Structuring a Tax Workshop Series

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					                  Structuring a Tax Workshop Series
                          TaxProf Blog 2008

Neil Buchanan’s comments: This series of posts describing different law schools' tax
policy workshops has been extremely valuable. A number of similarities across schools
have emerged; yet it is also interesting to see how many seemingly small decisions must
be made in structuring a workshop. Paul Caron has asked me to distill some "best
practices" from what we've read here and from my own experiences presenting papers at
workshops. This is an especially pertinent inquiry for me, because it is quite possible that
we will be starting a tax policy workshop at GW as early as Fall 2009.

   Like many readers of TaxProf, I have been an avid participant in the tax policy
workshop series around the country. I have presented works-in-progress at Loyola-L.A.,
Michigan, NYU (twice), and Toronto; and I have attended workshops at Columbia and
NYU regularly. When I was in my final semester of the JD program at Michigan in
Spring 2002, the tax faculty there (Reuven Avi-Yonah, Jim Hines, and Kyle Logue)
inaugurated Michigan's tax policy workshop. Being enrolled in that workshop was such a
positive experience for me that it convinced me to focus my future scholarship entirely on
tax policy. It is a very positive development that ever more law schools are creating these
workshops, both for the benefit of tax scholars and for students who might be inspired to
become tax scholars.

   The most important point that I would make about tax policy workshops is that they
are almost impossible to mess up! The basic formula is simple and reliable: scholar with
work in progress + interested students + interested scholars = positive intellectual
experience for everyone. The organizers of each workshop must make many decisions
about how to structure the workshop, but having participated in and observed as many
workshops as I have, I can state with great confidence that the most important aspect of a
workshop is that it simply exist. Being involved in a tax policy workshop might not
change everyone's life the way it -- quite literally -- changed mine, but I wouldn't bet
against it.

   There appear to be four basic variations on the structure of a workshop: (1) Invite a
scholar each week of the semester to present a paper in a 2-hour session, (2) Spend the
first few meetings of a semester introducing students to the tax policy literature, with the
remaining weeks of the semester following Model #1, (3) Invite a scholar every other
week of the semester to present a paper in a 2-hour session, with the intervening weeks
devoted to having students read foundational readings in the area of tax policy in which
the subsequent invited scholar's paper is situated, or (4) Meet with students for 2 hours
each week to prepare for the scholar's visit, then meet in a workshop format for an
additional 2 hours each week. Model #4, of course, turns the workshop into a 4-credit
hour class, whereas the other three models are based on 2 credit-hours; so a big part of
that decision would depend on the resources that a law school is willing to commit to a
workshop as well as the number of students who might enroll in such a credit-heavy
course. For what it is worth, I am drawn to Model #3, the every-other-week approach, for
reasons that I'll explain below.
   The underlying issue here is how to deal with the uneasy fit between the fundamental
nature of law school as a place to train practicing lawyers and the increasing desire
among law schools to become, for lack of a better term, more scholarly institutions. The
work-in-progress model copied by most law school workshops, after all, is the graduate
student seminars in Ph.D. programs in the social sciences and the humanities. There,
students enrolled in the seminars have at least a full year of theory classes under their
belts and are enrolled in specialized field courses in the subject matter of the seminar.
The students in a Labor Economics workshop, for example, will have already taken full-
year course sequences in (at least) micro- and macroeconomic theory and econometrics.
They will also be enrolled in a two-semester advanced Labor Economics sequence. By
contrast, JD students enrolled in a tax policy workshop can be reasonably expected to
have taken the core 1L sequence and the basic Federal Income Taxation course. Even
though each piece of legal scholarship is expected (appropriately, in my opinion) to
include much more background than is common in other fields to situate a reader in the
literature, the realities of law school mean that our students will come to a workshop with
a great deal of enthusiasm and talent but with precious little specialized knowledge about
the papers that they will be expected to read and critique. (Given that tax policy
scholarship is so wonderfully broad, the students have even less hope of being well-
versed in any significant range of the underlying debates.) Bringing students into a debate
in this context thus involves a significant commitment on the part of the workshop's
convenor(s) to ongoing remediation (or, perhaps more descriptively, "speed learning").
While each set of students is different, and each convenor will have her own preferences,
it seems to me that it is best to err toward more teaching of the scholarly background
rather than less. This will ultimately benefit the presenters as well as the students, of
course.

   One of the most difficult aspects of moderating the workshop itself, in my opinion,
involves not allowing the session to be dominated by "insider talk" among the established
scholars. There's an old joke, the premise of which is that the inmates in a prison know
the same jokes to the point where each joke has been assigned a number; and telling a
joke has devolved into simply yelling out its number. I often feel that tax policy
workshops can go one step beyond that apocryphal prison yard: not only do the older
inmates know all the jokes by number, but we sometimes know which joke someone is
going to invoke and cut them off before the number is even uttered, saying, "I was
thinking of that one, too." It is absolutely essential, I believe, for our workshops to
involve full sentences being spoken in non-coded form. I am convinced that this does not
risk dumbing the discussion down for the students, because on those occasions when a
brave soul has asked for the coded language to be translated, it has almost invariably
turned out that many of the professors in the room were on the wrong track. In fact, it is
not uncommon for the two code-speakers to have misunderstood each other.

