Monday, March 31, 2008
TaxProf Blog is featured in the Blog Watch column in today's Wall Street Journal (page R8):
Paul L. Caron, a professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and the author of numerous books, writes this influential and popular blog, which includes coverage of tax-reform legislation with extensive explanations.
Recent posts include a discussion of flat-tax systems, which have been adopted by more and more countries, and which Prof. Caron argues have generated impressive results, often leading to higher tax revenue because of income growth and better compliance.
Prof. Caron culls excerpts from reports, conference papers and other publications, and provides updates on Internal Revenue Service investigations, tax legislation and policy proposals.
I had the chance to read a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the pros and cons of allowing employees to participate in office bracket pools. Indeed, some offices have sought to ban such pools. Apparently not because they may be illegal. But rather because they may have a negative impact on employees and the workplace. To be sure, one research firm estimates that the distraction created by basketball office pools will cost employers some $1.7 billion in wasted work time. This estimate is based on wasted time spent on bracket-related activities from "trash talking at the water cooler" to "watching live videos of the games during business hours." In addition, to the wasted time, one employment lawyer notes that bracket pools in the office invite trouble because things may go awry. Such as when someone believes they should have taken first prize and instead gets third place, or worse, when the CEO wins first prize, after having pooled money with "the people in the mailroom and the messenger." If this happens, the advice is that the CEO should buy everyone lunch instead of pocketing the money.
If UCLA beats Kansas for the championship, should I treat the students to lunch? If so, do I have income with no offsetting deduction? Comments are open for some free advice!
Michael B. Lang (Chapman) presents What Every Tax Lawyer Should Know About Patented Tax Strategies at Florida today as part of its Faculty Enrichment Series. Here is the abstract:
First, I will briefly provide a little patent law background to place the patenting of tax planning strategies in context. Secondly, I will briefly describe the current tax strategy patent landscape and discuss the prospects for change -- by legislation, through the judiciary and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, by Treasury action, and /or changes in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. I will then discuss what a lawyer needs to consider in representing clients if (1) the lawyer would like to patent a tax planning idea that the lawyer has developed for a client or the lawyer owns an interest in such a patent that would be useful for the lawyer’s client or (2) the lawyer is providing tax planning advice to a client and there is a possibility that there is a patent that may cover the tax planning advice or the lawyer in fact knows that there is such a patent. These situations implicate a variety of ethical rules and provisions of Circular 230 and also raise concerns about liability for malpractice, patent infringement (especially by a client) and inducing patent infringement.
Amid Basketball Euphoria, Davidson's Admissions Officials Fret About Yield (Chronicle of Higher Education), by Lawrence Biemiller:
Christopher Gruber, Davidson College’s vice president for admissions and financial aid, spent the weekend worrying. Interviewed Saturday by NPR—after Davidson’s 73-to-56 romp over Wisconsin, but before Sunday afternoon’s 59-to-57 loss to top-seeded Kansas—Mr. Gruber was trying to guess how the sudden flood of basketball-generated publicity would affect the 1,700-student college’s all-important yield figure. ...
Mr. Gruber said the Wildcats’ basketball success was already bringing Davidson unsolicited applications, some from students eager to join the team. “Right now,” he said, “instead of having an incoming class of 470, I think there’s great concern that we may have an incoming class of 570 or 670, which we would not have great ease in accommodating.” ...
Also interviewed was Robert Baker, director of sports management at George Mason University, which reached the Final Four in 2006. He said the university “conservatively” estimated the value of the related publicity at $677-million.
As blogged earlier today, Gregory L. Germain (Syracuse) critiques the taxpayer's reply brief in response to the Government's brief in opposition to her petition for certiorari in Murphy v. IRS, 493 F.3d 170 (D.C. Cir. 7/3/07):
Murphy’s Last Rights
Marrita Murphy’s reply brief in support of her petition for certiorari contains nothing new. She argues that the Court of Appeals’ decision is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s famous opinion in Glenshaw Glass, which defined income as an accession to wealth. Murphy argues that because the Court of Appeals did not rule her award to be an accession to wealth, Glenshaw Glass would somehow prevent taxation.
Murphy’s analysis is seriously flawed. Nowhere did Glenshaw Glass say that Congress’s taxing power was limited to taxing income. Murphy II is not inconsistent with Glenshaw Glass in any way. It is based on a different constitutional grant of taxing power.
Murphy also argues that even if there are no directly conflicting authorities, the case is important enough, and of high enough profile within the tax community, to warrant review. The tax community’s interest was focused on Murphy I, which struck down the tax as beyond the scope of Congress’s 16th Amendment taxing powers. Murphy I was in error in not recognizing the existence of Congress’s Article I taxing powers. Murphy II has calmed the waters. The tax community, although not entirely satisfied, has moved on. All that remains is for the Supreme Court to administer the last rights. Domine, Non Sum Dignus. Certiorari Denied.
See below the fold for prior TaxProf coverage:
The new online 2009 U.S. News Law School Rankings do not yet offer a way to sort by the various categories (although I am told that this feature will be added at some point in the future). On Friday, Richard Schmalbeck (Duke) shared the the Top 44 law schools by academic peer reputation. Here is the full list of the 184 law schools ranked by U.S. News by academic peer reputation, along with each school's overall ranking:
1. (4.8) Harvard (2)
3. (4.7) Columbia (4)
5. (4.6) Chicago (7)
6. (4.5) UC-Berkeley (6)
9. (4.4) Virginia (9)
10. (4.3) Penn (7)
11. (4.2) Cornell (12)
14. (4.1) Texas (16)
16. (4.0) UCLA (16)
17. (3.8) Vanderbilt (15)
18. (3.7) USC (18)
19. (3.6) Minnesota (22)
Washington U. (19)
21. (3.5) George Washington (20)
North Carolina (38)
24. (3.4) Boston U. (21)
Ohio State (32)
Washington & Lee (25)
32. (3.3) Boston College (26)
Notre Dame (22)
35. (3.2) Arizona (38)
U. Washington (30)
William & Mary (30)
40. (3.1) Colorado (32)
43. (3.0) American (46)
Wake Forest (42)
45. (2.9) Alabama (32)
Arizona State (52)
50. (2.8) BYU (44)
Florida State (55)
George Mason (38)
San Diego (82)
58. (2.7) SMU (46)
Case Western (63)
67. (2.6) Cincinnati (52)
Santa Clara (77)
74. (2.5) Baylor (55)
New Mexico (68)
