It is often said that “tax touches everything,” and for good reason. Every individual, corporation, and entity interacts with the tax system in some way, whether at the federal, state, or local level. The civil obligation to pay taxes to fund the government is at the heart of democracy. Targeted tax breaks are a main source of government largess on favored constituencies or policies. The core issues of who should pay tax and how much, and what should be taxed are fundamental questions of the social contract and feature prominently in every presidential election.
Most lawyers regardless of specialty will encounter tax issues at some stage of their careers. Litigators negotiating a settlement for their client should be mindful of how the settlement will be taxed. Transactional lawyers should be aware of the tax aspects of a deal and know when to engage tax counsel. In-house counsel will see an array of tax issues, from employment taxes, to pensions, to cross-border transactions, to state and local taxes. Counsel to nonprofit organizations will find that nonprofits have tax exemptions, which operate according to an intricate web of tax law.
For the tax specialist, tax law and practice are incredibly diverse. Many law firms have tax practice groups that represent business and individual clients in litigation, both in court and before the IRS or state taxing authority. Firms also advise clients on the tax aspects of transactions, including mergers and acquisitions, property deals, international planning, treaties, and philanthropy among many others. Many tax practice groups operate like an in-house counsel to the firm’s clients, providing advice on tax matters of all stripes. Tax lawyers also tend to specialize within a given area of tax law, whether it be federal income taxes, international, state and local, corporate, pensions and benefits, or estate planning.
The introductory course in Federal Income Taxation provides the basic foundation in tax law that every lawyer should have. It may be taken any time after the first year, but for students weighing a career in tax or a tax LL.M (which is common for tax practitioners), it is advisable to take the course in the second year. The course covers the key questions of what constitutes income, how it is measured, when it is taxed, and who pays. If you find treasure, must you pay tax on your find? What if you catch a record-breaking baseball at a game – do you have taxable income? If your house burns down, can you claim a loss? Why are contributions to charity deductible? In providing answers to these questions, the course also introduces students to the richness of the Internal Revenue Code and how to read, carefully, a complex, interrelated statutory scheme.
After the introductory course, students may seek additional specialization. The natural next class, especially for future tax lawyers, is Taxation of Partnerships and Other Business Entities. This course, rich in conceptual rigor, provides critical insight to the world of business taxation. Students interested in a tax career are encouraged to discuss course planning with faculty. In addition, students interested in securities law, commercial law, corporate law, family law, and estate planning should seriously consider taking the introductory course.
- Federal Income Tax
- Taxation of Partnerships and Other Business Entities
- ERISA: Pensions (Tax Policy)
- Not-For-Profit Organizations
- Tax on Wealth Transfers/Estate Planning
Clinics, Skills, and Externships
- Low Income Taxpayer Clinic
Students should consider pursuing externships at the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, the Tax Court, the National Taxpayer Advocate, and the tax-writing committees on Capitol Hill (Ways & Means Committee, Finance Committee).
Faculty: Professors Colinvaux, Jefferson.