Friday, July 12, 2013
My fascination with numbers and structures reaches back to very early childhood. So it’s no surprise that over the years I have enjoyed reading and taking courses in arithmetic, science, computer programming, and languages. But I have also immersed myself in books and courses dealing with history, theology, and geography.
The path to taxation is easy to describe. When, in high school, I decided to apply to the University of Pennsylvania, the undergraduate business program at Wharton grabbed my attention. When I arrived at Wharton and started selecting my courses, I was drawn to accounting, which to me was a combination of math, science, and language. One of the advantages of the Wharton undergraduate program at the time was its business law department. I took every available course, benefitting from sitting in courses taught by outstanding practitioners and law faculty. At about the same time I started working part-time for an accounting firm. The partners quickly detected my facilities with tax, and had me preparing and reviewing returns within months of my arrival. They began to talk of bringing me in full-time after I graduated, to be groomed to replace the tax partner who was nearing retirement. But I had noticed that among the firm’s clients were a dozen or so law firms, some of whose partners were doing tax work and bringing home significantly more than the accounting firm partners were earning. It was one of the few times in my life that dollar signs influence me more than I would have expected. I decided to attend law school, explaining to the partners that it would make me better at dealing with tax issues. And that was the route I was ready to take until I arrived at law school, the teaching urge resurfaced, and I changed directions. It was all for the better, because the accounting firm merged with another firm and eventually was absorbed into oblivion. I doubt that I would have ended up as the firm’s partners had projected. It was, as it often is said, all for the better. And the rest, as they also say, is history.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Though I had administered quizzes when I was teaching Latin to eighth-graders many years earlier, examination administration and grading were not parts of the other teaching activities in which I had engaged. So it was with some degree of delight that I responded in the affirmative when the Chief Judge of the Tax Court asked me, and another attorney-advisor, to design and prepare the examination administered to non-lawyer tax practitioners who want to be admitted to practice before the court.
We did not construct the exam in a vacuum. Our work product was reviewed by several judges. We were quizzed on why we included the questions we had selected. We were asked why and how we developed the choices that were offered on the multiple-choice questions. When it came time for me to prepare my first law school examination as a law professor, I could look back and make use of what I had learned from developing the Tax Court’s admissions exam. That exam was superseded time and again during the more than 30 years that have since zoomed by.
Monday, July 08, 2013
My conclusion that I am teaching students to teach has many roots. A very important one is the time I spent as an attorney-advisor to the Honorable Herbert L. Chabot of the United States Tax Court. He, too, was a teacher, and in fact that is how I met him. I was a student in the course he taught in my LL.M. (Taxation) program.
Judge Chabot brought his teaching style into his chambers. He would bring his one or both of his attorney-advisors into his office, and conduct a class on the issues in his upcoming cases that he wanted us to help him work through. The other judges on the court were bemused by the fact that he kept a blackboard, and chalk, in his office. Judge Chabot’s blackboard became a Tax Court legend. Who used it? He did. We did.
Judge Chabot also used a teaching approach to work through our drafts of the opinions in the cases assigned to him. He asked us why we wrote what we wrote. He asked us why we used the words we had chosen rather than others. He wanted us to explain how we were thinking. He wanted us to teach him. He knew, as he and I discussed in later years, that by being put in the role of teacher, we would be learning. I also learned from him the value of precision, of care in selecting language, of thoroughness in exploring issues, and I have tried to carry those lessons into my teaching, though often to the chagrin of my students.
Even after I left his chambers and entered into my teaching career, the judge and I continued to talk about teaching. He was yet another person who influenced my teaching persona. For that and many other of his lessons, I am grateful.
Friday, July 05, 2013
This professor suggested I talk with the dean to learn about the hiring process. What skills and experience did law schools want their faculty to have? In what sort of law practice should I engage until I started teaching? How many years should I invest in practice before applying for a faculty position? Should I write and publish while I was in practice? The answers then were, of course, different from what they are now. But that’s another story, one that is wrapped up in the transformation of law faculty from what law faculties once were to what they are now.
The same professor also invited me to sit in his first-year class, and to focus on how things transpired in the classroom. Having been through the course, I had a very different perspective. Without needing to take notes on the substantive discussions, I could observe developments of which I had been only been tangentially aware two years earlier. After class, the professor and I would sit down and talk about the class. I asked why he posed a particular question, or provided a particular response. I asked why he stayed with one student even though that student was struggling, and yet not persist with another student who similarly was struggling. I asked why he put certain topics in the sequence he had chosen. I asked why he focused on some portions of the assigned readings but not other portions.