Seton Hall (66)
84. (2.4) Arkansas-Fayetteville (Tier 3)
Lewis & Clark (73)
St. John's (88)
St. Louis (95)
96. (2.3) Georgia State (77)
Howard (Tier 3)
Maine (Tier 3)
Missouri-Kansas City (Tier 3)
Penn State (77)
South Carolina (95)
Vermont (Tier 3)
Wayne State (Tier 3)
108. (2.2) Arkansas-Little Rock (Tier 3)
Michigan State (Tier 3)
Mississippi (Tier 3)
New York Law School (Tier 3)
San Francisco (Tier 3)
115. (2.1) Albany (Tier 3)
Cleveland State (Tier 3)
Gonzaga (Tier 3)
Idaho (Tier 3)
Loyola-New Orleans (Tier 3)
Montana (Tier 3)
Pace (Tier 3)
Southern Illinois (Tier 4)
Suffolk (Tier 3)
West Virginia (Tier 3)
Willamette (Tier 3)
Wyoming (Tier 3)
128. (2.0) Baltimore (Tier 3)
Creighton (Tier 3)
CUNY-Queens (Tier 4)
Dayton (Tier 4)
Drake (Tier 3)
Quinnipiac (Tier 3)
North Dakota (Tier 4)
South Dakota (Tier 3)
Southwestern (Tier 4)
Texas Tech (Tier 3)
Toledo (Tier 3)
Tulsa (Tier 4)
Valparaiso (Tier 4)
Washburn (Tier 4)
Widener (Tier 4)
143. (1.9) Akron (Tier 3)
Cumberland (Tier 3)
Duquesne (Tier 4)
Franklin Pierce (Tier 3)
Hamline (Tier 3)
Memphis (Tier 4)
St. Thomas (MN) (Tier 3)
William Mitchell (Tier 4)
151. (1.8) California-Western (Tier 4)
Capital (Tier 4)
Chapman (Tier 3)
John Marshall (IL) (Tier 4)
New England (Tier 4)
Nova Southeastern (Tier 4)
Roger Williams (Tier 4)
St. Mary's (Tier 4)
159. (1.7) Golden Gate (Tier 4)
North Carolina Central (Tier 4)
Northern Illinois (Tier 4)
Northern Kentucky (Tier 4)
Ohio Northern (Tier 3)
Oklahoma City (Tier 3)
South Texas (Tier 4)
Texas-Wesleyan (Tier 4)
Touro (Tier 4)
Western New England (Tier 4)
169. (1.6) Campbell (Tier 4)
Detroit-Mercy (Tier 4)
Florida International (Tier 4)
172. (1.5) Mississippi College (Tier 4)
St. Thomas (FL) (Tier 4)
Thomas Jefferson (Tier 4)
175. (1.4) Appalachian (Tier 4)
District of Columbia (Tier 4)
Florida Coastal (Tier 4)
Southern (Tier 4)
Texas Southern (Tier 4)
Thomas Cooley (Tier 4)
Whittier (Tier 4)
182. (1.3) Ave Maria (Tier 4)
Barry (Tier 4)
Regent (Tier 4)
The court of appeals cannot, on the one hand, decide that Murphy's compensatory damages are taxable income under Section 61(a), while, on the other hand, avoid determining whether those damages are "an accession to wealth" under Glenshaw Glass. In either event, the D.C. Circuit's decision conflicts with Glenshaw Glass and the long line of authorities cited in the Petition. Review is warranted to resolve this conflict in accordance with the "accessions to wealth" test....
Even in the absence of any conflicting decisions in the circuits, the unusual importance of the underlying issues is grounds for granting the writ. Commentators and practitioners alike have long struggled with the application of Section 104(a)(2) and given the number of compensatory damages awards, "the taxation of damages is an important topic." The D.C. Circuit's second decision in this case has not quelled the criticism, adequately corrected the problems or resolved the uncertainty resulting from the 1996 amendment. ...
Unquestionably, the court of appeals decided an important question of federal law in a manner that calls for this Court's review. The taxing of personal injury damages in light of the 1996 amendments to Section 104(a)(2) affects not only the tax bar, but impacts employment law, torts, whistleblower law, and civil rights. Review is needed to decide whether "make whole" personal injury damages are not income and not taxable.
(Hat Tip: Marshall Chriswell.) Prior TaxProf coverage:
- Germain Critiques Government's Response to Murphy's Cert. Petition (3/19/08)
- Government Files Brief in Opposition to Cert. Petition in Murphy (3/19/08)
- Germain Critiques Murphy's Cert. Petition (12/17/07)
- Murphy Files Cert. Petition in U.S. Supreme Court (12/14/07)
Warner Music Group has proposed a $5/month music tax to be charged by ISPs for 24-hour access to high-quality music downloads:
- ARS Technica: Warner Music Floats ISP Surcharge Idea for Unlimited P2P Music, by Jacqui Cheng
- CNet News:
- Jim Griffin Says ISP Music Tax Only One Possibility, by Greg Sandoval
- Warner Music's Tune of Folly, by Greg Sandoval
- Conde Nast: Fee For All, by Sam Gustin
- L.A. Times: Jim Griffin's Warner Music Splash
- PC Magazine: Warner's Music "Tax" Is a Good Idea, by Lance Ulanoff
- Slashdot: Collective Licensing for Web-Based Music Distribution
- Tech Crunch:
- The Music Industry's New Extortion Scheme, by Michael Arrington
- Music Tax Details From Source: "Pay Us Not to Sue You," by Michael Arrington
- Tech Dirt: Warner Music Latest to Jump on Music Tax Bandwagon
- Tech Spot: Warner Music Group Asks ISPs to Enforce Music Tax?, by Justin Mann
- Center for American Progress : Five Easy Pieces and Two Trillion Dollars The Bush-McCain-Norquist Tax Agenda, by Robert Gordon & James Kvaal
- Citizens for Tax Justice: Center for American Progress Finds McCain Tax Plan a Continuation of George W. Bush/Grover Norquist Agenda
- MSNBC: Obama: The Tax Man, by Domenico Montanaro
- Republican National Committee: Obama's Cap Gains Calamity
- Tax Foundation's Tax Policy Blog: CNBC Interview: Obama Would Raise Taxes on Investors, Cut Taxes for Some, by Gerald Prante
- Tax Policy Center's Tax Vox Blog: A Choice, Not an Echo, by Howard Gleckman
- Tax Prof Stephen B. Cohen (Georgetown):
- USA Today: Obama on Taxes: Rich Need to Pay More, But "I'm Not a Dogmatist," by by Mark Memmott
- U.S. News & World Report: Obama: "Yes" to Higher Taxes, "Meh" to Spending Cuts, by James Pethokoukis
- Washington Post: A Tax McCain Could Cut, by Robert D. Novak
Sunday, March 30, 2008
- Buffalo, Case, Iowa, Miami, Minnesota & UNC Deans React to Decline in U.S. News Rankings
- CT 30% Tax Credit Lures Movies From NY (10% Tax Credit)
- TIGTA Praises Private Tax Collection Program
- A Criticism of the Tax Treatment of Celebrity Gift Bags
- Lisowsky: Empirically Modeling Tax Shelters and Examining Their Link to the Contingent Tax Liability Reserve
- Top 5 Tax Paper Downloads
- Should Profs Pay for Late Grades?
- Buckley Publishes Woodworth Memorial Lecture: Tax Changes Since Woodworth's Time: Implications for Future Tax Reform
- All Saints Church and the Argument for a Goal-Driven Application of IRS Rules for Tax-Exempt Organizations
There is a bit of movement in this week's list of the Top 5 Recent Tax Paper Downloads, with a new paper debuting on the list at #5:
2. [268 Downloads] Deduction Ad Absurdum: CEOs Donating Their Own Stock to Their Own Family Foundations, by David Yermack (NYU, Stern School of Business) [blogged here]
3. [186 Downloads] Back to School: The New Parameters of Funding a Grandchild's College Education, by Richard L Kaplan (Illinois) [blogged here]
5. [137 Downloads] Golden Gate Restaurant Association: Employer Mandates and ERISA Preemption in the Ninth Circuit, by Edward A. Zelinsky (Cardozo) [blogged here]
Late Grades? Pay Up, Professor (Inside Higher Ed), by Doug Lederman:
Many professors hate grading, and like most human beings, they often put off what they don’t like. So at many colleges, the end of a term results in some proportion of the faculty turning their grades in late, much to the dismay of the registrars whose job it is to process the grades and make them available to students. The outcome can be more than just annoying to the registrars; late grades can delay diplomas, disrupt the awarding of financial aid, or get students into academic trouble.
