Now, I have to admit that being a teacher had always been my ambition; it just wasn’t being a law teacher. No, my goal as a teenager was to be both a ski instructor and a comic actor and theatre teacher.
I had gone to boarding school in Vermont where I raced on the ski team, but got more credit for my graceful technique than for my speed through the slalom gates. I then enrolled in the University of Vermont (UVM) and, for a while, majored in Theatre. Unfortunately, I had a difficult time memorizing lines and keeping a straight face on stage, so all I did was ad lib. While these proclivities kept me out of a career in theatre, they held me in good stead for a career in law teaching where ad libbing is necessary and the students love it if you crack up on stage now and then.
After graduating from UVM, I was hired to be a ski instructor at Bolton Valley Ski Area near Burlington. However, I had second thoughts about the job before I ever started once I was informed that I would be teaching pre-schoolers and wiping their runny noses as they whined for most of the day. Nonetheless, I rented a basement apartment in Burlington from an elderly woman and decided to give it a go. But that first night in the apartment convinced me that I had made a major mistake in my career path. The landlady kept me awake all night with a horrible cough, and when she told me in the morning that she thanked the Lord for bringing me into her life to take care of her in her old age, I decided to get as far away as I could from her and the prospect of the runny-nosed children and immediately headed home to Pittsburgh where I worked for six months in Democratic political campaigns. While working on the campaigns, I came in contact with many lawyers and decided that law school might not be a bad place to hang out for a few years.
I was accepted into the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and loved it from the start. I had always gotten a kick out of reading Ann Landers and Dear Abby for their outrageously humorous fact patterns, and here I was being required to read fact patterns in cases that were even funnier. After I took my first year exams, I was convinced that I had better build up my muscles and that all the laughs were over because all I had ahead of me was a career as a ditch digger. Then the Law School Registrar sent me my grades and informed me that I had made Law Review because I was in the top 10% of my class. I knew that 90% of my classmates weren’t dumber than me, but if I learned one thing my first year of law school, it was when to keep my mouth shut, so I decided not to tell the Registrar that she must have matched my name with the wrong exam number, and I moved on to my second year of law school.
Pitt required all second-year law students to take basic income tax, and I was fortunate to be in Professor Bill Brown’s section. Bill had recently received his LL.M. from Yale and constantly made references in class to what Marvin Chirelstein would say. (This was before Chirelstein had ever written the first edition of his landmark book, so I was hearing the oral story of “Tax According to Chirelstein” from the mouth of Bill Brown, just as Homer heard the oral history of The Odyssey from the Greeks before he wrote it down.) Bill Brown was (and still is) such an engaging person that he not only became my mentor, but also one of my closest personal friends, so much so that we even were guests at each other’s weddings . By the time I graduated from Pitt, I knew I wanted to follow in Bill’s footsteps, get my LL.M. from Yale, and be a tax law professor. (The fact patterns in so many tax cases were so humorous that I knew I had found a motherlode of materials for performing my comic routines in front of captive audiences.)
Despite the fact that I now realized that my goal in life was to be an academic bum (It sure beat being a ski bum and having to wipe the runny noses of crying kids!), I convinced a couple of law firms that I really wanted to practice law and was able to spend four years practicing in D.C. and Pittsburgh so that I would have a few war stories to tell my future students. Although I did get to practice a little tax law, most of my practice work involved antitrust, commercial real estate mortgage lending, and commercial litigation. At least one partner with whom I worked figured me out and told me I really belonged in academia, so I took his advice to heart and sent in my LL.M. application to Yale.
Yale accepted me, not knowing that my goal in life was to be a ski bum. The Yalies figured me out, however, when I tried (unsuccessfully) to organize a Yale Law School Ski Team to compete in a winter carnival that the Vermont Law School was trying to get started. Actually, my year at Yale was one of the most enjoyable years of my life, and one of the reasons was that I had Marvin Chirelstein as my advisor and took a couple classes with him. When I accepted an offer to teach at Southern Illinois University, Marv said to me, “If you can do for their law school what Walt Frazier did for their basketball program, well….” And off to Carbondale I went.
