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University of San Diego: Leading the West in tax law

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For a second year in a row, the University of San Diego School of Law's tax faculty has been ranked first in the western United States among faculties with graduate tax programs by U.S. News and World Report.

While national recognition is always welcome, it comes as no surprise to the more than 750 graduates of the law school's LL.M. in Taxation program who practice throughout California, the United States and the world.

The USD Tax Law faculty

Any student or graduate of the LL.M. in Taxation Program will point to the expertise of the faculty and the variety of course offerings as the foundation of the program.

In addition to a respected core of leading tax academics such as professors Karen Burke, Bert Lazerow, Grayson McCouch, Richard Pugh, Virginia Shue and Lester Snyder, the program features several distinguished visitors and adjuncts.

One of the most notable visitors to the program is M. Carr Ferguson, former Assistant Attorney General of the United States in charge of the U.S. Department of Justice's Tax Division. In addition to teaching Corporate Reorganizations, Ferguson serves as executive adviser to the graduate tax law program.

"I have been a professor of law since 1961, teaching full time at other schools, principally NYU, teaching in that school's graduate tax program" Ferguson said. "I knew of the USD Graduate Tax Program long before I was invited to join the visiting faculty here a decade ago. Its faculty members, including adjunct faculty members who bring a wealth of experience, set standards of intellectual rigor, comprehensive preparation and, by the end of a student's experience, deep knowledge of the tax law. In the years I have been privileged to be part of the USD Graduate Tax Program, I believe that its course work and students are the equal of any and the envy of many such programs around the country."

Other distinguished visitors adjuncts teaching annually in the program include Judge David Laro of the U.S. Tax Court and local practitioner Richard Shaw of Higgs Fletcher and Mack LLP, who recently chaired the ABA Section on Taxation.

The wide range of course offerings in the graduate tax program include Federal Taxation of Wealth Transfers, Partnership Tax, Tax Policy, Federal Tax Procedure, Advanced Corporate Tax Problems, and Valuation, to name a few.

In the words of one recent graduate, "I started my career as a transactional attorney and found that tax issues touched every matter. My Tax LL.M. adds a whole new dimension to my practice and allows me to serve my clients more fully."

Another alumnus adds: In today's competitive employment environment, an LL.M. in Taxation has essentially become a prerequisite for the best and most rewarding opportunities in the practice of tax. Indeed, I often reflect whether I would be in the position I now find myself had I not been exposed to USD's challenging curriculum, nationally recognized professors and knowledgeable staff and advisers."

Practical training opportunities

The University of San Diego School of Law is proud to house an IRS-funded Tax Controversy Clinic. Directed by local tax attorney and USD adjunct professor Richard Carpenter, the clinic provides community education programs and legal assistance to low-income taxpayers.

For example, recently the tax clinic had an extraordinary victory when the IRS granted innocent spouse relief to a mother with limited English skills who works at a local laundry to support her five children. More than five years ago, after her husband left her, the IRS told her she was responsible for more than $500,000 in back taxes and penalties. The tax clinic took on her case only to have her initial innocent spouse claim and subsequent appeal denied.

The clinic's persistence, however, did pay off for the taxpayer in the end. With only 24 days before trial, the U.S. Tax Court granted the taxpayer's petition, clearing her of her entire balance.

"The tax clinic worked on this case for almost three years; thus, each semester, a different student was assigned to it," said Carpenter. "It was a great learning experience for all of them, teaching them not to give up when the initial IRS results made the fight even harder."

USD: Partnering with the practicing community

Given the many tax practitioners in the region who are graduates of or affiliated with the Graduate Tax Program, the law school has taken several steps to increase its support of the practicing tax community.

For example, since 2002, the Graduate Tax Program has sponsored the Annual Meeting of the California State Tax Bar and will do so again in 2006 when the meeting comes to San Diego.

The law school also hosts the monthly meeting of the San Diego Young Tax Lawyers section of the California Tax Bar.

"We welcome opportunities to collaborate with the tax community in the county, state, or region," said Assistant Dean Teresa O'Rourke. "We are proud to support the success of our alumni and to showcase the talents of our future graduates."

In January 2005, the School of Law co-sponsored an International Tax Institute with Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP and Bank of America.

Focusing on cross-border transactions, this conference featured top tax advisers discussing the international tax implications of the newly signed American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 as well as the latest Mexican international tax reforms that were recently signed by President Fox. This was the first national conference to bring together the highest ranking U.S. and Mexican international tax experts, brought more than 130 U.S. and Mexican tax officials, academics, and practitioners to the University of San Diego.

"The University of San Diego School of Law's Graduate Tax Program is the ideal institution to hold and promote this type of international tax conference -- as we sit at the border of both countries -- in conjunction with the Procopio International Tax Institute," said Patrick W. Martin, of Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP, who was a featured speaker at the conference.

Decker is director of publications for the University of San Diego School of Law.

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