Various institutions have tried various measures to crack down on the problem – sending nasty notes, putting warnings in instructors’ personnel files, even delaying the paychecks of faculty members who turn in their grades late, as the University of Iowa’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences threatens to do. ...
Florida State is what she believes to be the only institution in the country that fines its professors when they turn grades in late at semester’s end. The tab: $10 per grade. “We charge for every grade for every student that is not turned in by our deadline.”
Buckley Publishes Woodworth Memorial Lecture: Tax Changes Since Woodworth's Time: Implications for Future Tax Reform
John L. Buckley (Democratic Chief Tax Counsel, House Ways & Means Committee) has published the 2007 Woodworth Memorial Lecture: Tax Changes Since Woodworth's Time: Implications for Future Tax Reform, 34 Ohio N.U. L. Rev. 1 (2008). Here is part of the Conclusion:
Almost all of my education in tax law occurred while employed by the United States Congress. In retrospect, probably the most important lesson that I learned about tax reform came in my first tax class in law school. The professor began the class by discussing his experience of working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Latin America. He was a consultant that assisted a country in reforming its tax laws. The professor was quite proud of the tax reform act that the country had enacted. According to him, it was designed without regard to politics, it eliminated many of the subsidies that did not belong in an income tax system, and it simplified the law by choosing rough justice over individualized relief measures.
All Saints Church and the Argument for a Goal-Driven Application of IRS Rules for Tax-Exempt Organizations
Kara Backus (J.D. 2008, USC) has published Note, All Saints Church and the Argument for a Goal-Driven Application of IRS Rules for Tax-Exempt Organizations, 17 S. Cal. Interdisc. L.J. 301 (2008). Here is the Conclusion:
From any perspective, it will be difficult to view the story of All Saints Church as a success. If nothing else, it stands for today's unresolved debate over whether the drafting and enforcement of tax rules can better enable us to fulfill our social, religious, and legal objectives. The growing media attention around IRS investigations of political activity, coupled with the rise in stature of the nonprofit sector and its tendency to apply its money and power to the social and political dialogue, are clear signposts that the IRS must adapt its currents systems in ways that better serve the public. In order to do that well, the IRS will have to review the six policy goals that convey our interest in churches and other nonprofits and our contention that they add value to society.
The policy goals do not require that Congress amend the Code language for § 501(c)(3) organizations, or put into place a bright line rule. Rather, the IRS must hone its processes and its communication. First, the IRS should evaluate its referral system and attempt to balance church and non-church investigations. It must better police both politically-motivated harassment of exempt organizations and the tendency of organizations to assume that the rules will never catch up with them. Second, the IRS should build on recent successes in the area of educating exempt organizations as to their rights and responsibilities by creating and sharing internal timelines and better articulating them during election cycles. Third and finally, the IRS must take steps to consider how to create a public record of investigative results and investigative reasoning while maintaining the integrity of the privacy statute. This will allow organizations to better understand their limits, and will make the IRS accountable for creating clear and consistent standards and enforcing those standards when necessary.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
David Lat collects school-wide emails (updated here) sent by these deans in response to their school's decline in the just-released U.S. News rankings: Buffalo (#100, down from #77), Case Western (#63, down from #53), Iowa (#27, down from #24), Minnesota (#22, down from #20), and North Carolina (#38, down from #36). Miami (#82, down from #70) is here. (The deans should read Brian Leiter's caution about placing undue emphasis on the overall ranking.)
Update: These schools have issued press releases in response to the U.S. News rankings:
- Alabama: "The University of Alabama School of Law is ranked 11th among public law schools and 32nd among all law schools in the nation, according to U.S. News .... The 2009 ranking is the highest ever for UA Law School, eclipsing last year’s mark of 15th among public law schools and 36th among all law schools. UA Law has been ranked among the top 50 law schools for 10 consecutive years."
- Boston College: "Boston College Law School has moved up to 26th"
- BYU: "The J. Reuben Clark Law School is ranked 46th."
- Chapman: "March 28, 2008, ushered in a new era for the School of Law in its ongoing reach for excellence. Early that morning, the latest U.S. News ... rankings revealed that Chapman had moved into the 3rd tier -- a noteworthy achievement for a school that is only early in its second decade. The surprise news was announced by Dean Eastman to thunderous applause at Chapman's monthly “En Banc” reception that evening. The Dean noted, “While we are happy that others are recognizing the hidden gem that is Chapman, we will not rest here. Our aspirations are, quite simply, to be recognized as one of the best opportunities in legal education.”
- Creighton: "Creighton University School of Law has climbed to the rank of 12th in the nation among the nearly 200 law schools offering dispute resolution classes."
- Denver: "The Sturm College of Law ranked in the top 100 law schools in the country for the seventh straight year at No. 88. Four Sturm College of Law programs also were ranked among the best in the nation, including two in the top 20. The Environmental Law program moved up three positions to No. 13, and the Tax Law program rose two places to No. 19. In addition, two law programs unranked last year are now listed as among the best: the International Law program at No. 23 and the Clinical Training program at No. 36."
- Duke: "Within the law school, Duke was tied for fifth in environmental law and placed sixth for intellectual property law."
- Emory: "Emory Law again ranks No. 22 in U.S. News."
- George Washington: "The GW Law School (20) moves up two spots on this year's list of 184 accredited law schools. For the fourth consecutive year, GW's intellectual property law program is ranked third in the nation. The international law program is ranked eighth and environmental law 16th. The GW Law School also is recognized for its student diversity."
- Georgetown: "The Law Center retained its overall ranking of 14th place in the 2009 list. Among the specialty categories, the Law Center is ranked in the top 10 for clinical training, tax law, environmental law, health law, international law and trial advocacy."
- Georgia: "The School of Law rose four spots in this year's rankings, moving to 32nd from 36th."
- Hamline: "Hamline ... has moved into the third tier in the national rankings in the latest U.S.News ... assessment of the nation's best law schools .... In addition, Hamline’s Dispute Resolution Institute has been ranked in the top five in the nation for the eighth consecutive year. ... "The third tier is a level of recognition that we know employers and students are looking for in an institution,” said Hamline University President Linda Hanson.
- Indiana-Bloomington: "The IU School of Law-Bloomington remained at 15th among public law schools and 36th overall, the only Big Ten public law school that didn't decline in the rankings."
- Indiana-Indianapolis: "The IU School of Law-Indianapolis experienced one of the largest improvements in the rankings, from 85th to 68th."
- Kentucky: "[T]he College of Law ranked 59th."
