do, which I think is incredibly motivating and fun, you know, where it's like I can find a revenue rolling on something for the I.R.S., but I can't easily find an answer in Vermont versus Texas versus Virginia. I mean, it's just going to depend on how they all work and understanding that makes it kind of a fun part of our career, I think, which is kind of on KPA.

Tram Le [00:11:03] Yeah, well, I'm not your traditional CPA

Judy Vorndran [00:11:05] with your family. You're getting your creative side needed, met with your difference and your background in music.

Tram Le [00:11:14] Yeah, definitely. I wonder.

Judy Vorndran [00:11:16] Interesting Stram. I did not know that about you.

Meredith Smith [00:11:19] Well, and I want to take that because now sram you are teaching. You are our residence Professor. Yes. You are teaching at the University of Texas, Arlington, the state and local tax class. So do you find I'm assuming again it's another elective like it was a do you do you find that there are some people or some of your students are just like, oh this is awful or have that passion that you did or where? How do you think your class now relates to the general class that you took as a student? Right. Yeah, and you've just kind of carried this like, oh, that's interesting. Oh, well, that's interesting. And just like this this trajectory of oh, that's interesting. And now you're on the opposite end infusing that interest. You know, I'm hopefully in some in at least one of your students, right?

Tram Le [00:12:10] Yeah. No, no, no. I mean, I can definitely see similarities. Right. In terms of where students lie in terms of interest or whether or not they're able to grasp concepts because, you know, it's a small class. I usually have anywhere from 12 to 20 students each semester. And so I would have to say every semester there are generally one or two students who are super sharp. They get it. They like it. You know, it's not too difficult for them to follow along and catch on to concepts. But then we have a lot of other students who are like, oh, I'm really confused. So this is really hard to understand because I actually teach my class, it's at a business school and they are all mostly math text certificate type students, graduate students, not lawyers. So the difference there is that I teach it like a law school class where I design mainly cases for them to read briefly. We do cover the technical concepts too. But I mean, I push those cases through to these students who are accounting students who don't read. We probably don't like to read. But the feedback I generally get every semester is that, wow, we felt like we learned because in our other traditional tax classes, it's not taught that way. I'm not teaching substantive law. I'm teaching them the overview issue spotting. And so basically I want them to walk away with an understanding of some of these key social issues and skill sets for them to, like, critically think. And it's like I don't ask them to memorize anything. Right. I'm like, it's an open book. You can access anything. You can search the Internet. I mean, it's like real life, right? You come across a situation where there are implications that they need to be able to identify and then figure out what the right answer is. And then in a lot of cases it's great. Right. And it's really hard. And I really feel like that's the hardest part, you know, the struggle that the students are dealing with, with the class. But I mean, overall, I get really, really positive feedback in terms of the class itself. They are learning things that they probably won't be exposed to otherwise.

Meredith Smith [00:14:26] You can't know the exact law and the exams, the exact answer in all 50 states right out there as a federal tax practitioner. And I don't want to discount our other tax brethren. I mean, because I can't pick up the Internal Revenue Code and figure out where I'm looking at. Right. There are some codes that I don't like. I'm looking at you one sixty eight K bonus depreciation because it directly applies to me from a conformity standpoint. Right. But we can't know it all. So I need to know there's two entities. Is it, is it unitary? They're combined and consolidated. So it is more of that. I need to understand that. Thirty thousand feet exactly what you said, issue identification and then dig in deeper specifically and that in that state's code regs cases because a lot of what we're doing. Is based on case law right now. Look at sales tax like, all right. Quick, quick, quick, quick acquittal. June twenty first twenty eighteen wafer, wafer, wafer. So it's like a lot of how we have to figure out what's happening is through case law. And that's what I remember too, a lot from just my early on state classes at KPMG. It's just like here's the stack of cases that you need to read.

