Law Schools

New School: The IRS Launches Educational Website

by Joshua on February 29, 2012

Imagine if a Graduate Tax program used this as its tag line — “ABC LL.M. in Taxation  – The Quick and Simple Way to Understand Your Taxes.”  I know my decision of which tax program to attend would certainly have been less agonizing, if I could choose a program where learning taxes was quick and simple.  Well, for those that have yet to embark on their graduate tax journey, you may want to check out the IRS’s new educational website called “Understanding Taxes” –where learning taxes is “quick and simple” and FREE!

There are two links on the Understanding Taxes homepage: One is for teachers that provides an “interactive tax education program for middle school, high school and community college classrooms.”  The other is for students and provides “middle schools, high schools, community colleges, and the general public with a technology-based instructional tool.”  For purposes of this post, I will focus on the Student site.

The Student site provides 38 lessons to students which are divided into two categories: “The Hows of Taxes” and “The Whys of Taxes.”  The lessons under “The Hows of Taxes” section include modules on payroll taxes and federal income tax withholding, wage and tip income, interest income, exemptions, and filing status to name a few.  Each lesson has a set of materials and a skill check (quiz) at the bottom of the lesson in order to test your understanding of the lesson.  For example, Module 1, relating to payroll taxes and federal income tax withholding provides a tutorial lesson, a fact sheet, and a simulation exercise where you attempt to help a retail store manager complete a form W-4.

“The Whys of Taxes” modules relate to various themes such as the history of taxes in the United States, fairness in taxes, and the impact of taxes to name a few.  Within each theme are lessons, which contain activities to help you learn the topic of the lesson and a little quiz to test your understanding.  I assume the IRS is expecting the lowest quiz scores to come from “The Whys of Taxes” lessons.

In addition to the separate “hows” and “whys” categories, you can access the lesson activities, tax tutorials, simulations, and assessments (quizzes) individually, through separate links provided on the Understanding Taxes Student main page.

In the end, I don’t expect “Understanding Taxes” to make US News’ top tax law specialty programs list next year.  However, for tax return preparers needing to brush up on a topic or individuals interested in learning a little something about how taxes affect their lives, Understanding Taxes is a simple and easy.

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Goodwill Job Hunting

by Joshua on January 3, 2012

I remember this time of year in the LL.M. program being somewhat bittersweet. Like in law school, I had just finished finals, which meant no more long days at the library sipping gallons of coffee, surrounded by coughing, sneezing, yawning, nervous students (including students who were not in law school, but were using the law school library). Despite the end of this terrible time, I did not feel satisfied because I knew it meant that I needed to kick my job search into high gear. Although I knew that I had the time to spend on my job search, I didn’t really know what the most effective way to use this time was.

During the school year, I did what many law students and LL.M. tax students do – I went on law firm websites, looked for a partner that went to my undergraduate, law school, or LL.M. program, and emailed them my resume. This method produced a lot of what I like to call “fan mail” (i.e. rejection letters). I recall receiving at least 3 of the same “no thank you” letter from one recruiting coordinator. At one point I thought she wanted to be my pen pal.

At some point I realized that I was going to have to find a more effective way of reaching out to employers. Here are a three techniques I used to help with my job search:

1. Contact prior colleagues. One thing that I found was really helpful was contacting attorneys that I had worked with during summers or while in law school to see if they could put in a recommendation or put me in touch with a contact. For example, I sent one email to an attorney who i had worked with and who had worked at a big law firm early in her career. My email to her led to a recommendation and an eventual part-time job while I was in the LL.M program in New York City.

2. Pick up the phone. I was at lunch with one of my friends in the LL.M. program one day and he asked me how I went about my job search. He wasn’t sure how to locate firms in the area he wanted to work, so I suggested that he pull up the U.S. News Best Law Firms list and locate firms in the areas he wanted to work. Once he did that I told him he should try picking up the phone and calling those firms. Because he was looking in a smaller job market, the firms he would be a candidate for would likely not be traveling to New York to interview on campus. I suggested that placing a call would provide a personal touch and provide a quick answer to the question of whether the firm was hiring. One phone call later and my friend landed an interview and eventually a job.

