David Pustilnik '58, LLM '59 with his wife, Jean.

David D. Pustilnik ’58, LLM ’59 has had a long and distinguished career as a tax lawyer. After serving as a legislative tax attorney in the Legislation and Regulations Division of the Office of the Chief Counsel of the Internal Revenue Service, Pustilnik spent 30 years in the Law Department of the Travelers Insurance Companies, retiring as deputy general counsel and head of the tax division. Now, in recognition of the program that gave him the skills he needed for his career, Pustilnik is establishing the Jean and David D. Pustilnik ’58, LLM ’59 Scholarship Fund for NYU Law’s Graduate Tax Program.

“This scholarship fund will play a significant role in our continuing efforts to recruit the nation’s top students interested in studying tax law,” says Joshua Blank LLM ’07, director of the Graduate Tax Program. “On behalf of the entire tax faculty, I express our deep gratitude for this generous gift, which symbolizes the Pustilnik family’s sense of legacy and commitment to our program and its students.”                                          

Pustilnik, who is now a member of NYU’s prestigious Sir Harold Acton Society, spoke with the NYU Law Office of Communications to discuss how his time at the Law School inspired his gift. The following Q&A has been condensed and edited.

What made you decide to pursue an LLM in Taxation?

While I was on active duty and away from the law school, I had lots of time to think what type of a lawyer I really wanted to be. I had taken a number of tax courses as an undergraduate and I had enjoyed them, and I did very well in the tax courses that I took at the law school when I came back. I suppose the highlight was when Professor McDonough approached me one day and offered me a Kennesson Fellowship to pursue an LLM in Taxation and be an editor of the Tax Law Review. I jumped at the opportunity because that’s what I wanted to do.

As a JD student, you left law school after your 2L year in order to serve in the United States Air Force. What was that experience like for you?  

Most of my classmates were aghast when I said I had to leave and go on active duty for three years. They said, oh god you’ll forget everything, how will you ever be able to pass the bar exam or anything like that? Well, the three years I spent on active duty were the most important three years of my life. Because if the Air Force hadn’t sent me to Texas, I never would have met on a blind date this wonderful girl that I’ve been married to for 57 years.

How did it feel to return to the Law School from the Air Force?

During my time in the Air Force, I matured tremendously, and when I came back, I put into practice what Professor Herbert Peterfreund, who we had had for evidence, wrote on the blackboard every day: “review, review, review.” Well, I crammed like everybody else the first two years, but when I came back, I reviewed every night, every course. And I did better than I’d ever done before.

What inspired your gift to the Graduate Tax Program?

NYU was always very generous to me. My father died while I was on active duty, and I had saved money to go back to law school out of my officer’s pay, but I was helping support my mother at the time. Being offered the Kennesson Fellowship allowed me to get the LLM degree, and that set me on a course for my career as a tax lawyer. Having been so fortunate, it was time to give back. My wife and I are firm believers in supporting the institutions that provided us with the opportunity and education to pursue the careers that we were very successful in.

Do you have any advice for law students or young alumni starting out in their careers today?

The best advice is what I gave my oldest daughter when she said she was thinking of going to law school. I said, you better have a fire in the belly if you really want this. And pursue an area of specialization that’s regulated by the government, because the laws and regulations are constantly changing, and they’ll always need your services.

Posted May 11, 2016