Constructing a Tax Law Curriculum
Students who will not be tax lawyers
We strongly recommend that all students regardless of the field in which they intend to practice take Income Taxation. Tax pervades all areas of practice and if nothing else, it is essential for a lawyer to know when a specialist should be consulted. Furthermore, significant federal government incentives are administered through the tax system and it is important to understand how these incentives work.
Our basic course, Income Taxation, is a four-credit introduction to federal income taxation. It is offered in a small section as a first year elective as well as every semester in larger sections. The course covers the basics of personal taxation with a strong emphasis on tax policy.
Students who will be corporate lawyers
Much of corporate law is infused with tax aspects. Many deals, for example, are structured the way they are for tax reasons. Thus we recommend that those who will enter into a corporate practice take Income Taxation as well as Corporate Tax I & II. This is a four-credit course, offered every semester, that covers the basics of corporate tax. When the course is offered in the evening, it is divided in two: Corporate Tax I covers distributions (dividends, redemptions, etc.) and Corporate Tax II covers reorganizations (mergers and acquisitions). We strongly recommend taking both portions of the course.
Students who will be T&E lawyers
Trusts and Estates practice is largely tax-oriented and most T&E lawyers have a strong tax background. We recommend that students take Income Taxation and Corporate Tax I & II in addition to courses specifically directed at T&E practice, such as Estate and Gift Tax, Estate Planning and Income Taxation of Trusts and Estates I and II. Many students will take advanced courses as part of a JD/LLM program (see below).
Students who will be tax lawyers
Before taking a tax course, most students do not know whether they would be interested in a tax practice. Thus, we recommend taking Income Taxation as early as possible. Not everyone who likes Income Taxation will enjoy tax practice. Therefore, we recommend taking Corporate Tax I & II as a second course. The course is much more complex and detail-oriented than Income Taxation and therefore provides a better idea of what tax practice is like. After that, there are a large number of courses in taxation that are open to JD students.
Those interested in tax practice should consider the joint JD/LLM degree. Students need 24 credits to earn an LLM (tax) degree, of which 20 must be in tax. Students can double-count up to 12 credits of advanced tax courses taken while a JD towards the LLM degree. In all events, 12 additional credits must be taken after the JD is earned. This enables a student to obtain the LLM in one additional semester after graduation. We strongly recommend that students take no more than 12 advanced credits in taxation while a JD student. There are additional nontax courses, such as Corporations or Bankruptcy, that would be useful to a future tax practitioner. Tax lawyers need to be well-rounded because their practice usually overlaps many other areas of law.
Students who are candidates for the joint degree must take a course in tax policy as well as a course in tax procedure.
We would recommend the following advanced courses for a JD student: Corporate Tax I & II, a course in international taxation, partnership taxation and tax policy. Students who know where they will be practicing might consider taking courses that will be particularly relevant to the work done by their future firm. For example, if the firm has a large state and local practice, our course in state and local taxation would be useful. If the firm has a lot of private equity clients, Taxation of Private Equity Transactions would be a helpful course. If the firm does a lot of financial instruments work, the Timing Issues or Taxation of Financial Instruments course would be good preparation. In most large firms, executive compensation or ERISA work is done in a separate department. If that is the field in which the student will practice, Executive Compensation would be essential. Many students will take these highly specialized courses as an LLM student.
Students who will be academics
Tax academics will be expected to have a good grounding in substantive tax law as well as tax policy. Thus anyone interested in academia will have started with the basic course and presumably will also take Corporate Tax I & II to verify that s/he is interested in tax. These students should take Tax Policy, the Tax Policy Colloquium and/or the Tax and Social Policy Seminar. The Tax and Social Policy Seminar provides students with an opportunity to complete a significant writing project. If a student interested in tax academia does not enroll in the Tax and Social Policy Seminar, the student should seriously consider Directed Research devoted to a tax policy topic.