3. Look for a part-time job. As a follow-up to my first suggestion, I found that having a part-time job was very helpful in landing the job I have now. First, landing a part-time job gets your foot in the door with a law firm. Second, it is a resume builder. One of the things I lacked on my resume prior to working part-time was private law firm experience. Working part-time in New York gave me valuable job experience in tax law as well as a foot in the door at a firm.

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3 Things I Learned on Blog-cation

by Joshua on March 27, 2011

Yes, I know. It has certainly been awhile. In my first post back, I thought I would fill you in on a few things I have learned while on my blog-cation (vacation from blogging – a.k.a. my lame play on words).

1. Patience is a virtue. When I first started law school, I assumed, like many others, that I would have a full-time job lined up by the time I started my 3L year. Times have certainly changed, and what I have learned since attending an LL.M. Tax Program is that patience and persistence will eventually pay off. Rather than doing a lot of hiring in the Fall, I have seen an increase in the number of interviews for Tax LL.M. students this semester. If you are considering an LL.M. program next year, be ready to wait until Spring to have your job lined up.

2. iPad 2 is great. Yes, I am the proud owner of a new iPad. Although I have certainly gotten my Angry Birds fix, there are plenty of apps that I have been using that are great for school, especially, tax students. One app in particular is LawToGo’s Internal Revenue Code and Treasury Regulations. This app aims to replace those heavy code and reg books that you are required to have with you at all times in the Graduate Tax program. Below is a video demonstration of the app.

3. March Madness Brackets > Tax Brackets. Around this time of the year, individuals are gathering information to complete two important documents: A March Madness Bracket and a Tax Return. Fortunately, for ESPN, CBSsports, Yahoo and the like, everyone seems to get their brackets filled in on time. Unfortunately, for the Internal Revenue Service and Treasury, some people don’t want to pay to play. As I watched President Obama fill out TWO brackets (a Men’s and Women’s bracket) on ESPN, I thought to myself, “What if a tax return were as easy as filling out an NCAA Tourney Bracket?” Obviously, the guess work that is involved in filling out an NCAA Bracket would have to be taken out of filling out your “bracket-style” tax return. But I think there is something to be said for the fact that thousands of people pay money to fill out a bracket sheet with little or no knowledge about the teams competing. While I don’t think we will be seeing new tax forms anytime soon, one thing is for sure: I will be leaving the University of Pittsburgh out of my final four as long as I continue filling out a March Madness bracket.

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The University of Florida Tax Moot Court Team earned first place in this year’s National Tax Moot Court Competition sponsored by the Tax Section of the Florida Bar. This is the third consecutive year the UF Tax Moot Court Team advanced to the final round in the competition. The team argued against Ohio Northern University in the final round before a panel United States Tax Court Judges. The panel included Senior Judge Renato Beghe and Special Trial Judges Lewis R. Carluzzo and John Dean.

Competitors at oral argument were James Baley (3L) and Michael Bruno (2L).  Kevin Hall (3L) was part of the team through the brief writing portion and helped prepare the team for oral argument.  Todd Lewis (LL.M.) and Professor Steven Willis co-coached the team.  James Baley also received the award for Best Individual Oralist.

This year’s case required competitors to consider whether an installment sale payment received on the sale of a capital asset which was required to be put into court-ordered escrow during the same taxable year is nonetheless required to be included in income in the year of receipt under the claim of right doctrine.  The doctrine, established in North American Oil Consolidated v. Burnet, 286 U.S. 417 (1932), requires inclusion of income in the year of receipt despite potentially imperfect rights to retain the income.  In the case at hand, the income was received for the sale of stock in a Subchapter-S corporation and a state court lawsuit alleging breaches of warranties and representations had been filed prior to the payment.

The second issue involved whether I.R.C. Sec. 1341 treatment was available for the restoration of amounts received in prior taxable years when repayment occurred in a subsequent taxable year.