- Loyola-L.A.: "Loyola Law School Los Angeles jumped three spots in the law school rankings ... Loyola also ranked sixth in trial advocacy and 11th in diversity. In tax law, Loyola Law moved up to 13th in the US -- or seventh in the country among law schools with graduate tax programs, according to the TaxProf Blog."
- Mercer: "The Legal Writing Program at the Walter F. George School of Law of Mercer University is again the top-ranked program among all of the law schools in the nation as announced today."
- Michigan State: "U.S. News ... again placed MSU Law in the third tier in its 2009 rankings. The U.S. News data also shows that MSU Law ranks in the top 100 in terms of the credentials of our entering class, and our reputation among lawyers and judges."
- Nova: "Nova ... rose to No. 22 in the U.S. News and World Report’s specialty rankings for legal writing, up from a No. 30 ranking last year. For the second year in a row, NSU and Stetson are the only Florida law schools ranked in the top 40 in legal writing."
- Pepperdine: "Pepperdine ... is now ranked as No. 59 in the nation .... In 2006, the school was ranked 77th, 87th in 2007 and 66th in 2008. Associate Dean for Student Life Jim Gash said the school is rapidly moving in the right direction. ... The new ranking is a vote of confidence in what [Dean Ken] Starr has been doing, according to Gash, who said Starr has transitioned the law school into a new category. “Starr is probably the busiest dean in the country, which is how our reputation continues to increase,” Gash said. “He is the best known and most accomplished law school dean in the country.”
- St. Louis: "For the fifth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report has named Saint Louis University's health law program the best in the nation."
- Santa Clara: "Santa Clara Law was once again named one of the top 100 law schools in the country."
- Stetson: "U.S. News ... has ranked Stetson ... among the nation’s top 100 law schools again this year. U.S. News also ranked Stetson Law first in the nation for trial advocacy and number six for legal writing."
- UNLV: "In addition to moving up 12 spots from 100 to 88 in the overall rankings, the Boyd School of Law also advanced their already impressive position in each of the following specialty rankings: • Boyd’s Lawyering Process program, which includes legal writing, was named the nation’s 3rd best program of its kind. • UNLV’s Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution was named among the top 10 programs, up three spots to number nine. • The Thomas and Mack Legal Clinic jumped eight spots from number 20 to number 12."
- Utah: "The University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law is rated 51st among the nation's top 100 law schools .... In 2008, the Quinney College of Law was ranked 57th in the same guide. The college's 51 ranking was just one point behind five schools that tied at 46."
- Vanderbilt: "Vanderbilt Law School moved up to No. 15 in U.S. News['] ... annual ranking of law schools. Vanderbilt tied for 16th in last year's rankings."
- Washington University: "The School of Law remains in the top 20 for the third straight year, retaining its No. 19 ranking. Within the School of Law, the trial advocacy program remains among the nation's best at No. 4 in the nation, as does the clinical training program, which ranks No. 6."
- University of Washington: "U.S. News ... has ranked the UW School of Law a top 10 public law school in the magazine's annual which looks at America's best graduate schools. The UW School of Law was ranked 30 among all U.S. law schools in the report."
- Widener: "U.S.News ... has listed the law school’s health law program among the nation’s 10 best."
- William & Mary: "William & Mary ... moved up in this year’s U.S. News & World Report rankings .... [T]he law school came in this year at 30th, tied with the University of Washington. Last year, the school was ranked at 31st in the nation, tied with Ohio State and the University of Wisconsin."
Update: Brian Leiter (Texas) chides these schools in Hall of Shame: Schools Publicizing Their Meaningless US News Ranking.
Gone With the Cash: Films Go for the Best Tax Breaks (New York Times), by Lisa W. Foderaro:
With a proud film history dating back almost a century, to D. W. Griffith’s creation of a 28-acre production lot in Mamaroneck, Westchester County is increasingly watching production companies be lured across the border to Connecticut, which now offers them a 30% tax credit, compared with New York State’s 10%.
Since the Connecticut tax credit took effect in July 2006, that state has gone from playing host to the occasional film shoot (remember “Mystic Pizza”?) to attracting 66 feature films, television shows and commercials with a collective $400 million in production costs, the majority of it in the Fairfield County suburbs of New York.
At the same time, similar suburbs across the border in Westchester County have seen their film shoots shrivel. In 2006, Westchester was the setting for scenes from 14 big-budget features, as well as numerous independent films; last year, two movies were partially shot here.
(Hat Tip: Sarah Lawsky.) For Massachusetts' experience with a 25% tax credit, see:
- Associated Press: Mass. Tax Breaks Lure Moviemakers, by Steve LeBlanc
- Boston Globe: Tax Breaks Draw Films, But Cost State $120m Revenue Loss Over 3 Years, by Todd Wallack
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has released Private Collection Agencies Adequately Protected Taxpayer Data (2008-20-078) (3/26/08):
TIGTA reviewed the computer security controls over taxpayer data provided to the two current PCAs and determined that the controls were adequate. In particular, files were securely transmitted from the IRS to the contractors and adequately secured on the contractors’ systems. In addition, workstations used by contractor collection personnel were adequately controlled to prevent unauthorized copying of taxpayer information to removable media or transfer via email. The contractors also maintained adequate audit trails and performed periodic reviews, including reviews to identify unauthorized access to taxpayer data. TIGTA also identified best practices that should be considered by current and future PCAs to strengthen computer security controls.
Anosheh Azarmsa (J.D. 2008, Loyola-L.A.) has published Comment, Award Shows, Gifts, and Taxes: A Criticism of the Tax Treatment of Celebrity Gift Bags, 28 Loy. L.A. Ent. L. Rev. 27 (2008). Here is the Conclusion:
Based on the present definitions of both income and gifts, the gift bags given by award shows are considered income. Under the current tax system, many items that most people typically view as gifts are not classified as such under the Tax Code's definition. Accordingly, the Tax Code's definition of income should be revised to include a narrower definition of income, thereby allowing for a broader definition of gifts. In addition to examining the donor's intent, courts should look to the existence of factors such as an exchange for services, the presence of third-party vendors, and the intent of the donee to keep the gift. Under these proposed revisions, celebrity gift bags would properly be treated as non-taxable gifts. Celebrities provide no service to the award shows that provide them with gift bags. Also, the bags are given out on behalf of the award shows and not on behalf of the vendors who receive the benefit of publicity from a celebrity's use of their products. Finally, the benefit received by the vendors is negated by the fact that, for the most part, the bags are either not kept by the celebrities or the items are never used.
Lisowsky: Empirically Modeling Tax Shelters and Examining Their Link to the Contingent Tax Liability Reserve
Petro Lisowsky (Boston University, Department of Accounting) has posted "Seeking Shelter": Empirically Modeling Tax Shelters and Examining Their Link to the Contingent Tax Liability Reserve on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Using confidential tax shelter data obtained from the IRS, this paper develops an empirically valid model for inferring the likelihood that a firm engages in a tax shelter. The Treasury (1999) white paper on tax shelters is used as a conceptual guide in developing publicly available financial statement proxies for the characteristics of tax shelters. Results show that tax shelter likelihood is positively related to the presence of subsidiaries located in tax havens, material foreign operations, prior-year reported effective tax rates, financial complexity, litigation losses, and use of promoters. Validation tests on out-of-sample tax shelter observations indicate the likelihood model can be used generally by researchers, investors, and tax administrators to infer tax shelter likelihood. The use of publicly available information as inputs is central to the model's usefulness.