Judy Vorndran [00:15:42] Yeah, no teaching that critical thinking is so imperative to, I think, a practice in our space, which is why I think the masses attack the law degrees as being really helpful in state and local tax. I would say as I hired and built out a team at my former firm, what I looked for was that quality of understanding and knowledge and also intention. Right. A desire to do it as opposed to I'm a CPA, I will do this right. I mean, this is not just a simple job. It's complicated. It requires nuance, and it requires the ability to take the complicated issues, make them simple for our clients so they understand how to handle it, but also deal with the nuance so that we give them the right answer. And I think that a lot of what I find in the federal comparatively or even my brother like you just gives me a list and I think, how am I going to give you a list for fifty states? Like if you do this and you do that, I can give you a flowchart maybe. But yeah, I think that you just don't find a lot of people choosing to pivot into state local. So it is interesting that both of you have chosen it as for me and my entire team, because it is not the traditional path for most CPAs or even masters of tax or lawyers for that matter, although I think lawyers more so than anybody else, do really enjoy the nuances of this. And like you said, you got a massive tax, Meredith. It's that same thing. I chose tax. So you're getting that nuance level education before you practice or concurrent with practice in your situation. What do you find

Meredith Smith [00:17:11] within the students? I'd like there's the biggest misconception about state tax.

Tram Le [00:17:16] I don't know if it's a misconception as opposed to not being exposed to it at all. Some semesters all have students who either work in industry or have internships or public accounting and have very limited roles in preparing tax returns. So they don't see a whole lot of it. And what they do see is very simplistic. When we were covering this last class, I had covered income tax, personal income tax and the different nuances. And then with the covid and the work from home and all those implications, I kind of threw it out there for the students who were preparing returns. And they were like, our returns are very simple. There's not a lot of complexity. I'm like, oh, that is the issue, right? It's the misconception that, oh, we are just filling out some forms and not really understanding the impact. Right. The implications of filing those returns, multistate returns anyways, just understanding it does matter how you file. Right. So I feel like, you know, they don't know what they don't know. But that's probably the biggest thing there when you

Judy Vorndran [00:18:24] had it with me after being in the big four for 14 years. So working with some of the largest taxpayers of our nation, of our world, honestly, very complicated issues. And I went to a regional firm and I realized that there are forty six thousand CPA firms in America. I do not know, though, that many so up in the echelons of the one hundred thousand person firm and you're thinking there's a lot of small practitioners and ultimately assault. Everybody has a small problem. Everybody has a sales tax problem in their home state. Everybody's an income tax problem in their home state. And very few businesses operate solely in one community. And we see this all the time, as you're well aware, especially like you live in Texas and you've got no individual income tax in Texas. Yeah, you have a lot of partnerships. And as Korps and of course, everybody loves that because they used to be an income tax burden at the individual level. So there was a complete disregard of it in Texas specifically. And then Texas said, no, we're going to tax entities, and then that still creates a tax burden. And then all of a sudden it's like, oh, the wheels are turning. But what did Texas do? Very broad based sales tax, very broad based, high property taxes. So they get their money somewhere. They just don't get it in the individual income tax area. So that's a really interesting nuance, especially coming from Colorado, the comparison between your two states that you've lived in.

Tram Le [00:19:37] Yeah, no, definitely the nuances. I mean, like, I guess we all probably take it for granted what we know in the nuances of the facts, they really matter. But I think from the student's perspective, you know, it's a whole new world. Right? So they're very much interested. I mean, it's really awesome when I see a student asking some of these questions that you see them thinking, right. Even like Nexxus, they're like I heard about this webinar and I heard about Cookie Nexis. Can you tell us more about it? You know, absolutely. And it's when you tell the story about why a government via the states are creating these news. Standards and the history behind it, it's pretty fascinating,

Judy Vorndran [00:20:20] what I don't know if you noticed, moving from Colorado to Texas, like your property taxes were lower here, probably your sales taxes were equivalent, your income tax was here. But I imagine you're about the same because your property taxes are probably really high. That makes up for your individual income tax, because I'm sure yours are five times or I would say probably no, five times. I love that. Would you say what it was here?

