Saturday, October 1, 2005
This week's Tax Prof Spotlight continues our series of profiles of folks starting their careers this fall as tax professors at American law schools. We hope the profiles will help introduce our newest colleagues to the tax community. [If you are, or know of someone who is, a beginning tax professor, please email me here to be included in the series.]
Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer (Notre Dame)
- A.B. 1989, Stanford
- J.D. 1994, Yale
My path to the tax academy probably began with a law and economics course taught by Mitchell Polinsky. I was already an economics major at Stanford, and this class solidified my interest in the law and led me to also major in public policy. At the same time an aversion to crunching numbers led me away from economics graduate programs and toward law school -- although I should have known that economics is about much more than crunching numbers.
After a two-year post-graduation break, during which I married my wife and fellow Stanford graduate Michelle and worked for a year with Habitat for Humanity International, I was fortunate enough to attend Yale Law School. There I unconsciously gravitated toward both the study of tax and nonprofit organizations. Tax was in the form of three tax classes, taught by Ed Zelinsky who was visiting Yale at the time, and Elias Clark. Nonprofit organizations included serving on the boards of both the Initiative for Public Interest Law and my local church, and as the business editor of the Yale Law and Policy Review.
A two-year District Court clerkship, where I saw only a single tax case, gave me time to consider my next steps. Having already decided that litigation was not for me based on my summer associate experiences, I cast around for a way to match my legal training with my growing interest in nonprofit organizations. And surprisingly the answer that consistently came back from lawyers and nonprofit managers was tax law. In fact, it was from an administrator at the Pew Charitable Trust that I first heard of Caplin & Drysdale, the firm where I went to work after the end of my clerkship.
At Caplin I was blessed with the opportunity to work with some of the true leaders in the tax field -- David Rosenbloom for international tax, Tom Troyer for tax-exempt organizations, and, of course, Mortimer Caplin for everything, as well as many other excellent attorneys. The learning curve was steep but exciting, and even though I had planned to only stay for a few years until I could locate an in-house position, I instead stayed almost nine years.
The exciting nature of the work at Caplin, and the policy focus of much of the nonprofit organization work that was my focus, is probably where the blame lies for my ultimate decision to leave. As my knowledge of the tax field, and particularly of tax-exempt organizations grew, I became aware of larger and more fundamental issues that were begging to be explored. But for some reason clients would not pay for such explorations and the business and personal demands on my time -- my wife Michelle and I now have five children -- left too few extra hours for pursuing these issues. I also had had a taste of teaching in a program at Georgetown and wanted more, but again my other time demands were in the way.
These desires led to my decision to explore what positions might be available for someone with my background in academics. So I hopped on the Internet one Monday in early August 2004 and found that the first AALS distribution deadline was that Friday. I had just enough time to prepare my materials and not enough time to have any second thoughts. This was probably a good thing, given that the articles on searching for an academic position I read after I had put in my materials were prefaced with such helpful comments as "Be prepared for disappointment." and "There is no reason not to go through the AALS process even if you do not have a manuscript, as long as rejection does not bother you."
The search process is still a blur to me, but through God's grace Notre Dame was looking to fill a tax position just as I came onto the market. My choice was sealed when I did my campus interview on a beautiful fall day and was assured "The weather is always like this!" But seriously, everything I was told about both the freedom to explore new ideas and the opportunity to interact with great colleagues and engaged students is already being confirmed.
People constantly ask me whether I "always" wanted to be a professor. The answer is no, but I certainly was familiar with the academic life since my father was a Professor of German at the University of Toronto, my mother was Director of International Programs at the University of Pennsylvania, and my step-mother is an Associate Professor of European Studies at the University of Guelph. The question that occurs to me now is how I ever ended up in private practice.
Each Saturday, TaxProf Blog shines the spotlight on one of the 700+ tax professors in America's law schools. We hope to help bring the many individual stories of scholarly achievements, teaching innovations, public service, and career moves within the tax professorate to the attention of the broader tax community. Please email me suggestions for future Tax Prof Profiles. For prior Tax Prof Profiles, see here.