This paper also reports the first clear empirical link between the contingent tax liability reserve, or tax cushion, and tax shelters. Prior research finds general evidence that the tax cushion is increasing in IRS audit adjustments, suggesting the tax cushion is increasing in tax risk. Tax shelters have been suspected as a reason for this association, but until now no clear empirical link had been established. Results also show that the tax cushion is positively related to financial earnings management. Taken together, the findings suggest that the tax cushion may be subject to both tax and financial reporting pressures.
Friday, March 28, 2008
The new 2009 U.S. News Law School Tax Rankings were released today:
- 1. NYU (#1 last year)
- 2. Florida (#2)
- 3. Georgetown (#3)
- 4. Northwestern (#4)
- 5. UCLA (#7)
- 6. Harvard (#5)
- 6. Miami (#6)
- 8. Boston University (#8)
- 9. Virginia (#10)
- 10. Michigan (#13)
- 10. Texas (#9)
- 10. Yale (#10)
- 13. Loyola-L.A. (#16)
- 13. Stanford (#13)
- 15. U. of Washington (#18)
- 16. San Diego (#10)
- 17. Chicago (not ranked)
- 18. Duke (#15)
- 19. Columbia (#21)
- 19. Denver (#21)
- 19. Penn (#18)
- 22. SMU (#17)
- 22. USC (#21)
- 22. Villanova (#18)
The upward moves from last year in the overall tax rankings are:
- +3 Michigan (#10)
- +3 Loyola-L.A. (#13)
- +3 U. Washington (#15)
- +2 UCLA (#5)
- +2 Columbia (#19)
- +2 Denver (#19)
- +1 Virginia (#9)
- Chicago was unranked last year and ranks #17 this year
The downward moves from last year in the overall tax rankings are:
- -6 San Diego (#16)
- -5 SMU (#22)
- -4 Villanova (#22)
- -3 Duke (#18)
- -1 Harvard (#6)
- -1 Texas (#10)
- -1 Penn (#19)
- -1 USC (#22)
- Boston College and Florida State were ranked #21 last year and are unranked this year
The 12 schools with graduate tax programs included in the rankings are the same as last year:
- 1. NYU (#1 last year)
- 2. Florida (#2)
- 3. Georgetown (#3)
- 4. Northwestern (#4)
- 5. Miami (#5)
- 6. Boston University (#6)
- 7. Loyola-L.A. (#8)
- 8. U. Washington (#10)
- 9. San Diego (#7)
- 10. Denver (#12)
- 11. SMU (#9)
- 11. Villanova (#10)
The upward moves from last year in the graduate tax program rankings are:
- + 2 U. Washington (#8)
- + 2 Denver (#10)
- + 1 Loyola-L.A. (#7)
The downward moves from last year in the graduate tax program rankings are:
- - 2 San Diego (#9)
- - 2 SMU (#11)
- - 1 Villanova (#11)
Infanti Presents Deconstructing the Duty to the Tax System: Unfettering Zealous Advocacy on Behalf of Lesbian and Gay Taxpayers Today at UC-Berkeley
Anthony C. Infanti (Pittsburgh) presents Deconstructing the Duty to the Tax System: Unfettering Zealous Advocacy on Behalf of Lesbian and Gay Taxpayers at the Law, Culture, and Humanities Annual Conference, 61 Tax Law. ___ (2008), today at UC-Berkeley. Here is the abstract:
Due to taxpayers' significant advantages in the tax enforcement process, tax lawyers are thought to owe a special duty to the tax system, which requires them to temper the zealousness of their advocacy in order to preserve the integrity of the tax system. For lesbian and gay taxpayers, however, the realities of the tax enforcement process starkly contrast with the conventional picture. Unlike other taxpayers, lesbians and gay men are subject to overt and covert invidious discrimination in the application of the tax laws. Thus, if a tax lawyer tempers her advice to lesbian and gay clients as required by the duty to the tax system, she risks compounding this discrimination and seriously harming her clients. This paper attempts to open the necessary ethical space for crafting an alternative view of the duty to the tax system, one that better suits the interests of lesbian and gay clients.
Larry Ellison’s Tax Cut Breaks School’s Budget (WSJ Buisness Technology Blog), by Ben Worthen:
The Portola Valley School District has to cut six positions–thanks in part to Larry Ellison.
The Oracle chairman, who is the fourteenth richest person in the world, recently had the value of his 23-acre Woodside, Calif., home reassessed from $173 million to about $70 million. That dropped his annual tax bill by more than a million dollars. The biggest loser: Local schools that depend on tax revenue for the lion’s share of their budgets, according to the Almanac.
Check out a picture of the house here. (Hat Tip: Sarah Lawsky.) Update:
- CNet News: Oracle's Larry Ellison Got a $3 Million Tax Break and You Didn't, by Jim Kerstetter
- San Francisco Chronicle: $3 Million Tax Cut on Larry Ellison's Estate, by James Temple
- San Jose Mercury News: Oracle CEO Wins Property Tax Case, by Neil Gonzales
- USA Today: Oracle CEO Wins $3M Tax Rebate on Imperial Retreat
Erik M. Jensen (Case Western) presents Taxation and Doing Business in Indian Country, 60 Me. L. Rev. ___ (2008), at Northern Kentucky University -- Chase College of Law today as part of its Faculty Workshop Series. Here is the abstract:
Furthering investment in Indian country (a term that includes, but is not limited to, reservations) is an important goal, but potential investors are hesitant - and with reason. One disincentive to invest is uncertainty about tax liability. Understanding taxation in Indian country requires knowledge not only of traditional tax law, but also of American Indian law principles dating from the early nineteenth century, and not many practitioners are up to that task. This article tries to make sense, as much as is possible, of the doctrines that have developed over the centuries.
The Nevada Supreme Court held yesterday that a casino is not liable for use tax on the value of food used to prepare complimentary meals to its customers and employees. Sparks Nugget v. State, Dep’t of Taxation, 124 Nev. Adv. Op. No. 15 (3/27/08). (Hat Tip: Legal Profession Blog.)
1. (4.8) Harvard (2) Yale (1) 3. (4.7) Columbia (4) Stanford (2) 5. (4.6) Chicago (7) 6. (4.5) UC-Berkeley (6) Michigan (9) NYU (5) 9. (4.4) Virginia (9) 10. (4.3) Penn (7) 11. (4.2) Cornell (12) Duke (12) Georgetown (14) 14. (4.1) Texas (16) Northwestern (9) 16. (4.0) UCLA (16) 17. (3.8) Vanderbilt (15) 18. (3.7) USC (18) 19. (3.6) Minnesota (22) Washington U. (19) 21. (3.5) George Washington (20) Iowa (27) North Carolina (38) 24. (3.4) Boston U. (21) UC-Davis (44) UC-Hastings (38) Emory (22) Illinois (27) Ohio State (32) Washington & Lee (25) Wisconsin (36) 32. (3.3) Boston College (26) Fordham (27) Notre Dame (22) 35. (3.2) Arizona (38) Florida (46) Indiana (36) U. Washington (30) William & Mary (30) 40. (3.1) Colorado (32) Georgia (32) Tulane (44) 43. (3.0) American (46) Wake Forest (42)
My view has always been that the U.S. News methodology is basically to present a veneer of science, which has been doctored to substantially resemble the results of the peer assessment survey that is at its core. That is, the peer assessment survey provides a reasonable measure of what informed people think about rankings, and U.S. News wants to come close to that, so as to have as much credibility as possible, but not replicate it precisely, so that they can claim that their screwy methodology has some value added. This is why library size, which used to have a respectable weight in the survey, got reduced in importance: U.S. News discovered at some point in the 1990s that it didn't correlate very well with reputation, so they downsized its importance.