Tram Le [00:20:40] Yeah, well, three or maybe three

Judy Vorndran [00:20:42] to four

Tram Le [00:20:43] broken. We broke up. I did the analysis. We do. Yeah.

Judy Vorndran [00:20:48] I was just curious because your property taxes are so high in Texas, everybody says, oh, we don't have an individual income tax to make up for it.

Tram Le [00:20:56] Yeah, no, we broke even when the first year we moved on like I ran the numbers. I'm like, sorry, you know, it's all good. It goes to the government,

Judy Vorndran [00:21:03] but it's a pretty important no, there's no individual income taxes. But I think a lot of people say in Texas and they don't see where they get you some other way. And that's obviously why we have a job, because there's a way the government finds a way to get a piece of the pie, to build the roads and serve the communities and blah, blah, blah. We do. So that's

Tram Le [00:21:19] right.

Meredith Smith [00:21:20] We don't talk smack about Texas because we are from Colorado. And there's some friendly banter about when you are stuck in a car with a Texas license plate, whatnot. But we have found that it is while an aggressive state and a very smart state that we have had a lot of good fortune dealing working with. We've got a couple handful of agents that we work with at the comptroller's office that are awesome, that I can email out of a totally different, unrelated thing that are right. So Texas, we're not talking, we're not talking crap.

Judy Vorndran [00:21:49] No, I think they're probably the best governments I would have liked because highly responsive people put information out there for the public to consume. They're not secret. They don't know what they're saying. They tell you this is what we think here. You can rely upon it. I like Texas a lot and they have a great media program, the best in the nation. I mean, I just think people could get other governments to get a little bit of an idea about how transparent Texas is with taxpayers. I think they're phenomenal as the culture and

Tram Le [00:22:18] knows, the culture here in Texas is very pro-business. You know, we want to encourage growth. We want to encourage the economic flourishing of our community. I mean, obviously, we like it big here. We like big highways. I mean, Dallas. Exactly. So, I mean, I think a lot of that has to do with that mindset.

Judy Vorndran [00:22:39] So that makes it transparent to taxpayers because you have to make the rules be known or you can't follow them.

Tram Le [00:22:46] Absolutely.

Meredith Smith [00:22:47] Well, and trim you have. So we've got some government experience with the GAO, you know, lawyer, CPA, accountant, just kind of like a critical aspect of the way that your brain works. How do you apply that to servicing our clients? Because you have some incredible relationships with some of your clients that have come in, you know, some from referrals. I'm totally unknown, but they're like, nope, I want to work with Tramp. What do you offer to our clients that really just makes them say, I want to work with them and it's OK to brag about yourself. I will do it for you if you don't want to.

Tram Le [00:23:24] I work really hard enough. I do everything for them. No, I mean, I think I actually don't consciously think about this, but I really put myself in their shoes. Right. And anything I do because like I know Judy, I'm just working with Judy. And all these years, I mean, that's I think that's how she operates. It's almost like it's not our money going out the door or the penalties or any kind of sequence directly on us. But when I am helping a client or advising, I mean, I put myself in their shoes. And what would I do if I had these problems? How hard would I work? Because I don't want to be the one holding the bag. I don't want to be the one getting in trouble with the government. It's a lot of work. So to the extent that I'm able to advise them, based on what I know, how I would do it, and if I don't know, I ask you guys, right, I'm like, hey, you know, what's the best way to resolve this? And so that's what I would do for myself.

Judy Vorndran [00:24:21] Right. We try to take ownership, like what do they really need to know as a business? We try to be business friendly, but also get the law, the meat behind it. So they have pragmatic, practical answers as much as they want to less. We try to create the list for them, even though we know the list has nuances. Interesting. Yeah, so true, though. I get so stressed when other people owe other people money, but especially penalties are not deductible. Right. So it's like it's not a good thing to pay the Eltis, but there's sort of this view of like let him catch me. I'm like, oh OK, good luck with that. That's like the best strategy. But OK.

