My road to becoming a tax academic has been indirect, to put it mildly. I started my professional career by getting a job at the Soviet Academy of Sciences Institute of Physical Chemistry in Moscow—the city where I was born and raised. My college major was inorganic chemistry and my research focused on corrosion. I ran experiments, started working on a dissertation, and even managed to publish a few articles reporting my results. I was looking forward to many years of a productive career as a scientist. Things didn’t quite go the way I planned.
In the fall of 1991, my wife, my four-year-old son and I came to the United States and, after some hiatus, I got a job as a metallurgical engineer in Lansing, Michigan. It took me some time to improve my English to a point where I could not only formulate questions, but understand answers as well, to figure out the difference between a lineman and a linebacker, and to realize that I didn’t want to remain a metallurgical engineer for the rest of my life. So I applied to several law schools and got into Yale, miraculously.
Leaving gainful employment for three years is not an easy thing to do when you have a family to support. So I had no doubt about what my next step was going to be—a well-paid job at a large law firm. There was only one problem—neither corporate work nor litigation of a type done in these firms looked particularly enticing. By the time the 2L interviews rolled around, I desperately needed to come up with an answer to the painfully familiar “corporate or litigation” question. Tax was one of the few remaining options, and I decided to give it a try.
I liked my basic tax class with Anne Alstott (teaching her first course at Yale), and other tax classes were also fun. I did a lot of tax work as a summer associate at Davis Polk, and I knew I had found a match. Once again, I was on a predictable path. I went to Davis Polk upon graduation and started learning how to be a tax lawyer. Davis Polk’s tax department was a great place to do this—work was as interesting as it could be, people were super smart and very nice to boot. I was pretty happy, and looked forward to more years there, or, perhaps, at another similar place.
Again, that was not to happen. I wrote a paper (which practicing tax lawyers frequently do), and asked a few people to read it. David Schizer (now Dean Schizer)—also a former Davis Polk associate—was one of these people. Columbia became interested, and I became intrigued by a possibility that I had never contemplated. Upon graduation, teaching was not in the cards for financial reasons. As I kept practicing, teaching looked more and more like the road not taken. But an opportunity to join the Columbia faculty was too fascinating to miss. I pursued it and my career path took yet another twist.
I’m now teaching the basic tax course at Columbia, and I’ll teach taxation of financial instruments in the spring. The paper I wrote is coming out in the April issue of Boston University Law Review. Things seem to be falling in place, and I am tempted to start looking forward to many more happy years as a tax professor. But I know better than that. Maybe I’ll be the Yankees center fielder in a few years!
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