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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Spotlight_1_1Katherine T. Pratt (Loyola-L.A.)

        • B.A. 1978, Florida
        • J.D. 1984, UCLA
        • LL.M. (Tax) 1989, NYU
        • LL.M. (Corporate Law) 1990, NYU

      

Pratt_2 My father used to say that I had to become a lawyer because, in his entire life, he had been beaten in an argument by only three people, one of whom was a child – me. My route to law school was indirect, however. In college, I participated on an intercollegiate speech team, but later majored in psychology. In my senior year at the University of Florida, I worked on several experiments in the areas of physiological psychology and cognitive psychology. My psychology professors understandably assumed that I would continue on to graduate school in psychology, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after college. A wide range of public policy issues intrigued me. Also, I was interested in nutrition and exercise physiology, took 30 hours of dance classes, and was a member of the University Dance Company. I knew that I would attend graduate school, but was unsure about what type of graduate school I wanted to attend. Psychology graduate school, law school, and business school all were in the running. I even toyed with the idea of becoming a nutritionist or physical therapist. I thought that some work experience might help me decide which professional path to take and I wanted to see a bit of the world before applying to graduate school.

After I graduated from college, I moved to Montauk, New York and became the fitness director at an exclusive resort spa. I taught 10 exercise classes a day and did private training sessions with spa guests, most of whom struggled mightily with their weight. The job was rewarding and produced significant psychic income (who wouldn’t enjoy starting each day with a 7 a.m. “Beach Walk”?), but paid only a pittance. Eventually, I tired of living as a pauper and joined American Airlines, in the pursuit of greater adventure, better pay, and employer-provided health insurance. I supervised a group of 40 adventurous, fun-loving flight attendants at La Guardia Airport. When the airline industry took a turn for the worse, I decided to head back to school. Having narrowed the graduate school decision to psychology graduate school and law school, I took the GRE and LSAT. When I scored significantly higher on the LSAT than on the GRE, I decided to follow my natural intellectual strengths and applied to law school -- at which point my dad said “I told you so.”

I headed west to UCLA School of Law, lured by the promise of warm winters and a relatively inexpensive education at a law school with a great reputation. My UCLA law school buddy, Nancy, and I decided that we must endure the dreaded federal income tax class if we hoped to avoid committing malpractice as lawyers. We enrolled in Mike Asimow’s tax class in the fall of our second year. From the beginning of the term, we were hooked. Mike is an intense, energetic, and enthusiastic teacher. During our tax class, he sometimes beat his chest, like Tarzan, while shouting: “That’s like saying to the Commissioner: [thump, thump, thump] AUDIT ME!!!” Nancy and I discovered, to our delight, that the application of tax law often produces numerical answers, a thing unheard of in the first-year “there-are-no-right-answers” curriculum. Class assignments felt like doing puzzles. Years later, I still like to solve those puzzles.

The L.A. law firm in which I practiced accommodated my interest in tax and tax partner Bob Boffa (a graduate of the NYU Tax LL.M. program and recipient of the Dana Latham Award for service to the L.A. tax community) was my capable mentor. My tax practice involved an interesting and eclectic mix of transactional work and controversy work.

After four years of law firm practice in L.A., I moved to New York City and enrolled in the NYU Tax LL.M. program full-time. I loved being back in school and enrolled in the NYU Corporate Law LL.M. program immediately after I graduated from the Tax LL.M. program. Until the final term of my second LL.M. degree program, it never occurred to me that I could be a law professor. Irene Dorzback, Assistant Dean for Career Services at NYU, was chatting with me about my prior law firm experience and asked me to talk about my favorite aspects of practice. I confided that, aside from the puzzle-solving aspect of tax practice, what I most enjoyed about working in a firm were all of the non-billable activities, such as working on articles with Bob, mentoring summer associates, participating on the firm’s hiring committee, and so on. Irene said that I should consider a career in law teaching and suggested that I apply for an Acting Assistant Professor position at NYU, which I did immediately. When NYU hired me, my career in law teaching was underway. I benefited in many ways from beginning my teaching career in the midst of the legendary NYU tax faculty.

After two years of teaching various Tax LL.M. courses at NYU, I moved to a tenure-track position at Saint Louis University School of Law. At SLU, I communed with the renowned health law faculty and the intellectually engaged group of young, untenured professors SLU had recently hired. The environment at SLU was collegial and supportive. I taught tax as a first-year subject, which was a new and rewarding experience.

My tax colleagues (Ellen Aprill, Ted Seto, Jenny Kowal, Joe Sliskovich, and Dean Weiner) are bright, energetic, and collegial. We work well together as a group and all contribute to the success of our J.D. and Tax LL.M. programs. We also encourage and support each other’s scholarship and enjoy participating in the vibrant tax policy community in the greater Los Angeles area.

Several of my articles have focused on corporate tax issues, but my scholarship recently has taken off in new directions. The first article I wrote after receiving tenure included poetry and focused on the controversial topic of medical expense deductions for fertility treatment costs. More recently, I have developed new scholarly interests in budget policy and public health policy. My most recent article, Deficits and the Dividend Tax Cut: Tax Policy as the Handmaiden of Budget Policy, is forthcoming in 41 Ga. L. Rev ___ (2006). I have presented my current work-in-progress, Normative Justifications for Food Excise Taxes, at the UCLA School of Law and the UCLA Medical School Center for Human Nutrition. This project incorporates several areas of long-standing interest to me, including tax policy, behavioral economics, and nutrition. I have spoken twice at the Public Health Advocacy Institute’s annual conferences on Legal Approaches to the Obesity Epidemic and PHAI has invited me to speak again at this year’s conference in November.

[Editor's note:  Katie also is a co-author of the wonderful Federal income Tax: Examples and Explanations (Aspen, 4th ed. 2005), which I enthusiastically recommend to my Tax I students each year.]

On a personal note, my husband, Peter Gardiner, and I have been married 17 years. Peter works in finance, so our house runs on East Coast time, despite the fact that we live on the West Coast. Peter and I share an appreciation for a wide variety of films, including foreign classics by Bergman and Kurosawa, period dramas, indie films, documentaries, and some mainstream escapist entertainment. As a confirmed “foodie,” I enjoy shopping at LA’s specialty food and restaurant stores (e.g., Surfas Restaurant Supply and Bay Cities Italian Deli) and the organic Farmers’ Market near my home. My family tells anyone who will listen that I am a world-class baker. (My current favorite dessert is a Scharffenberger chocolate cake with a chocolate ganache.) I am pressed into baking service for any event that arguably could be described as a special occasion. I also study myth and fairy tales and lately have been reading the nonfiction works of Marie-Louise von Franz. My nine-year-old son, Andrew, and I share an interest in mythic fantasy (literature and film), including The Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series, and the Japanese anime films of Hayao Miyazaki.

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