The third issue was whether the I.R.C. Sec. 7525 Accountant Client Privilege or the work product doctrine privileged documents prepared regarding certain tax shelter arrangements the seller in the above transaction had engaged his CPA to prepare.

Finally, this is a sentimental post for me as I was a former competitor in this competition which was also the subject of my one of my first blog posts one year ago (more on that in a later post).

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If you went to law school or are currently attending you have likely heard a professor, potential employer, or law school graduate say something to the tune of “Law school doesn’t really prepare you for the practice of law.” I always chuckled to myself when I heard someone say this. How can three years of school (and for many others an additional year to pursue an LL.M.) not prepare you to work as an attorney? A few months ago I thought to myself, “Would any doctor or former medical student tell a current medical student that medical school doesn’t prepare you to work as a doctor?” Of course not. When we go to visit a doctor, we (or at least I) expect that they experts in what they do. Could you imagine if your dentist told you that he or she thought you may need a root canal but had only read about them in a class and had never actually performed one? Of course not. So why is it acceptable for most law students to graduate from law school without ever seeing a case file, without standing before a judge and arguing a case, and without sitting down with a client to discuss their particular matter? Sure, I am thankful for my experience on Moot Court, but not all law students are members of Moot Court. What do law students who are not members of Moot Court and Law Review take away from law school?

I think legal education needs an update.  While law school students anxiously wait outside their professor’s door to snag the prior year’s state statutes that are being given away for free, medical school students work with the latest and greatest technologies using them to perform various operations. Medical school students have Grey’s Anatomy , the new series Off The Map, and House. Law school students have reruns of Law and Order and The Good Wife (I don’t even watch this show, my fiancee does).

The internet has enabled law students to learn many of the fundamentals taught in law school quicker than ever before. Retrieving  a case, statute, proposed legislation, legislative history, law review article etc, no longer requires a J.D. — only an internet connection. Instant analysis and commentary of all of the aforementioned is also available for free or little cost online.

Most undergraduate programs are four years (unless you are aspiring to be the next Van Wilder). During those four years you select a major in an area of interest and graduate with a degree in that specialty. With three years, a law school student  has ample opportunity to explore areas of interest, take specialized courses in that area, and obtain a  Juris Doctor with a major in that particular area. I believe this would increase the marketability of law students, make the OCI process more transparent, keep law school costs down, and allow students to takeaway skills that they will use in their particular practice area without losing sight of the general legal fundamentals. It sure would have been nice if I could have obtained a tax law designation on my J.D. degree without having to incur the additional costs of an LL.M. program.

While this does sound neat and tidy to me, I know that there is one bump in the road — the LSAT. In order to allow potential law school students the flexibility in selecting a law school program based on that school’s specialty area, the LSAT would have to become less important in the admissions process. I will leave that discussion for another day. Back to watching Law and Order reruns.

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The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) Employment Report and Salary Survey for the Class of 2009 was released today. For the most part, what was revealed was nothing that law students, lawyers, law schools, law school career services, and everyone else didn’t know already: The job market for law school graduates is not very good (Or has the NALP report put it, “The Class of 2009 Faced New Challenges”).

However, after reviewing the report, there are 3 things I learned:

1. It may be a few years until the employment rate is above 90%. The report states that there was an overall employment rate of 88.3% for the Class of 2009. This statistic  is based on graduates for whom employment status was known (employment information was provided for 40,833 graduates or 92.8% of law graduates). Further, the report says that since 1985 there have only been six classes with an overall employment rate of 88.3% (all occurring after the 1990-1991 recession). Those numbers were: 85.9% for 1991, 83.5% for 1992, 83.4% for 1993, 84.7% for 1994, 86.7% for 1995, and 87.4% for 1995. The class of 2008’s employment rate was 89.9%. Therefore, based on the trend from the 90’s, it looks as though the rate for the Class of 2010 should be the same if not lower then the Class of 2009, with steady increases in the following years.

2. Decreases in Jobs that required Bar Passage or a J.D. This year, 70.8% of graduates have jobs that require bar passage (down 4%). Further, 9.2% of graduates obtained jobs which a J.D. was preferred but for which bar passage was not required (up 1%).