Several members of the faculty spent time with me talking about their teaching philosophies, their exams, their grading systems, and their expectations of students. Another faculty member was content to let me teach portions of his class, about which I will say little but that it was a tax class and my classmates were delighted that I was doing so. To this day, I appreciate what all of these members of the faculty did to help me prepare for law teaching.
Near the end of my third year, some of the faculty made it known to me that they wanted me to return to Villanova to teach. They suggested that I go into practice, which I did, and check back with them in a few years. There already were quiet mentions of starting a Graduate Tax Program, and eventually that is what brought me back to my law school alma mater. But the development of my teaching would continue.
Wednesday, July 03, 2013
It turned out well. The student who was in serious academic difficulty turned it around, and ended up graduating with decent grades. He went on to a very successful career, and today his name sits on the donor plaque outside my office door, a request he made when he contributed to the fundraising campaign for the new building. And his friend? He made law review.
Monday, July 01, 2013
At some point, I thought to myself, “I can do what they’re doing,” and in a typical fit of self-confidence, “and I can do it more efficiently and effectively.” As the year progressed, I engaged in conversations with sevearal of my professors about how they came to be law professors, what they were doing in their teaching, and what they were trying to accomplish in their courses.
As my classmates became aware that I had a good handle on much of what we were doing, more than a few of them asked me to explain things to them. Because Criminal Law was my most challenging course, I invested extra time in trying to assimilate the course. At one point, I developed a huge flowchart to sort out the various types and degrees of homicide. When I showed it to several classmates, they were amused, so when I was convinced I had figured out this part of the course, I scrapped the flowchart. Some weeks later, as the exam loomed, these classmates asked if they could see the flowchart. They were not happy when I told them I had trashed it because I didn’t need it. The lessons I learned were that, first, had I hung onto the flowchart I would have had a teaching opportunity and, second, that by teaching I would be learning. This incident, and the time I spent helping my classmates with other subjects, reinforced the growing thought that teaching was in my future, and that it would be law teaching.
Friday, June 28, 2013
My teaching style evolved, in part because I was refining my approach to reflect my college classroom experiences, and in part because I had a better sense of what was required to do well in the courses being offered at the high school.
Because I was attending college in the same general area as I had grown up, I was able to split my time between the college campus and my parents’ home. It was time-consuming, but by that point I had decided that teaching was something in which I was interested pursuing on a more permanent basis, and it made sense to me to invest the time to build up experience.
Though I did not realize it at the time, I was increasingly using techniques that I would later encounter in law school. I refrained from simply delivering information and encouraging memorization. I focused on helping students find patterns of thinking, sequences of analysis, and arrays of comparative contrast.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
So once a week, for about half of the academic year, I made my way back to my elementary school and taught very basic Latin to a small group of students. Most of these students had finished their classwork for the day and were waiting for the school bus to return to take them home on the second or third trip of the afternoon for the school bus and driver. I conducted the sessions as a regular class, with assignments, quizzes, and a final grade. I didn’t try to cover much, but wanted to give the students enough of a familiarity with Latin so that they did not approach their ninth-grade class with deep anxiety.
Monday, June 24, 2013
Tutoring other students worked out well for me, and, I think, the students. I learned that teaching on a consistent one-on-one basis is different from standing in front of a group of students in a classroom. I learned that a one-size-fits-all lesson plan would be a waste of my time and the student’s time. I also, for the first time in my life, earned money from teaching. It helped finance my subsquent education.
I remember a few of the names of the students I tutored. There are others whose names escape me but I remember where some of them lived. Most of them were one, two, or three years behind me. I wonder if they remember digging through Latin texts while I looked over their shoulder. I wonder if learning Latin helped them as much as it has helped me. I hope so.
Friday, June 21, 2013
Just as I’m confident that the nuns talked among themselves about their students, I’m also very confident that they shared their tougher challenges with the pastor. One day, in fifth grade, I was summoned to the principal’s office to meet with the Rev. Joseph Kane, a brilliant, well-educated, determined, no-nonsense, good priest. He put me to work. I was to study Latin, I was to catalogue his library (which had remained in boxes for the half-dozen years or so since he had been appointed), and I was to learn to be an altar boy sooner than usually was the case.