Anyway, I have reconstructed the rankings for the schools that got at least a 3.0 score on the peer assessment scale, and have attached list showing what the U.S. News list would look like if it used only the peer assessment score. It is in rank order, with the peer assessment score shown in parentheses right after the rank. As you can see, it doesn't change the top ranks very much. Chicago, Michigan, and Texas do a little better than they do under the U.S. News overall ranks, and Northwestern and Vanderbilt a little less well. But there is a big difference among some traditionally strong schools that don't do well under the U.S. News methodology, for one reason or another. Wisconsin (U.S. News rank of 36) and Florida (U.S. News rank of 46) come in at a more reasonable 24 and 35, respectively. Alabama, which beats the two just mentioned in the U.S. News ranks, doesn't show up on my list, because their peer assessment score was only 2.9. That seems to me to better reflect reality, but opinions may vary.
Gordon Hylton (Marquette) presumably will be updating his Hylton Rankings, which rank 184 law schools by combining the U.S. News LSAT and peer assessment measures.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
The Center on Budget & Policy Priorities yesterday released:
- New Data Show Income Concentration Rose Again in 2006: Average Income Rose by $73,000 for Households in the Top 1%, Only $20 for Those in Bottom 90%, by Aviva Aron-Dine:
Capital Gains Tax Cuts Slashed Taxes of Top 400, While Their Incomes Soared, by Aviva Aron-Dine:
An editor of the Vanderbilt Law Review asked me to post this:
It is the policy of the Vanderbilt Law Review to maintain approximately forty percent (five to seven articles) of our book space available for the fall 2008 submissions cycle. We recognize that an impression exists among many legal scholars that student-run journals intend to fill our books during this spring’s submission cycle. We wish to dispel that impression.
We will review fall submissions this year as thoroughly as we review spring submissions, just as we have always. This spring’s accelerated submissions cycle has strained scholars and affects us as well. We hope that restating our longstanding policy to review and accept a significant number of pieces in the fall can help return some balance to the submissions process.
Linda M. Beale (Wayne State) presents Tax Patents: At the Crossroads of Tax and Patent Law at Boston College today as part of its Tax Policy Workshop Series. Although the paper and abstract are not available, some of Linda's views on tax patents are collected here.
How to Pay Zero Taxes: Nearly 50 Million Americans Do It; But Once You See How, You'll be Glad You're Not One of Them (Money Magazine), by Marlys Harris:
Last year 49.2 million U.S. households filed returns that obligated them to pay absolutely no federal income taxes -- and they didn't necessarily do anything illegal. Before you start gnashing your teeth at the injustice, however, you should know that there are many reasons to be happy that you're not one of the tax escapees.
For starters, avoiding U.S. income taxes isn't easy. Citizens can't wriggle out of their bills by moving to another country because, almost alone among nations, the U.S. taxes all income, no matter where on earth it's earned. And although the tax code offers plenty of deductions and exemptions, if you take too many you'll be skewered by the AMT. ...
So how do the 49.2 million do it? That's what Money Magazine set out to learn. What we found offers a glimpse into the workings of the immensely complicated U.S. tax system, as well as valuable lessons in the dos and don'ts of cutting your own taxes.
Andrea Louise Campbell (MIT) presents How Americans Think About Taxes: Public Opinion and the American Fiscal State at NYU today as part of its Colloquium Series on Tax Policy and Public Finance. Here is the part of the Introduction:
This book focuses on the interplay between public opinion and elite action concerning taxation. It explores the bases of citizen opinions about taxes, showing how these attitudes are often based on objective conditions – on the net calculation of the costs taxes impose and the benefits they provide. It shows how the designs of taxes can influence perceptions of associated costs and benefits, affecting attitudes. And it demonstrates that how elites talk about taxes influences public opinion above and beyond those objective conditions. Elite attention to taxes influences the salience of taxes to ordinary Americans. In addition, how elites – especially politicians, but also interest group leaders, academics, and policy analysts – characterize taxes can heighten or obscure the costs and benefits associated with taxes, altering opinion patterns among the public.
The IRS has turned to YouTube to get the word out on the economic stimulus rebates:
The IRS today also released, via traditional channels, Tips for Tax Filers on Economic Stimulus Payments (IR-2008-51). Press coverage of the IRS's embrace of YouTube:
- New York Times: The IRS Meets YouTube
- UPI: IRS Turns to YouTube to Explain Rebates
- U.S. News & World Report: The IRS Puts Itself on YouTube, by Kimberly Palmer
- USA Today: IRS Uses YouTube to Get Rebate Word Out, by Erin Kutz
Regular readers of this blog know that this is not the first time the IRS has appeared on YouTube: at the request of IRS Chief Counsel Donald Korb, 13 months ago I posted some material about the benefits of starting a tax career at the Office of Chief Counsel. including Publication 4063, A Great Place to Start, as well as this excellent recruitment video on YouTube:
The Congressional Research Service has prepared Estate and Gift Tax Revenues: Past and Projected in 2008 (RL34418) (3/19/08). Here are two of the many interesting tables (click on tables to enlarge):
Several bloggers have note another curious fact about Barack Obama's tax returns: despite over $1.6 million in Schedule C income, most of it from royalties on his book, he did not take the elemental tax planning step of establishing a SEP-IRA. The tax magic is that you can shelter up to 25% of your self-employment income (up to $180,000 in 2007), and the investment earnings accumlate tax-free until withdrawn at retirement. Greg Mankiw (Harvard) suggests possible reasons that Obama did not do this:
Maybe he is getting bad tax advice. Or maybe he is expecting vastly higher tax rates in the future when the accumulated savings will need to be withdrawn and taxed. As Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee has written, "Future increases in tax rates potentially threaten to significantly reduce the value of your retirement savings and may even mean that you should not save in 401(k) accounts at all."
See also Joe Kristan, The Audacity of Paying More Taxes Than Necessary.
The ACE Fellows Program, established in 1965, is designed to strengthen institutions and leadership in American higher education by identifying and preparing promising senior faculty and administrators for responsible positions in college and university administration. Professor Moran, who was nominated for the fellowship by Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos, is one of 36 fellows selected this year in a national competition. ...
“What makes this grant special to me is that it is meant to help me contribute to Vanderbilt’s future by spending a year at another institution working on a project that is crucial to Vanderbilt’s strategic plan,” said Moran, who also is professor of sociology at Vanderbilt.
