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October 29, 2015 Young Lawyers Corner

Fifteen for the History Books: The Creation of a Law Student Tax Challenge

By Anne-Marie Rábago, California Western School of Law, San Diego, CA; Chair, Young Lawyers Forum

This article is adapted from "Why A Law Student Tax Challenge?"—a Young Lawyers Forum panel discussion between Joseph Barry Schimmel and Clayton H. Collins held at the 2015 Joint Fall CLE Meeting in Chicago, IL.

Watch and listen to their own words below. Additional clips from the Young Lawyers Forum program are available on the Section's Law Student Tax Challenge website.

 "You have to know the past to understand the present." - Carl Sagan

In the early fall of 2000, Richard M. Lipton, then Chair-elect of the  Section of Taxation, met with Howard Engels to discuss the Arthur Anderson Annual Tax Challenge, a regional and national federal tax planning competition for graduate and undergraduate accounting students. For the Section, recruiting young tax lawyers and law students interested in tax practice had become a priority. Arthur Anderson's success with visibility, outreach to accounting students, and employee recruitment proved their competition to be a model program. By October, Richard presented the idea of a "Law School Challenge" in a memorandum to Section Chair Pamela F. Olson and the Officers and Council of the Section. The Law Student Tax Challenge was born.

There were two purposes served by this new tax competition. The first was to get young tax lawyers involved with the Section. It was determined that the Section's newly established Young Lawyers Forum (YLF) would be charged with developing the competition. There were young tax lawyers among the ranks of the Section, but many more would be needed to develop, administer, and run a successful competition. To this end, the YLF reached out to the ABA's Young Lawyers Division, which had a standing tax committee, for support. The second purpose was to attract more students to the practice of tax law by engaging them while in law school.

The next question was: What kind of competition should it be? Barry Kozak, then Vice-Chair of YLF, had been involved with the Albert R. Mugel National Tax Moot Court Competition at SUNY Buffalo Law School. Joseph Barry Schimmel, a YLF organizer, had been involved with The Florida Bar's National Tax Moot Court Competition. They questioned whether a moot court style competition was truly the best format for getting people interested in tax practice and opted to identify another way to structure the competition.

Joseph met with Professor Elliott Manning at the University of Miami School of Law to discuss alternatives. They came to the conclusion that the competition should be a transactional planning problem designed to focus on the tax consequences of a complex business planning problem. In "real life," most tax lawyers are transactional. A client brings a tax problem or situation that needs a solution. The partner tells the young associate lawyer what the partner needs, and the associate comes back to the partner with research, answers, and ideas. The associate hopes the partner is content to have the associate discuss the ideas and findings with the client. Essentially, this became the format for the Law Student Tax Challenge (LSTC)—a transactional planning and client counseling competition—the first of its kind.

The YLF organizers then split into different committees to handle different aspects of the competition, including marketing, rule making, problem drafting, and judge recruiting. Planning the first LSTC was overwhelming. No one had heard of the LSTC, so an aggressive marketing plan was needed. Would marketing through the ABA Law Student Division suffice? Would contacting tax professors be more fruitful?

In addition, no rules existed for this type of competition. So, the organizers started with rules from a moot court competition to identify the issues that had to be addressed in the LSTC rules such as who would be eligible to compete; who would receive the awards—the law school or the student; should coaches be required; if so, what would they do. No one had ever done this type of competition for law students. There were no transactional competitions. The problem-drafting committee researched the substance and assignment types found in J.D. business tax courses and used this information to structure the first LSTC problem.

From the beginning, the plan was for this competition to have both a written component and an oral presentation round. The benefits of a written competition were that an unlimited number of students could participate and the program could have maximum impact. In addition, the Section wanted to create a stronger connection with the most promising law students. An in-person, oral presentation round would provide the interaction that was seen as key to the successful results of Arthur Andersen's model.

Fifteen teams from 14 law schools entered written submissions for the inaugural LSTC in the fall of 2001. On January 18, 2002, during the Section's Midyear Meeting in New Orleans, LA, the top four J.D. teams presented their solutions before a panel of judges including some of the nation's top tax professionals. A member of the runner-up team in that inaugural LSTC, Michael M. Lloyd, would become Chair of the LSTC two years later and a John S. Nolan Fellow the following year.

After four years of increasing success and popularity, the Section added an LL.M. Division to the competition in 2005. That year, 37 J.D. and 8 LL.M. teams competed. The 2010 LSTC set the record for most entries with 95 J.D. and 31 LL.M. teams. Many LSTC winners and participants have gone on to serve as leaders and significant contributors to the Section. According to Richard and Joseph, who were there at the beginning, the LSTC has achieved the purposes it set out in 2000 and gone far beyond what was ever imagined.

Teams for the 15th Annual LSTC are forming now. Information about the competition is available online. The deadline for written submissions is November 6, 2015. The authors of the best written submissions will present their solutions orally to a panel of judges in an open forum at the Section's 2016 Midyear Meeting in Los Angeles, CA. If you are planning to attend the Midyear Meeting, please drop by the LSTC oral rounds to support the YLF and our LSTC competitors.