November 17, 2007
Paul M. Kohlhoff (Valparaiso)
- B.S. 1981, Purdue
- J.D. 1986, Valparaiso
Like many who have been featured here, I dreamed but never expected to teach at a law school. I attribute my hiring as a tax clinician at Valparaiso University School of Law to being in the right place, at the right time, with the right experience.
I was supposed to be a veterinarian. And if you were raised in Indiana and wanted to be a veterinarian, there was only one place to go – Purdue University. “Only one thing stood in my way - Organic Chemistry.” Having had more success with calculus of all things, I switched my major to business management during my sophomore year.
My first teaching experience was as a senior at Purdue where I taught an Introductory Macro-Economics course. Actually, I played a video-taped lecture to a class of 25 freshmen business students, then tried to answer their question. But, I got my first taste of teaching. I also worked for United Parcel Service during college. This was a part-time union job which compensated me well enough to pay for my college education. “I may well be one of the few in the law professoriate who has also carried a Teamster’s Union card at one time.”
The job market was pretty tough in 1981 when I was graduated from Purdue University. Unemployment and inflation were at record levels. In 1983, after toiling in the job market for a few years, I enrolled at Valparaiso University School of Law.
I was understandably attracted to the tax and business courses because of my undergraduate studies in economics and business management, so I loaded up on as many of these electives as I could. I fact, I wrote my seminar paper on the tax free exchange of patents under I.R.C. § 1235.
After law school, I clerked for Justice Alfred Pivarnik of the Supreme Court of Indiana. Most of the Court’s docket at the time involved criminal appeals, an area of law in which I had little interest. But the opportunity to work with a justice of the highest court in the State of Indiana was, as they say, priceless. As fate would have it, Justice Pivarnik swore me in when I was admitted to the Indiana bar in 1986.
My clerkship, being a temporary position, gave me some additional time to figure out just what the next step in my legal career should be. During that time, I was beginning to hear the grumblings of many of my law school classmates who had taken positions with larger law firms. “Too many hours and too little case responsibility,” was a common refrain. Determined to find a position where I would gain experience quickly, and having an interest in tax, I naturally called upon the IRS – and it accepted the call.
Thus, my first “real” job as a lawyer was as a Trial Attorney for the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, at its district office in Nashville, Tennessee. It was experience that I was looking for, and experience is what I got. I tried my first Tax Court case just three months after starting. About half my work load was Tax Court litigation, and the other half was providing legal counsel to IRS personnel. One of the most memorable cases I successfully litigated involved a substantial amount unreported income and the imposition of the civil fraud penalty against an IRS employee [and no, she did not get fired]. I had great mentors in Nashville, including Robert Nadler, my direct supervisor, and colleagues Howard Levine and Kirk Chaberski. All three were terrific attorneys and I owe a great deal of my success as an attorney to their wonderful tutelage.
The seven-year itch came a bit early in my career, and by 1993, six years after starting with Chief Counsel, I was longing for change. I wanted to be on the other side of the table. I wanted to represent taxpayers. So in 1994, with a new bride but no children yet, I hung out my shingle in Chesterton, Indiana, a small community not far from where I grew up.
It was tough starting a practice from scratch, and not something I would recommend to the faint of heart. My first actual paying client was a 20-year-old male who passed a school bus when he shouldn’t have. From there things improved as I added estate planning and real estate to my complement of legal services.
One of my most cherished clients was a local land conservation trust. The mission of this 501(c)(3) was to acquire and protect ecologically significant tracts of land in and around the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore at the southern tip of Lake Michigan. My tax and real estate experience, and knowledge about conservation easements, was a welcome benefit to the group. Seeing a parcel of natural land preserved for future generations to enjoy was my reward. At the time, it was the most rewarding work of my legal career.
My work as the group’s legal counsel quickly transitioned into a leadership role as the group’s executive director. I also briefly served as the land acquisition manager for the Indiana Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
My next opportunity to teach came in 2000 as an adjunct at Valparaiso where I taught a seminar on tax policy. I followed this up with teaching Introduction to Business Law at Purdue University North Central during the 2002-03 academic year.
As fate would have it, the position of Director of the Tax Clinic at the Valparaiso Law Clinic opened in 2004, and the administration asked me if I would be interested. [This is where the being in the right place, at the right time, with the right experience comes in.] I don’t think I was fooling anyone when I said, “I need some time to consider it.”
So, since 2004, I have directed the Tax Clinic which is one of the seven clinical offerings at Valparaiso. Like many other academic tax clinics, our clinic receives grant funding from the IRS as part of its Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) program. In addition to directing the Tax Clinic, I have continued to teach the tax policy seminar, and have developed and taught a Federal Tax Procedure course. This summer I will teach Trusts & Estates as the first distance (or on-line) learning course offered at the School of Law.
When I’m not working, I enjoy spending time with my 10-year-old son. We like to hike, camp, bicycle, and kayak together. We will be visiting Mt. Rushmore this summer. And when the weather is nice here, I enjoy getting out for a leisurely round of golf.
I will be the first to admit just how fortunate I am to be in this position. I frequently tell others, “I have the best of both worlds – the opportunity to teach and work with young legal minds, and at the same time, to continue practicing law.” I doubt I could have written a better script myself.
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