The parody news site New Groper has created the Wesley Snipes Blog, offering Some Helpful Tips for Filing Your 2007 Tax Returns:
For many Americans, including some of my friends, colleagues and other ..., preparing tax returns can be a truly loathsome experience. It is for precisely that reason that I am setting up shop on this tax bulls*** This tax season, put on your UV ray-deflecting shades, don your full-length black leather duster and ride your Kawasaki 1100cc motorcycle down to Wesley Snipes' New Tax City-Tax Return Advisors, Inc. and enjoy a free 30-minute consultation with one of our excellent advisors. I guarantee that we will get your s*** sorted out. ...
[W]e have a philosophy that separates us from all those other tax advisement companies who will just jerk you around by charging you a s***load of money just so they can tell you that you owe a s***load of money to some other government honkeys. Here is our philosophy: You don't owe anybody any money. Ever.
The Australian School of Taxation (Atax) hosts the 8th International Conference on Tax Administration today in Sydney, Australia. Nina Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate, will deliver one of the keynote addresses. For the program, see here.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
David Duff (Toronto) presents Rethinking the Concept of Income in Tax Law and Policy at Michigan today as part of its Tax Policy Workshop Series. Here is part of the Introduction:
This paper reconsiders the Haig-Simons definition of income, critically examining the arguments that Haig and Simons themselves advanced in favour of this definition as well as the implications of each definition for the inclusion of imputed income, gifts and inheritances, and unrealized gains. Part II considers the grounds on which Haig and Simons supported their definitions of income, arguing that neither rationale provides a coherent and ethically appealing justification for the taxation of personal income. Part III examines the implications of each definition for the taxation of imputed income, gifts and inheritances and unrealized gains, arguing that these implications contradict our considered convictions about the appropriate scope of a tax on income. Part IV offers concluding observations on the concept of income for tax purposes and the rationale for income taxation more generally.
Last week, I blogged several rankings naming TurboTax the #1 tax preparation software, over TaxCut and its other competitiors. Today's news brings another reason to favor TurboTax: it allows civil-union returns by gay and lesbian couples, while TaxCut does not in certain states. Same-Sex Couple Blocked By H & R; Tax Preparer Says Its Computer Software Can't Support Civil-Union Returns (Hartford Courant), by Mark Pazniokas:
After 23 months of same-sex, civil-union bliss, Jason Smith and Settimio Pisu had grown accustomed to some institutions being not quite ready for the concept of gay spouses. There was that long day at the DMV trying to jointly register a car, which ended pleasantly enough with an apology from a clerk. And don't even ask the Guilford couple about their adoption stories.
Still, Smith and Pisu weren't ready for the online message that popped up as they tried to file their taxes on H&R Block's website: "We don't support Connecticut Civil Union returns." ...
The giant tax preparer was willing to prepare the couple's taxes at one of its offices for $199.80 — $155 more than the online price. Not good enough. As the American Civil Liberties Union noted Tuesday in a letter to H&R Block, that's discrimination under a Connecticut law that forbids denying "full and equal accommodation" on the basis of sexual orientation or civil-union status.
- Associated Press: US Government Tries to Revive KPMG Case, by Larry Neumeister
- Bloomberg: KPMG Prosecutor Asks Court to Reinstate Charges, by Carlyn Kolker & David Glovin
- National Law Journal: No Coercion in KPMG Case, Prosecutor Says, by Mark Hamblett
- Reuters: U.S. Tries to Revive Ex-KPMG Employees Tax Case, by Emily Chasan
- Wall Street Journal: KPMG Prosecutors Come Under Scrutiny, by Amir Efrati
- WSJ Law Blog: Second Circuit Skeptical of Government’s Arguments in KPMG, by Dan Slater
Georgetown hosts a Careers in Tax Law Panel for Washington, D.C. area law students and tax LL.M. candidates today from 3:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. "Guests representing the government and private sectors will talk about their career experiences, and share information about how they have achieved success." For more information, contact Tim Brady.
The ABA Tax Section has ceased publication the State & Local Tax Lawyer and instead will have an annual State & Local Tax Edition of The Tax Lawyer, beginning with the current issue (Vol. 60, No. 4 (Summer 2007)) with these pieces:
- Federalism, The Commerce Clause, and Discriminatory State Tax Incentives: A Defense of Unconditional Business Tax Incentives Limited to In-State Activities of the Taxpayer, by Philip M. Tatarowicz (Ernst & Young, National Tax Department, Washington, D.C.; Adjunct Professor, Georgetown)
- The New Texas Margin Tax: More Than a Marginal Change to Texas Taxation, by Cynthia M. Ohlenforst (K. & L. Gates, Dallas)
- Options for Allocating Stock Option Income: New York’s New Allocation Rules and Their Effect on Taxpayers, Multistate Employers, and Other States, by Debra Silverman Herman (Roberts & Holland, New York)
- The Sometimes Dubious Efficacy of Michigan Department of Treasury “Rules,” “Revenue Administrative Bulletins,” “Letter Rulings,” “Questions and Answers,” and Other Publications, by Samuel J. McKim, III (Miller, Canfield, Paddock & Stone, Detroit)
- ANR Pipeline: Beware of the Relief Sought, by John B. Burns (Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, Memphis)
- Please Hang Up and Try Again: The Missouri Supreme Court Speed Dials Telephone Services into the Manufacturing Exemption Too Quickly in Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. v. Director of Revenue, by Natanyah Ganz
- Challenging State Investment Tax Credits After DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, by Christopher Klimmek
- Ignoring the Economic Reality of Lease Termination Fees in Favor of an Illogical, Plain Meaning Interpretation: Comptroller v. Citicorp International Communications, Inc., by Stephanie Lyerly
The 2009 U.S. News law school rankings are due to be released March 28, but purported advance copies are already circulating on the Internet. Here is a purported pdf copy of the Top 100 (104 with ties), along with the data from the various categories for the Top 58 schools. The list is reproduced in more readable form here. (Hat Tip: Concurring Opinions & First Movers.)
Update #2: Jim Lindgren points out a potential problem with the UC-Berkeley and Columbia placement data. (Both schools made dramatic moves this year, Columbia to #4 (ahead of NYU) this year from #5 last year, and UC-Berkeley to #6 (ahead of Chicago and Penn) from #8 last year.
Following up on yesterday's post on Barack Obama's release of his 2000-2006 tax returns, today's New York Times picks up the story in Obamas’ Tax Returns Show Donation Spike, by Leslie Wayne. The article links to the returns posted on TaxProf Blog (and unfortunately includes a snarky quote from me). For more press and blogosphere coverage, see below the fold:
Check out the cover story in the April 2008 ABA Journal: The Rankings Czar: Law Deans Hate Bob Morse's Rankings; He'd Like Their Help to Make Them Better, by Lynda Edwards:
[Houston Dean Nancy Rapoport's] tears at a meeting with students and faculty six years later became a law school legend. The school had learned, just a week earlier, that it had fallen five spots (to 70th) in U.S. News & World Report’s annual law school rankings.
Distraught faculty and students wrote scathing critiques of her performance on blogs and computer bulletin boards, noting the school had plummeted nearly 20 spots during her six-year tenure.
Rapoport resigned. ... “Am I the poster child for why the U.S. News & World Report rankings are bad?” Rapoport wondered last year in her blog. It’s perhaps more accurate to say Rapoport’s Houston ordeal scares the bejesus out of deans. Her tears are emblematic of the nerve-shredding power U.S. News rankings hold over deans, faculty and students. ...
