Law School Course Areas and Related Classes
WHAT THIS AREA IS ABOUT. Tax law, primarily the federal income tax, affects virtually all transactions in money or property. Tax is commonly a dominant aspect of transactions in such ostensibly non-tax areas as real estate, corporate mergers, corporate finance, international business transactions, oil and gas, trusts and estates, sports and entertainment law, intellectual property, and nonprofit organizations. Tax law often involves examining the motive and economics of commercial transactions and thus should prove extremely useful for persons intending to practice in commercial and corporate areas generally. Understanding tax helps one understand the world as a citizen, understand personal investments, and understand the commercial and investment world of one's clients. In addition, tax fraud is one of the important areas within criminal law.
Tax also involves rigorous statutory analysis and administrative law, both of which are helpful outside of tax. And an understanding of tax policy and tax economics will aid in formulating policy and economic arguments in non-tax areas.
The practice of tax law involves analyzing, planning, and implementing transactions with tax considerations in mind, and counseling, defending, and litigating the tax treatment of doubtful or controversial items. Lawyers spend a disproportionate amount of their time on unsettled issues. The practice of tax law is only minimally involved with the routine filling out of tax returns.
It is difficult to get an introduction to tax law after law school. Tax law is a system in which the parts interact. An understanding of basic principles enables one to understand tax rules, even given their extraordinary proliferation. Every law student will need at least to sample tax.
In general tax law involves the same skills of legal analysis and reasoning as other law courses. Tax law is inherently a field of law. Accounting principles have influenced taxation, but tax law skills are not just accounting skills. The basic course, Federal Income Tax (FIT), assumes no prior knowledge of accounting, finance, mathematics, or economics. The accounting, financial, and economic concepts necessary to understand tax are taught in the tax courses themselves. Numbers (not "math") are often needed to communicate a point, and tax planning involves tallying the results of alternative courses of action, but the arithmetic is simple.
The federal gift and estate taxes, which are taxes on the transfer of wealth, are separate from the income tax. They are taught in Estate Planning, and (in some cases, and briefly) in Wills and Estates. Although the topic of partnership and corporate tax is briefly touched upon in FIT, the main coverage of enterprise taxation occurs in Taxation of Partnerships and S Corporations and Taxation of Corporations. State and local taxes are covered in a separate State and Local Tax Course or, in some cases, in Local Government Law or a constitutional law course.
BASIC COURSES. The basic courses include Federal Income Tax (FIT), and two courses on taxation of business enterprises.
1. Federal Income Tax. This basic tax course is offered for three or four credits (depending upon the instructor) every semester. A survey of key doctrines underlying the federal income tax and an introduction to tax thinking. FIT defines the essential vocabulary in tax and explains the basic principles. With different emphasis by different teachers, FIT involves problem solving, tax planning, statutory interpretation, tax policy, and tax economics. Students who may be interested in pursuing a tax practice or a corporate, estate planning, real estate, oil and gas, banking, bankruptcy, international transactions, or other practice involving business transactions are strongly advised to take FIT in the first semester after their first year and one of the courses in enterprise taxation in the second semester. Every student should take FIT some point.
2. Enterprise Taxation. This area includes two courses; FIT is a prerequisite to both. The first is Taxation of Partnerships and S Corporations, which introduces the taxation of partnerships, small business corporations, and limited liability companies that elect to be treated as partnerships for tax purposes. Partnerships and S corporations are the most common form for most small and medium-size business enterprises; this course is essential for anyone interested in a tax practice or to anyone interested in a practice involving real estate, oil and gas, or other business transactions. If a student may take only one tax course beyond FIT, take this course first. The second course is Taxation of Corporations, which introduces the tax rules that govern corporations and shareholders. The course is essential for anyone interested in a tax practice or a practice involving corporate transactions or finance.
SPECIALIZED COURSES. Several specialized tax courses are offered.
International Tax. The course focuses on the taxation of international transactions (inbound and outbound) under the Federal Income Tax. The course should be of interest to anyone engaged in an international business transaction practice. FIT is a prerequisite and it is helpful to take one of the courses in enterprise taxation prior or concurrently. It may not be offered every year.
Estate and Gift Taxes. The federal estate and gift tax is introduced (usually)in Wills and Estates and emphasized in Estate Planning. It is a separate system from the federal income tax. It is an important consideration in planning for the disposition of wealth, at least by individuals who have accumulated very substantial amounts of wealth. The subject is not particularly important independently of estate, probate, and trust practice generally. FIT is a prerequisite for Estate Planning. For more information on the area of wills, estates, probate, trusts, etc., see the Property section.
The treatment of estates and trusts under the federal income tax (as opposed to the estate and gift tax) is the subject of Federal Income Taxation of Trusts and Estates.
Taxation of Natural Resources. This is taught from a transactional perspective and is offered only occasionally. FIT and Oil and Gas should be taken before enrolling this course.
SEMINARS. Tax seminars vary from year to year both as to content and prerequisites.
CLINICS AND INTERNSHIPS. The Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic provides students the opportunity to represent non-profit organizations in a variety of transactional matters, including tax issues. Students in the Non-Profit/Government Internship Program can intern at placements focused on tax law, such as the Tax Division in the Office of the Attorney General and the Internal Revenue Service.
RELATED COURSES. For those intending a career involving tax law, useful related courses include: Accounting for Lawyers; the commercial law courses, including Bankruptcy, Business Associations; Corporate Finance; the commercial real estate courses; and others. Contract Negotiations and Drafting should also prove useful, especially if a business, real estate, or an international tax practice is contemplated. For those interested in tax policy, Jurisprudence (focusing on distributive justice) and any of the economic analysis courses are logical choices. Those planning to practice tax law in an accounting firm or a corporate tax department will need to consider taking accounting courses either here or at the business school.
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