TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Tax Prof Profile, New Professor Edition: Christine Agnew

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.]

Spotlight_2  Christine L. Agnew (Houston)

      • B.A. 1994, SUNY
      • J.D. 1997, Miami



I went to law school to practice law; teaching wasn’t on the radar screen. By my third year, things had changed. Like most, my interest in academia was spawned by an academic. After taking two of Elliott Manning’s advanced tax courses, teaching tax had become my life-long ambition. As University of Houston Law Center’s newest faculty member, I am taking the first of many steps toward fulfilling that ambition. Before I tell you where I’m going, I’d like to let you know where I’ve been.

I was born and raised in Miami, Florida. The eldest of four siblings, I am the only person in my family to graduate from high school. I attended the State University of New York (Buffalo) where I majored in political science and philosophy and graduated, magna cum laude, in three years.

After college, I returned to Miami for law school. At the time, Miami’s tax program was ranked among the top 5. It had amassed legends like Edwin Cohen, Jack Nolan, Elliott Manning, Sam Thompson, Stanley Langbein and George Mundstock. I was so inspired by these professors and their passion for the discipline that I managed to take almost every LL.M. tax course (as a J.D. student). When classes were not enough to satisfy my appetite, I began publishing articles.   Before I graduated, I had published three.

After law school, I practiced international tax at Hodgson Russ in upstate New York and Toronto, Ontario. Eighteen months (and at least two blizzards) later, I received a call from Paul Asofsky, a tax partner in Weil, Gotshal & Manges’ Houston office. Paul offered me a position as his associate. I’m not sure why I said yes. Perhaps it was Paul’s credentials – he heads WGM’s private equity tax group, but he’s best known as the country’s leading expert in bankruptcy tax. Or, perhaps it was the 18 inches of snow that had accumulated on my doorstep when I received the offer. For whatever reason, joining WGM was a great move because I had found a mentor who changed my life.

Initially my practice gravitated toward bankruptcy tax. I worked on some of the largest and most complex bankruptcies in history, including Enron, WorldCom and Global Crossing. In an effort to diversify my skill set, I moved to Weil’s New York City office where I focused on mergers and acquisitions. I found the rhythm of a deal intoxicating and before I knew it, I was negotiating one billion dollar deal after the next. The most notable was the merger of General Electric’s NBC and Vivendi’s Universal Studios, a deal with an estimated market value of $43 billion.

Deals alone did not satisfy my passion for tax. With Paul’s encouragement, I began attending ABA Tax Section meetings. Within a year, I was a frequent panelist at Section meetings and was asked to testify on issues concerning multidisciplinary practice. I have served as the Assistant Secretary of the Tax Section, the Vice-Chair of the Young Lawyers Forum, and the Chair of the Young Lawyers Forum. Today I serve as the Secretary of the Tax Section and am one of eleven members appointed to the Tax Section’s Hurricane Katrina Task Force. I have been recognized as a Nolan Fellow – a prestigious award presented to the top five young tax lawyers by the ABA Tax Section.

In addition to my Tax Section activities, I continued to write. While the two gave me great pleasure, I often felt constrained by private practice. Every speech that I gave and every article that I wrote was subject to a filtering process that reduced my articles and speeches to mere explanations of technical rules.

I began thinking about alternatives, including a position as Tax Legislative Counsel with the Treasury Department’s Office of Tax Policy. In the end, I decided that I wanted to begin my teaching career sooner rather than later. The opportunity to join the faculty at the University of Houston Law Center was too good to pass up. My tax colleagues are brilliant, charismatic, and supportive. In short, I have found three more mentors. My class is full and my students are bright and inquisitive. I am very fortunate, but the good fortune doesn’t end after this semester.

Over the next twelve months, I have a lot to look forward to. I plan to teach federal income tax and partnerships in the spring, to write an article on Circular 230, to comment on Hurricane Katrina tax relief, to increase my involvement in the ABA Tax Section, and to break three hours in my next marathon.

I went to law school to practice law and graduated wanting to teach. I’m indebted to those who have touched my life and shown me that practicing law is a lot more than simply advising clients on technical rules. It’s also about learning a trade, respecting a profession and sharing one’s experiences with the next generation of tax lawyers. This is the greatest lesson that I hope to impart to my students.

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.

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