“It would be hard to overestimate the effect law school rankings have on everyday campus life,” says Paul Caron, dean of faculty at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and a vocal critic of the magazine’s methodology. “Students worry about how a ranking will affect their chances of future employment. Faculty worry about whether a drop in rankings will make it more difficult to be published in law reviews. Deans feel that they will be judged by how many places up or down the school moves in the rankings.” ...
“I think rankings need to be changed, and the only way that will happen is if law school deans sit down with Bob Morse for honest discussion,” Rapoport says. “I would attend a meeting like that without hesitation.”
Morse says he understands and agrees that the rankings are not perfect, and he would like nothing more than to discuss with law school deans ways to improve them. “Deans are welcome to call me or come by my office in Washington,” Morse says. “I want to work with them to improve the rankings.”
But to discuss the rankings would be to validate them in the public eye, and the deans and other critics seem to remain reluctant to do so. ...
Caron of the University of Cincinnati edits an online publication known as TaxProf Blog that, despite being exactly what it sounds like, often becomes a forum for venting about law school rankings. “How does a school leap 21 slots or drop 20 slots in one year?” one professor asks in a typical entry. “Did faculty leave en masse from one to the other? Any ranking with that much volatility seems questionable.”
Caron says his own university does not publicize its place in the U.S. News rankings (57th for 2008) or whether it rises or falls. He is the publisher of Brian Leiter’s Law School Rankings, an alternative to the newsmagazine’s list. “But the U.S. News rankings are the most famous and influential among potential students; there is no close second,” Caron says.
Caron has studied U.S. News rankings and written law review articles arguing that they lack transparency. He finds it frustrating that any school’s ranking depends so heavily on the most subjective of categories—reputation. “There is no way of knowing whether the magazine has geographical diversity among the lawyers and judges it surveys or even how many bother to respond to the surveys,” Caron explains. (A U.S. News webpage says 71 percent of university deans and law school faculty and only 29 percent of lawyers and judges responded to the reputation survey in 2008. Morse said response rates are similar for all the magazine’s graduate school rankings.)
Caron offers this solution for law schools: Instead of castigating or ignoring the rankings, sit down with U.S. News researchers and hammer out improvements. “Students want accountability—some way of knowing that the huge loans they are acquiring will help fund a good, solid education,” Caron says. “I believe in accountability. Right now, the rankings we have don’t measure accountability. But I think we can make them better and more precise.”
Caron believes a big splash of glasnost can help scour away the animosity between law schools and U.S. News. He wants the magazine’s website to post the details of its methodology, including the names or institutions that respond to the surveys. He believes the magazine owes readers, as well as students, more explanation of the difference between the 100th-ranked school and those one tier lower.
In any other ranking system, the difference would seem slight. But here, descending one slot is a soul-annihilating freefall into the lower pits.
“Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” Caron quips. “Most of the statistics the magazine uses are the same stats schools report to the American Bar Association. Reputation is the one category that is completely the responsibility of U.S. News.”
A numerical ranking is not subtle. It cannot illuminate the nuances of a school’s mission. Caron realizes schools below the 50th place find it harder to get the word out about achievements like impressive new faculty hires or even endowments. Yet, he points out, urban law schools like his often mesh better with student goals than a school ranked in the top 20.
“We have several high-powered law firms and Procter & Gamble headquartered here in Cincinnati and they recruit heavily from our school,” Caron says. “Not every young lawyer is happy in a huge, often impersonal Northeastern law firm. Yet there is valid data indicating the U.S. News rankings are skewed in favor of Northeastern universities partly because of the way reputation is evaluated.” ...
Morse says an indiscreet emphasis on the rankings suggests a deep misunderstanding both of what they are and how they should be used. “Any student or parent who uses the rankings as the No. 1 reason to go to a school, well, that’s exactly the wrong way to use them,” Morse says. “The rankings are a tool. They give deans and students useful statistics for comparisons. But there are a lot of factors that go into evaluating whether a school is the right fit.”
Update: See Bob Morse's comments here.
I have three goals:
- Find the best law teachers in America
- Synthesize the principles by which they teach as an ethic to which I (and my colleagues in legal education) can aspire
- Share these principles and stories of these brilliant teachers.
- Solicit nominations
- Gather evidence of nominees' excellence
- Pare the list to the most extraordinary law teachers
- Visit law schools around the country, sitting in on classes, interviewing the nominees, and talking to focus groups of students and alumni.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina yesterday dismissed the multi-district challenge to the IRS's procedures for issuing refunds of the long distance telephone excise tax. In re Long-Distance Telephone Service Federal Excise Tax Refund Litigation, MDL Docket No. 1798 (D.C. D.C. 3/25/08):
(One of the many counsel representing the plaintiffs in the case is Richard F. Scruggs.)
On our sister Legal Profession Blog, Michael S. Frisch (Georgetown) quotes a Virginia state bar discipline matter in which the court distinguishes tax services from legal services:
On March 19, 2008, a three-judge panel of the Fairfax County Circuit Court imposed a public admonition with terms on Ernest Kenneth Wall. Mr. Wall violated the Rule of Professional Conduct that forbids misleading information in public communications concerning a lawyer's services. Mr. Wall must make revisions to solicitation letters, contracts, and website contents that he uses in his business, which provides tax services but not legal services.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Barack Obama today released his 2000-2006 tax returns:
Here is a summary of the figures:
What is surprising, given the recent controversy over Obama's membership in the Trinity United Church of Christ, is how little the Obamas apparently gave to charity -- well short of the biblical 10% tithe for all seven years. In two of the years, the Obamas gave far less than 1% of their income to charity; in three of the years, they gave around 1% of their income to charity. Only in the last two years have they given substantially more as their income skyrocketed -- 4.7% in 2005 and 6.1% in 2006. (Of course, it is possible that the Obamas may have made gifts to other worthy causes that were not deductible for federal income tax purposes.)
- Bloomberg News: Obamas Gave Less Than 1 Percent of 2000-2004 Income to Charity, by Ryan J. Donmoyer & Julianna Goldman
- CNN: Obama Releases Tax Returns, Challenges Clinton to Follow Suit
- Fox News: Obamas Open Tax Returns, Earned Nearly $1M in 2006
- The Hill: Obama Posts Tax Returns, Urges Clinton to Do Same, by Sam Youngman
- The Huffington Post: Obama Posts Six Years Of Tax Returns
- L.A. Times: Obama Campaign Posts His Tax Returns on Web, by Michael Muskal
- MSNBC: Obama Releases Tax Returns to 2000, by Domenico Montanaro
- New York Sun: Obamas Check "Yes" and then "No" on Public Financing, by Russell Berman
- Reuters: Obama Releases Tax Returns, Says Clinton Should Too
- Wall Street Journal: Obama Releases Seven Years of Tax Filings, by Susan Davis
- Washington Post: Obama, Releasing Returns, Presses Clinton on Taxes, by Matthew Mosk & Alec MacGillis
Update #2: From Donklephant::
Hillary spokesperson Phil Singer blasted out an email at 11:23 a.m. insisting that Obama release his tax returns for back years,
Exactly two minutes later, at 11:25 a.m., Obama spokesperson Tommy Vietor emailed out word that Obama had posted his tax returns for 2000-2006 on his campaign web site.