It wasn’t long before Fr. Kane decided that he could save himself some time by shifting altar boy education from himself to yours truly. Now I needed to learn to be organized, to adapt instruction to the particular learning speed of each trainee, and to be on top of the various topics that were involved. For the curious, the topics included Latin, liturgy, and logistics. The logistics included learning about vestments, candle-lighting, incense, and Mass preparation. And as I was doing this, my education continued, as I was invited and permitted to study from seminary texts, but that’s a totally different thread that has very little to do with this series about becoming a law professor.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
My fourth-grade teaching experience originates in the challenges I posed to my elementary school teachers. I knew the answers, I was bored, and I wanted to help my classmates. So it was not unusual for me to give the answer to get a classmate off the hook. The teachers were unsure what to do. The teachers who were nuns gathered for lunch and dinner in the convent, and my guess is that at one point my fourth-grade teacher made some sort of comment or request for advice about an annoying, rarely silent, but intelligent youngster. My guess is that one of the eighth-grade teachers, a nun with a reputation of being tough, said, “When you’ve had enough of him, send him to my classroom.” And so she did.
One day, after I had blurted out answers to a series of questions, Sister Mary Josetta sent me off to one of the three eighth-grade classrooms. I remember being greeted by Sister Anna Marita with something along the lines of, “So you think you’re smart? Let’s see what you know.” I was first asked to give what could be described as a lecture on world geography, a topic not in the curriculum for the first four grades. After I did an overview of the continents, the various countries, and their capitals, the teacher invited the students to quiz me about geography. Not fourth-grade geography. Eighth-grade geography.
There’s a twist to the story. My older brother was in that class. He and his friends were delighted with the chance to go after “Eddie Maule’s little brother.” So out came the questions. And I dished back the answers. I was having a grand time. The questions became increasingly technical. I was asked to name the principal products of various countries, to select from a list of several randomly named countries the one with the largest land areas, to provide the names of mountain ranges and lakes, and to describe a variety of other things within the scope of geography.
When I returned to the fourth-grade classroom, I was asked to give a report on what had transpired in the eighth-grade classroom. I did. I mentioned that I had enjoyed the experience. So it was not long before I made another journey to visit the eighth graders. Though I do not remember how many times I did that, I do remember the subject matter changing from geography to history, arithmetic, and a few other things.
Two things stuck with me, aside from my discovery that being in the front of the room was much more fun than sitting at one of the desks. First, from that time forward, my brothers’ friends treated me with a strange sense of awe not often bestowed on younger children. Second, the boys grilled me and the girls pretty much remained silent.
Monday, June 17, 2013
The stories I share are about me. There’s probably more to the answer, lurking somewhere in my genetic ancestry. Descendants of my ancestor Thomas Maule of Salem, Massachusetts, are disproportionately represented in what I call the “expressive” careers, such as preaching, teaching, lawyering, acting, and writing.
Friday, June 14, 2013
Now comes news from the United Kingdom that the cost of damage caused by potholes exceeds the cost of fixing the potholes. One-third of drivers belonging to the Automobile Association reported that their vehicles had been damaged by potholes.
In Los Angeles, according to this report, city council is considering a plan to repair potholes that are causing an average of $750 each year on car repairs for each driver. A proposed increase in real property taxes would cost property owners $35 per $100,000 of assessment. The problem, of course, is that some homeowners don’t own vehicles, but all homeowners rely on someone’s vehicle to take them places or to deliver goods and services to them. So which is better, $750 a year in car repairs or $35 in additional real property taxes per $100,000 of assessed value? My guess is that most people think, “Oh, my car won’t be damaged by potholes.” And in the United States, the chances of getting governments, that is, other taxpayers, to pay for front-end alignments, or worse, are very low.
