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Saturday, September 23, 2006

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For over 30 years, the University of Florida Graduate Tax Program has been one of the nation's leading programs for the advanced study of tax law. Among the country's 30 graduate tax programs, Florida has by far the largest number of full-time faculty and is the only school to offer three advanced tax degrees:

 

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Graduate tax students assist in the publication of the Florida Tax Review, one of the most prestigious peer-reviewed tax journals in the country.  In this 12-part series, TaxProf Blog will profile the Florida Graduate Tax Faculty.

LokkenLawrence Lokken is the Hugh Culverhouse Eminent Scholar in Taxation at Florida:

Somebody once told me that Erwin Griswold, responding to the question, “What is the best undergraduate major for a student intending on going to law school?,” said that he thought mathematics and music were the best backgrounds for law students. His reasons for this belief are lost to me, but I found it very interesting because my undergraduate majors were music and mathematics. Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that the path that took me from music and mathematics to tax law is direct and not very long.

The connection with mathematics is not, of course, the one assumed by the tax-averse law student — “You’ve got to be really good with numbers in order to get a decent grade in tax.” Probably, the one link between the three disciplines is that all live in a fairly high level of abstraction, at least as I enjoy them most.

The connection between music and tax may be the richer. Both are very logical, but in each case, the logic is mostly internal. In both cases, the logic is important, even when its existence is not appreciated. I believe, for example, that the sonata form is significant to the experience of all who enjoy listening to a symphony by Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven, even those who have never heard of the sonata form. Similarly, I believe that every serious student of income taxes understands the essence of the Haig-Simons definition of income, whether or not he or she has ever heard or read a formal statement of the definition. In each case, moreover, understanding the internal logic of the subject helps a person appreciate the significance of deviations from that logic. Just what is it about the first chord in Beethoven’s First Symphony that so outraged critics of his time and is still quite striking to us today? (I am less charmed by Code §162(m).)

Another fortuity also turned out to be important to my development as a tax professor. I was at loose ends over the summer before I entered law school, so I looked at the law school’s summer offerings to see whether there was anything I could take. There was — a course entitled “Accounting for Lawyers,” which was then a required subject. I enrolled. The course was taught by a professor from the accounting school, who was obviously there only because he had done something to offend his department chair grievously. The law students reciprocated his dislike for the course, but although I had no business background of any sort, I liked it. In fact, I liked it better than the tax courses I later took as a law student, which, I then thought and continue to believe, were not well taught. After entering law teaching, I took several more accounting courses, which I found even more enlightening when I could better appreciate the connections between tax law and financial accounting. I believe that ignorance of financial accounting is a significant handicap for a tax student or tax lawyer.

Years ago, I took up golf and found it to be the opposite of tax law — utterly frustrating and unrewarding. Being the dogged sort, I learned this over and over again, but I eventually gave up golf.

For prior Florida Graduate Tax Faculty Profiles, see:

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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