3. Part-time Employment On Rise. The Class of 2009 saw a 3.5% increase in part time employment from 6.5% in 2008 to 10% in 2009.

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In this edition of my spin on the U.S. News and World Report Tax Law Specialty Rankings, I have adjusted the rankings based on cost of attendance. For many potential LL.M candidates, cost of a particular program factors heavily into the decision where to go. This chart contains the cost of attendance for each of the programs based on figures presented in Pursuing a Tax LLM Degree — Where? as well as the law schools’ websites. Some of the schools charge registration fees in addition to tuition and therefore, I have added the numbers together in those instances. Also, the figure for the University of Florida is the cost for out of state residents. The cost for Florida residents is $10,693. Finally, these figures for the most part, represent last years cost of attendance.

In addition to reading Pursuing a Tax LLM Degree — Where?, I suggest reading Pursuing a Tax LLM Degree: Why and When? Both articles provide extremely comprehensive coverage of Tax LLM Programs and are written by tax law professors Jennifer M. Kowal (Loyola-L.A.), Katherine Pratt (Loyola-L.A.), Theodore P. Seto (Loyola-L.A.), and Paul L. Caron (Cincinnati).

Read: U.S. News and World Report Tax Law Specialty Rankings: Coffee Drinkers Edition

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For many potential Tax LL.M students, the release of the new U.S. News and World Report Tax Rankings has placed added stress on trying to decide on which school to attend (or whether to attend a program at all). But what do the rankings really tell us about which program is best to attend? I have taken the liberty (and will continue to do this for the next couple of weeks) to rank the top ten tax programs according to U.S. News and World Report based on different variables. This post is dedicated to the coffee drinker. I have ranked the programs based on their proximity to Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts using Google Maps. Disclaimer: The data does not reflect “We Proudly Brew” Starbucks that may be on the campus of a particular school. Read: U.S. News and World Report Law School Specialty Rankings: Tax Law

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Officially published today, the U.S. News & World Report has ranked the top ten law schools specializing in tax law. New York University, Georgtown University and the University of Florida are at the top of the rankings.

1 New York University
New York, NY
2 Georgetown University
Washington, DC
3 University of Florida (Levin)
Gainesville, FL
4 Northwestern University
Chicago, IL
5 University of Miami
Coral Gables, FL
6 Boston University
Boston, MA
  University of San Diego
San Diego, CA
8 Harvard University
Cambridge, MA
9 Loyola Marymount University
Los Angeles, CA
10 University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA

Read also:
4 Things to Consider when Selecting an Tax LL.M Program

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If you have looked at the “Meet the Press” page on Tax Docket, you know that I am a law clerk at the University of Florida Office of the General Counsel (OGC). I have been the office’s law clerk for almost a year and have picked up on some things that I think may be useful to future law clerks and summer associates. In this first segment of Lessons from a Law Clerk, I will discuss how asking someone outside your office for research or an answer to a question can help you save time and get the information you need.

At the beginning of my stint as the office law clerk, I was under the impression that the answers to all of the attorneys’ legal questions would be found on WestLaw or Lexis Nexis (I was excited about this because I thought about the amount of rewards points I was going to rack up over the course of my job). However, after about a week at the OGC, I realized WestLaw and Lexis searches were not the most efficient ways to get information I needed. Many times I would just get a email forward from an attorney that contained a thread of back and forth correspondence from a number of people. With that email, I would be asked to answer the legal question contained within the message.

Although I was hesitant to do this at first, I have found that the best way to get information sometimes is either to call someone who may have commented on the legal question on the thread of emails you received or call the state department or governmental branch that handles the area of law pertaining to your questions in order to get an answer. However, make sure to ask the attorney who gave you the assignment if it is alright to make a call.

Recently, I was asked to look for an article that all an attorney had was the title of. I replied to the email asking the person if he had a copy of the article and he not only sent me the article, he sent me a ton of extra information pertaining to the topic of the article. I got more than I needed and all I had to do was ask!

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