At the time I taught at Southern Illinois, it was a very exciting place to be. I was hired by the founding Dean, Hiram Lesar, who had been the dean at Washington University in St. Louis and who was also a tax person. Because of Hiram’s vast experience in legal education (he was also a major contributor to Casner’s American Law of Property), he was able to get many distinguished senior professors to accept visitorships to SIU. I felt quite privileged as a first year law teacher to count as a colleague and friend the late Reed Dickerson who was teaching Legislation at SIU. At AALS meetings, all that we on the SIU Faculty had to do was be anywhere near Hiram and we would be introduced to a “Who’s Who” of legal education.
SIU also prided itself on having contacts with many universities around the world. Some of those universities were in Poland, and there was a sizable number of non-law graduate students there from Poland. One such graduate student named Grazyna, whom I met at a party, called me after the party to ask if I would review a contract of employment she had been offered. Not being a member of the Illinois Bar, I told her that I could not represent her, but that I would be happy to have lunch with her. So have lunch we did, and we now have been married for over twenty-one years! (I certainly am glad I was not admitted to the Illinois Bar because, as I tell my students, you should not date your clients, but since I was not a member of the Bar, Grazyna could not be my client, so I was free to date and then marry her.)
While teaching at SIU, I sent my first article out to law reviews. It had nothing to do with tax; it had to do with the NFL’s antitrust problems. Three weeks after I sent it out, I received a call from the Michigan Law Review wanting to know if I would let them publish it as the lead article in the then-current volume. At first I thought the call was a joke, but, beginner’s luck, it was a genuine offer, and I had a great experience working with their editorial board. Shortly after my article was accepted at Michigan, I was recruited by the University of Cincinnati to join their law faculty. Although SIU was (and still is) a great law school, I missed living in an urban environment and accepted Cincinnati’s offer.
I spent six wonderful years on the Cincinnati law faculty and made many friends there. An overwhelming majority of the tenured faculty voted to grant me tenure, but a small minority of the tenured faculty (including the dean who had already resigned) had a different view. I was told by one person that my problem was that my scholarly record was on downward spiral because I followed up my Michigan antitrust article with tax articles that appeared “only in” the Georgia Law Review and the Washington University Law Quarterly. Although this experience was quite difficult at the time, I now look back on it as just another humorous event in my life. I received an offer from Capital to join its Faculty as a full professor and was granted tenure during my first year there.
It is my departure from Cincinnati, however, that makes me believe I am entitled to receive credit for the existence of TaxProf Blog and the TaxProf email listserv. Once I accepted the offer from Capital, Cincinnati had an opening on its tax faculty that needed filled, and I participated in the hiring process to find my replacement. There were many interesting candidates whom we interviewed, but the person we chose to replace me was a guy named Paul Caron, and the rest is history.
I am now in my seventeenth year on the Capital Law Faculty and have the greatest colleagues one could ever hope for. I teach Basic Income Tax, Estate and Gift Tax, and Estates and Trusts (or, as I tell people who ask, “Death and Taxes”). Since coming here, I have spent more time doing administrative duties than I ever dreamed I would. I have served as Interim Director of Graduate Law Programs on more than one occasion and, in a moment of insanity, agreed to serve as Interim Associate Dean of the Law School for a year while we were in a dean search. I have served as Chair of the University’s Academic Program Review Committee and as Vice Chair of the Faculty Senate. Eight years ago when Capital had its last ABA/AALS inspection, I chaired the Self Study Committee. Unfortunately, I forgot to screw up the last Self Study, because, on the theory that no good deed goes unpunished, I was assigned to chair the Self Study Committee again for the next ABA/AALS visit that is to occur in a few weeks. Despite these administrative duties, I have continued my scholarly work on the Supreme Court’s approach to tax cases and have an article on Justice O’Connor’s approach to tax cases that is due to be published in the Arizona State Law Journal in May.
All in all, things have turned out well for a would-be ski bum turned academic bum. In fact, I have only one complaint. There’s no good skiing in central Ohio!
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