Tram Le [00:24:52] Yeah, no, absolutely. And I think maybe people there have a misperception of the risk until we put some numbers on the paper. Right. Like we are giving them. Hey, this is, this is what the law says. We can tell them that and they can say, OK, thank you for letting us know. But then once we put the numbers down on the paper, I feel like that's where the client gets it and. I mean, from our own perspective, it's like, well, would you do something unless you knew there were significant consequences?

Judy Vorndran [00:25:24] I'm actually having a conversation this afternoon as we're talking about a client and they had very little money, but they have a duty and we're sort of like, oh, you know, do we not do something is going to cost more to comply than it is for what they owe a tax. And now I've started to think, you know, thinking about it over the weekend, I'm like, they're publicly held company. We can't just, like, not do something like that would be not the way we should advise them. I'm like, we just need to do it sucks. It is what it is, but that's the law. So we can't just have that, like have something come out in the market where they chose not to to violate the laws, like as a public company. Like, that's no bueno. So anyway, it's interesting, isn't it, the push pull of entrepreneurs saying, well, what's the cost versus what is the risk? And you're like, well, the cost is higher than the risk. Yet if you get in trouble, it's not right. So do you do the right thing, even if it's a higher cost or do you not? And I think it depends on your facts. But when you make those decisions. But then you could fix everything a lot cheaper than you can fix. One thing that can be troubling to you.

Meredith Smith [00:26:26] Well, and it's interesting, too, because when you've got some clients that, like they're so in the weeds and they have kind of been thinking. On this path like, no, I don't do this, no, I don't do this, no, I don't do this because no one's been kind of offering an alternative perspective or asking the right questions to get them off that path. Then they're like, oh, crap, that's important. That's important. It's like, yes, because we're in the nuts and we see that. And we've had the experience to know what's important and have each of us collectively over our team. We're a small team, but we're mighty right. We have over one hundred years of experience that they're like, oh, I didn't know that was a thing. Yeah. And then we can come in and we can just ask the right questions, get the right information and then make them say it's OK. It's OK. It's OK that you didn't know that you're not paid to be a state and local tax expert, controller or CFO. That's where we come in and try to provide that value because you're not you're already we're doing a lot. We'll get you there on the other half.

Judy Vorndran [00:27:36] But I think they blame their CPA who did their tax filings a lot. And they said, well, what did they tell me? And I think I don't know why. Forty six thousand CPAs didn't tell you, you know, I mean, I don't really get that. Honestly, it really is distressing to me. And but if you think about it, you guys both got masses of tax and or allowances tax. And I got a Masters tax, not one salt class. And you have one that lets you know. I mean, there's a little bit of something going on with our educational system that's not really giving. And then out of all the students, getting masters is all about how many people take these classes. Right. So if it's an elective in your instance, you do so it's like it's not incumbent on anybody to put that as part of the educational process. So that's been really fascinating to me. Just to see historically how much this is such a big deal and yet how little education and thought is put around it in our CPA and legal community.

Meredith Smith [00:28:28] So then I guess, Trem, why do you think UT Arlington decided to have a class? Like how have they always had a small class or is it relatively new now that they found you with the ability to teach it? Like where do you think they found that value?

Tram Le [00:28:44] You know, I actually don't know, but I, I do know. So I started teaching back in twenty. My first semester was twenty seventeen. So not very many, not so long, but before that they did have someone else to teach it because they gave me their old syllabus or whatever. I'm like, oh this guy is a trust and a state's attorney in the area like oh my gosh, they have that person teaching. So that's crazy. But I think somewhere along the line, the school must have realized that there was a need for this area right. In their program. And I guess they struggled to find the right price or practitioner to teach it, right?

Judy Vorndran [00:29:24] Well, when I went to the regional firm, they had been throwing oodles of people to take the position I unwittingly took, and I had no idea how hard that was going to be for me. And honestly, very few people would leave the ivory tower of the Bay to go to a regional forum and start all these practices. Certainly not ten, fifteen years ago. No way. Why would you give that up and go somewhere that people don't get? And it is interesting to me that there is so little traction. And now with Wayfair, you're seeing all these sales providers coming out with automation, said forget it mentality. And you're like, that's not really how it works. It is a set that I forget. It's complicated. It's nuanced. And it's not just selling the same thing, the same place everywhere in the same rule. And I think a lot of people misunderstand that and just want to fix something and get it done. And then they don't realize that there's some liability on the back end of that.

