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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Spotlight_1_1Richard Winchester (Thomas Jefferson)

        • A.B. 1984, Princeton
        • J.D. 1992, Yale

   

   

Winchester_1A tax professor both by accident and by design, I have unconsciously prepared for this line of work ever since high school.

Unlike many of my classmates at Princeton, I had only a vague idea of what I wanted to do when I grew up. I found myself one of the few students admitted to the undergraduate program at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, giving me the freedom to take virtually any social science course in the university. The liberal arts course of study equipped me with the strong writing and analytical skills that I now know are indispensable to any legal scholar.

Trained in college to be a generalist, I took a job as a management trainee in the home office of Prudential Insurance. Next, I helped design and manage the credit card program for Chrysler’s consumer finance unit. Thinking the next logical step was to get an MBA, I applied to Stanford Business School. It, wisely, took a pass. But the background in business and finance serves me whenever I need to help students understand a commercial transaction and the tax issues it might raise.

I got interested in practicing law after becoming active in local political circles, where I got to know attorneys for the first time. Yale Law School permitted me to study law in a way that was comparable to the liberal arts program that appealed to me as a college student. Initially thinking I wanted to be a civil rights litigator, I took a heavy dose of courses in constitutional and anti-discrimination law. I also joined the Yale Law & Policy Review, where I served as editor-in-chief. But summer jobs at civil rights law firms made me question whether I was cut out to be a civil rights soldier. Nevertheless, the education and experience helped sensitize me to the social justice implications of tax policy.

I decided to practice tax law a year or two after clerking for Chief Justice Robert N.C. Nix, Jr., of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. That was when I was at the Philadelphia law firm of Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen, whose tax group is largely responsible for the strong reputation the firm enjoys. A few tax assignments permitted me to appreciate the critical role that tax attorneys play in structuring virtually every commercial transaction. In addition, despite having taken only one tax course in law school, I seemed to have a natural aptitude for the technical rules, which I enjoyed applying in creative and constructive ways.

I moved from Philadelphia to Washington, DC, to work for the tax and employee benefits firm then known as Groom & Nordberg, where I got my first exposure to international tax planning. That experience advising insurance and financial services clients prepared me to do international tax and structured finance work at Burt, Staples & Maner. I left that seven-attorney tax boutique to join megafirm PricewaterhouseCoopers, where I advised both domestic and foreign clients as an international tax attorney in its national tax office. The extended exposure to foreign tax systems helped sharpen my ability to function as a tax scholar who must think critically about U.S. tax law and policy.

The idea of teaching entered my mind after I left PwC. As part of a solo consulting practice, I did some writing and contract teaching. Energized by the work, I applied for faculty positions through the AALS recruitment process and accepted the job I now hold at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. My teaching load includes federal income tax, corporate and partnership tax, and international tax. Each course stimulates me in a different way. I am also completing a research project on employment taxes, an area I have discovered to be a rich source of issues for scholarly study. I can’t imagine being any happier than I am now.

I play the piano whenever most people would watch TV, a legacy of growing up in New Orleans with two professional musicians as parents. Taught in the classical style by my mother, I began studying the instrument around the same time I learned my ABC’s. I can remember winning a city-wide competition at least once. There were also a few tournaments whose participants included now famous Harry Connick, Jr. (I can’t recall ever beating him.) My interest in playing music blossomed after I started college, when I had a roommate who adorned our dorm suite with an upright. Now I have a baby grand of my own occupying a space that most guys would reserve for a big screen TV. I’ve been trying to learn the elements of jazz, using Oscar Peterson as my model.

I also amuse myself by swimming. I took on the sport after college as a way to pass the time (before I got my own piano). But it quickly became a competitive endeavor, driving me to enter ocean swims wherever I could find them. At first, my conquests were confined to races in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Now that I live in California, I have begun to test the waters of the Pacific. The waves are bigger and the water is cooler. But it’s nothing I can’t handle.

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