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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Taxation, Inequality, And Life: An Interview With Ed Kleinbard

KleinbardBYU Law School Magazine, On Taxation, Inequality, and the Citizen’s Role: An Interview With USC’s Professor Kleinbard:

FlemingYou had a lengthy career at a high level of law practice followed by a period of high-level government service. How would you compare the satisfactions of those two parts of your professional life?

Kleinbard:  I enjoyed law practice very much. In contrast, from 2007 to 2009 my service as chief of staff of Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation (jct) required me to be the principal non-partisan tax adviser to the most partisan collection of men and women on the planet. I was surprised at how little interest there was in improving our tax laws unless the improvement would advance a partisan agenda. Working as a staff member at jct is an interesting way of observing bare-knuckle politics, but the chief of staff is a job I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But the Treasury Department’s Office of Tax Policy and the irs’s Office of Chief Counsel are excellent places for young lawyers to both contribute to the public good and gain important skills and experience—usually without quite as much day-today political drama as one faces on the Hill. I highly recommend that kind of service.

FlemingWhat advice would you have for an undergraduate who is considering law school?

Kleinbard:  Too many people go to law school because they can’t think of anything else to do. It’s true that law school provides a broad educational experience that is useful in many vocational settings, but a legal education has become very expensive. Anyone contemplating that expense should first understand that lawyers are service providers. If one doesn’t enjoy solving other people’s problems, advocating other people’s causes, and resolving other people’s controversies, then practicing law will not be a good fit. My joke has always been that if I couldn’t be a lawyer, I would have been a butler; I like taking other people’s burdens off their shoulders and making them mine. Most any legal specialty practiced at a high level requires sustained analytical effort, strong writing skills, and a willingness to read and absorb an enormous amount of material, but if you want to pursue the most intellectually demanding specialties, then I would look to tax and intellectual property.

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