Meredith Smith [00:30:14] So then I guess trim when it comes to, you know, our clients and working together as a team and what not what drives and motivates you to do your best work each day. Because I know you are an incredibly hard worker. You are incredibly diligent. You are incredibly the way your mind thinks kind of fits in with the rest of us and how we're all a little different. Right. But like what really motivates you and drives you every day to do the best work that you possibly can?

Tram Le [00:30:43] Well, I don't know. I think it comes from just who I am in terms of if there's something I'm doing, I have to do it right. And I don't want to let you guys down. I don't want to let clients down. I don't want to let myself down. And also, I think a big part of me, as a mother of two young girls, I want to be a really good role model for them. Right now. I'm a first generation college graduate with a law degree. All that is very much I'm a first generation from my side of the family, even like my siblings all got college degrees. But like, I want to push and I want to do the very best I can. And I want my kids to do that, too, because there are so many opportunities here in America that if my parents hadn't come over here, I probably I don't know what I. Would be doing today, so I'm very I'm very grateful for that, so I think that really pushes me to do what I do every day.

Meredith Smith [00:31:43] That's awesome, and so I guess, you know, kind of before you pester you with some more fun stuff that our rapid questions that aren't so rapid, tell us one thing about you that we don't know.

Judy Vorndran [00:31:57] I didn't know anything about music, so I learned something today. I know you play, but I didn't realize that was a passion or if I forgot if I did know it or a future career. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Tram Le [00:32:08] Well, I mean, I don't know, just kind of fun that you guys don't know. I would really, really love to be a contestant on the Wheel of Fortune. Really? Really. Yes.

Judy Vorndran [00:32:18] I make no trivia.

Tram Le [00:32:21] No, no, no such trivia.

Meredith Smith [00:32:22] It's kind of a game of luck. It's like you spin the wheel. Yeah. It's a giant game of man where you that's I'm pretty sure that's not I think I did with my husband the other day and that's not, I think the appropriate term anymore. But it's a puzzle game. So it's like you get the letters to fill in the word.

Judy Vorndran [00:32:40] Right. OK, I'm trying to think like a jeopardy. I was thinking of jeopardy. Yes. OK, yeah. You spin and then you get to pick and you buy oil and all that good stuff. OK, you would like to play that.

Tram Le [00:32:50] Oh, you know, I grew up watching that show with my mom religiously. You know, I remember when I was applying for college and my mom knew I was looking at schools in Texas as well as schools outside of the state. And my mom was like, you know, who's going to watch Wheel of Fortune with me if you move away?

Judy Vorndran [00:33:12] That's zoom in and all the stuff we've been able to use now, no technology to share. Oh my goodness.

Tram Le [00:33:19] Buddy Camera replied, No, it's on my bucket list. It's probably been on my bucket list for 20 years now.

Meredith Smith [00:33:25] Now that we know it, we're going to apply for you. Just watch like we're going to somehow.

Judy Vorndran [00:33:30] I don't know how you do that. I applied to be in the family. Did you really? Yeah, we did. We didn't get on, did we? It was pretty fun. You know, you pick the thing and you hit the little brother. You're like whatever the survey says for that show. And my grandma, to be honest, we went for it.

Meredith Smith [00:33:47] Oh, hilarious. What did you do that way?

Judy Vorndran [00:33:50] Back when I was from San Diego. I mean, but my grandmother was alive, so must have been when I was in college. Oh, funny. So it's kind of funny. It's very formal. Was just said at a conference center and you went in and you mimicked the game and they videotaped you all at my husband. I interviewed to be on this other show that he was on for a little while with Gwyneth Paltrow. It was something about marriage or something. Apollon, I got interviewed to be on what that show was. But it was kind of fun just to check it out. It's all about this. Well, I think you should do it. I was like, oh,

Meredith Smith [00:34:23] I'm a little speechless right now. No, no. My brain's going like it's called the marriage ref.