By failing to increase taxes or road charges to deal with potholes, the U.K. government has left itself open to paying damages that cost far more than those taxes or road charges. Eventually, taxes will need to be raised to fund the payments being made to those whose vehicles are damaged by potholes. It isn’t rocket science to figure out that by successfully blocking tax increases, the anti-tax folks have succeeded in generating increases in government spending, thus requiring increases in taxes or increases in deficits. Those two outcomes are situations that the anti-tax folks claim to dislike, so the ultimate conclusion is that the anti-tax folks are working at cross-purposes with themselves. That comes as no surprise to me. Hopefully it comes as a wake-up call surprise to those seduced by the pied piper claims that people save money when they pay fewer taxes. The choice is easy to understand. Pay a little bit now or pay much more later.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Dr. Travis notes that it’s not a matter of lawyers lacking relationship-building skills, but that because they are “overworked, overburdened and squeezed by time,” they “exhibit communication and intimacy breakdowns peculiar to their education, their professional training and work environment.” She explains that “the same traits that bring lawyers success in the workplace also interfere with their achieving meaningful, intimate relationships in the home.”
There is one point made by Dr. Travis with which I quibble. She notes that “The biggest obstacle is the so-called lawyer personality. . . . And it’s not something that happens only after a lawyer passes the bar. It goes all the way back to law school, where one learns to argue, cross examine, stonewall, delay, outwit, and avoid showing weakness to opposing counsel.” My disagreement is that the factors she lists as part of the so-called lawyer personality – “ambition, narcissism, skepticism, defensiveness, perfectionism and the need to be in control” – are not learned in law school. They are part of the individual who arrives in law school. Law school polishes those traits, it sometimes helps a person understand that they have one or more of those traits, it does little to mitigate the impact of those traits, but it’s not as though law school can take someone who does not have the so-called lawyer personality and replace their character with another personality. Think of how many times when interacting with one’s child or another youngster that an adult mutters, “It wouldn’t surprise me to see this one in law school someday.”
These and the other thoughts shared by Dr. Travis in her article are worth reading. Who should read? Lawyers, of course. And the people who teach lawyers. But perhaps, in light of the survey results discussed in Parents to Children: Be a Lawyer, Marry a Lawyer, the parents who want their children to marry lawyers. It is possible, Dr. Travis explains, for lawyers to learn to be more than lawyers.
Also coming my way was a link to Low-Divorce Jobs. The post links to a spreadsheet that ranks the rate of divorce among 512 professions, occupations, and careers. The post also contains a similar list compiled for the year 1900. Lawyers aren’t even on the 1900 list. But they are on the 2010 list. There are 70 professions, occupations, and careers with higher divorce rates than the lawyer rate. But to return to a concern I mentioned in Parents to Children: Be a Lawyer, Marry a Lawyer, should we translate divorce rate into the inverse of a “happiness rate”? I think not. All sorts of factors influence divorce rates, and unhappiness is but one.
The bottom line is that parents ought not suggest that their children marry someone of a particular occupation, height, ethnic background, or eye color. They ought to be suggesting that their children be concerned about how a person’s honesty, dedication, perseverance, kindness, and how the person treats others, to mention but a few of the things that truly matter.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Another report can be added to the list. It is troubling because of the source, as was the case with the reports discussed in Code-Size Ignorance Knows No Boundaries.
It consists of what CCH calls The Tax Law Pile Up. It’s a graphic that purports to show the number of pages of tax law. Unfortunately, as I have pointed out in previous posts, the 70,000-plus pages include not only tax law but substantial amounts of annotations, commentaries, charts, indices, and similar helpful guides that do not constitute law. CCH surely has the resources to share the number of pages of code and the number of pages of regulations without producing a misleading report on a lumping together of dissimilar items.
A glimmer of hope showed up, however, when Kelly Phillips Erb commented on the CCH release, in Keeping Up With IRS: Tax Updates On Twitter, Facebook And More. Rather than referring to the 70,000-plus pages as “the tax law” or “the Internal Revenue Code,” Kelly wisely referred to it as “CCH Report downloads.” And that is the correct characterization of the 70,000-plus pages. CCH reports. Not the Internal Revenue Code, though the Code is a small part of the 70,000-plus pages. Not “the tax law,” although some tax law is within the 70,000-plus pages. Kelly does refer to the pages as being 11 by 8.5 inches though the CCH reports are printed on pages smaller than that.
At the rate that the erroneous claims about the size of the Internal Revenue Code are growing, it won’t be long before reports about the size of the Code exceed the size of the Code, and eventually exceed the absurd 70,000-plus page claim. Would it not be so much better if the folks who have fueled the misinformation come forward, admit their mistakes, correct the record, and turn their energies into something more productive? They face one of the few times where admitting a mistake does not risk arrest, litigation, imprisonment, job loss, or eviction. To the contrary, the tax world will bestow respect on those who can put aside the ignorance.