Judy Vorndran [00:34:28] It was like in and out very quickly as somebody was.

Meredith Smith [00:34:30] I didn't ever did that ever make it to like

Judy Vorndran [00:34:33] it was on prime time for like one season and then it just went away. But Jerry Seinfeld started it. It was his idea to get a referee and she had to bring some silly issue to the forefront about what you're fighting about as a couple. And then this group of people get to decide, like you get to the one with a pole dancer like she likes to you have the pole or he won the pole. I don't know what the answer was. And it was a fight, a silly fight. And then this arbitrary group of judges gets to hear all their stories and then they pick up the pole because she likes the pole dancer. You want her to pull up.

Tram Le [00:35:05] Of course, the two lawyers need a jury to decide.

Meredith Smith [00:35:09] I would love to watch Judy and Paul do that, although sometimes depending on if he's working from home that day, sometimes we get a little bit of that in the background, especially when you guys are up in the mountains.

Judy Vorndran [00:35:21] But it could be interesting. It was all about the closets at the time, like we should put closet organizers in. And he was like, oh, we don't need to spend any money on that. I'm like, do we need to hire a professional? I don't know how to make his closets work. Anyway, we did do it ultimately.

Meredith Smith [00:35:37] All right, SRAM, we got to go. We got a bunch of talkers, so let's see if we can keep the semi quick. All right. Ready. If you've been briefed but you start you said a little bit about this, but what are you reading right now.

Tram Le [00:35:50] A lot of different things. So design your life is ongoing. It's kind of my self-help type of book. I read all kinds of things. So I just started Chronicles of Narnia, which I've only read the The Lion, the Witch and the

Judy Vorndran [00:36:07] Wardrobe as I read the first one way back in elementary school.

Tram Le [00:36:10] Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I've had a renewed desire to start reading more fun things. And so I'm reading with the girls. So they're really excited. So that is pretty new. And then I read a lot. I like faith based stuff like, you know, I'm trying to be a better person, try to be kinder, trying to be more patient, because I know there are some days that it's tough. So it's just a lot of different things. I read

Judy Vorndran [00:36:32] Tiger Mama,

Tram Le [00:36:36] I'm a tiger mom, my helicopter mom, whatever you want to call me. So help me.

Meredith Smith [00:36:41] I know you're not doing a lot of driving right now, but when you are in the car, would you listen to said car, the radio. OK, what like what do you tell on the radio how

Tram Le [00:36:53] kind of popular pop, rock, hip hop, whatever. Moving my jam as I'm driving to

Judy Vorndran [00:36:59] Wal-Mart and while you're driving around you go to one, go to and then move it or what do you do.

Tram Le [00:37:05] Yeah. So I have the pre-programmed stations and so basically I don't really like to listen to commercials. So then I started listening to the country a little bit. So it's just a variety. And if it, you know, that's my mood, I keep it on. If otherwise, I'll move on. Do you have cowboy boots? I do.

Judy Vorndran [00:37:22] And I don't really like Texas. Yeah, OK. I bought a pair but I go there every time I feel like going to Texas, I get up.

Tram Le [00:37:32] There's plenty there's

Meredith Smith [00:37:33] plenty of people rolling around in cowboy boots in Colorado. Anyway, I that's

Judy Vorndran [00:37:37] who I feel like it's a thing. Flying boat. OK, back to you. All right.

Meredith Smith [00:37:41] But what's your, what's your favorite movie.

Tram Le [00:37:44] Oh it has to be Moulin Rouge. OK, it's a musical. I love musicals because of them. And the greatest thing on earth is love and to be loved and be loved in return.

Meredith Smith [00:37:57] What are three words or phrases that Grace would use to describe you?

Tram Le [00:38:02] I asked Grace this morning. She was shoving food in her mouth before getting to her next call. She said she would describe me as pretty crazy. And kind of crazy, right, kind of.

Meredith Smith [00:38:20] And then what is your favorite thing to do with each one of your kids?

Tram Le [00:38:24] So Hannah, she's my oldest. She is ten turning 11 this month. And she's very artsy. She loves to draw. She loves to create crafts. So her favorite thing that we do is any kind of painting, canvas painting. We've been making resins, which we create like molds. I think I sent you guys photos over the summer. Like we make posters, we make key chains, we make all kinds of really cool things. You guys are probably going to get something from me because I have a lot of that stuff. So arts and crafts with Hannah and then with Grace, you know. So the girls started violin last summer, so a year and a half now and I made them do it, even though Grace, she's really into it and Hannah's not so much. I still make them do it, but Grace loves it when I play with her. And so we've been practicing Jolly Old St. Nick or something. And so there's like three parts. So there's parts A, B and C, and Grace is like B, my C because her hands are A and B, so I mean, it's just love playing violin with her. She's really talented actually.

Judy Vorndran [00:39:31] Oh awesome. That's so special.

Tram Le [00:39:34] Yeah.

Judy Vorndran [00:39:35] Oh and it is interesting to see if it resonates or not because my daughter played violin for a while and she did it for a couple of years and now she's played the piano every night. She can read music. Yeah, she wants a keyboard for Christmas and I don't know how to buy a keyboard so I don't know what that beats.

Meredith Smith [00:39:50] You have a piano playing the piano.

Tram Le [00:39:52] Yeah, absolutely.

Meredith Smith [00:39:53] All right. And then last one, what is one thing that you've learned during stay at home,

Tram Le [00:39:58] that patience is a must for my own sanity, for the sanity of my family. You know, we're all together so much that, you know, we lose our temper very quickly. We get annoyed, we get mad, we get angry. So I feel like patience has to be at the forefront of our day. And so I try to be more patient, read things like that.

Meredith Smith [00:40:22] All right, Tram, thank you so much for sharing your story. We are lucky to have you as part of the team.

Judy Vorndran [00:40:27] Yes, we are.

Meredith Smith [00:40:28] This has been another episode of cultivation. I'm Meredith Smith. Until next time. This podcast is for educational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be relied upon as legal tax, accounting or investment advice. You should consult with a competent professional to discuss specifics of your situation and the applicability of the information presented.

Questions asked and answered in this Episode:

  • What is Tram Le’s background and career story?
  • How does she think the SALT class she teaches relates to the classes she took in college?
  • What is the biggest misconception about state tax that she finds within the students?
  • What does Tram offer that makes clients want to work with her?
  • Where did UT Arlington find the value in offering a SALT class?
  • What drives and motivates Tram to do her best work each day?

What You Will Discover:

  • [00:52] How Tram shifted from pursuing music to accounting and law
  • [07:07] Taking the SALT class and meeting Judy
  • [11:18] How the SALT classes she teaches compare to the classes she took as a student
  • [17:10] The biggest misconception about state tax within her students
  • [22:47] What makes clients want to work with Tram
  • [28:28] Why does she think UT Arlington offers a SALT class
  • [30:14] What drives and motivates Tram
  • [31:43] One thing we don’t know about Tram and more fun facts


  • “Being in the top of a class doesn’t necessarily mean success.” – Judy Vorndran [09:15]
  • “This is not just a simple job. It’s complicated and it requires nuance. And it requires the ability to take the complicated issues, make them simple for our clients so they understand how to handle it, but also deal with the nuance, so that we give them the right answer.” – Judy Vorndran [16:09]
  • “Just understanding that it does matter how you file.” – Tram Le [18:14]
  • “When I am helping a client or advising, I put myself in their shoes, and what would I do if I had these problems?” – Tram Le [23:52]
  • “If there’s something I’m doing, I have to do it right, and I don’t want to let you guys down. I don’t want to let clients down. I don’t want to let myself down. And also, I think a big part of me as a mother of two young girls, I want to be a really good role model for them.” – Tram Le [30:48]