   The variations among law schools in how to induce student participation (number and
length of papers, requirements to ask questions during the session, etc.) all appear to me
to be reasonable variations on a theme. None seems obviously superior, and each requires
active efforts by the convenor(s) to make sure that the methods chosen result in the
desired results: quality feedback to the visiting scholar, intellectual engagement for the
students, and a vibrant discussion for everyone in the seminar room. I did, however, note
one very specific innovation that I plan to steal from Northwestern: designating a student
in each session to take notes on the session and forward those notes to the visiting
scholar.

   Finally, I should emphasize that one of the great values of holding tax policy
workshops in law schools is that we embrace an interdisciplinary approach to
scholarship. Bringing together scholars, convenors, and commentators with different
scholarly backgrounds (within law as well as in related fields) is our greatest strength.
We do ourselves and our students a great favor by being mindful not to allow our
discussions to be dominated by the methodologies or assumptions of any single field of
study. It is very heartening to see the interdisciplinary approach to tax policy scholarship
flowering across the country. I hope that the trend of encouraging this through tax policy
workshops at more and more law schools continues.

Structuring a Tax Workshop Series:

The Boston College Law School Tax Policy Workshop
Series involves guest speakers presenting their papers
to faculty from BC and other Boston area schools, BC
alumni who are tax practitioners or government
policymakers, and students who have a strong interest
in tax.

    Papers for each workshop are emailed to
participants at least one week in advance. We limit the
number of attendees to 20 and seat everyone around one
large table in order to maintain an informal and
relaxed atmosphere. After lunch is served, the
presenter speaks for about one half hour followed by
discussion and questions for another hour.

    This was our first year running the workshop. We
had had a great time, learned a lot, and enjoyed the
company of wonderful guest speakers. Even our non-tax
faculty have commented how much they have enjoyed the
workshops!


We've just started a tax policy colloquium at Columbia,
so our experience is limited to one year. Both students
and faculty participate. To give students some basic
understanding of what's about to come, we spend the
first two classes lecturing on key tax policy concepts.
We also assign a fair bit of "Taxing Ourselves" by
Slemrod & Bakija (now in 4th edition). After that, it's
a different presenter every week, with students writing
short response papers and getting a final grade based
on these papers and on their participation in the
discussion. It took a considerable effort to convince
students to ask questions, but we managed to succeed
after two or three sessions. We kept separate queues
for students and professors, and alternated between the
two queues. This way students were certain to ask their
questions, but could also listen how the discussion
unfolded among academics. We thought about arranging
papers thematically, but it was just too hard given the
presenters' timing preferences. We also didn't give
systematic feedback to the students, but responded to
informal inquiries about the quality of their response
papers and in-class questions. I would say that our
format is really a faculty workshop with student
participation. As long as students understand what they
are signing up for (we made sure they did), they end up
pretty satisfied with the experience.


Established in 2006, the University of Connecticut Tax
Lecture Series is not a formal course. Instead,
throughout the year, we have invited three to four tax
faculty members from other schools, aiming for two
lectures in the fall and two in the spring. Lectures
are open to the whole law school community, and student
participation has been fairly active, in part because
the tax faculty strongly encourages our students to
attend, and the paper is available at least a week in
advance of the lecture. I also ask the students in my
classes who will attend the lectures to write out
questions in advance of the lecture, which I think has
contributed to the high quality of the discussion.
Additionally, when a lecture touches on other areas of
law, I usually contact the relevant faculty member. So,
for example, when Michael Tumpel of Johannes Kepler
University in Linz talked about indirect taxation in
the European Union, I contacted my colleague
Willajeanne McLean, who teaches EU law. She asked her
students to attend the lecture, which produced an
informed audience. Since the lecture series is not a
formal course, the students do not have the benefit of
the kind of advanced discussion that takes place at NYU
or Indiana.



Paul asked me to kick off a discussion about tax
workshop series in which students participate; Indiana-
Bloomington recently considered and adopted a proposal
for a Tax Policy Colloquium, which we will launch next
spring. Like colloquia at other schools, it will be
structured as a class for students in which faculty
will also participate. I proposed the colloquium partly
because Indiana-Bloomington recently adopted a
strategic plan that highlights the importance of
scholarship and has among its goals (1) the inclusion
of students in our intellectual community by bringing
faculty scholarship into the classroom, and (2) the
development of forums for intensive intellectual
exchange within the faculty. My colleague Ajay Mehrotra
plans to run the colloquium in alternate years. It will
be open to our full faculty, and we will also invite
our adjunct tax faculty, tax faculty from the Kelley
School of Business, and faculty in other schools on
campus who are interested in tax policy issues.

    Indiana does not have a tax LL.M. program, so the
colloquium will be structured with that in mind.
Students will be required to write a short reaction
paper in response to each paper that is presented in
the colloquium, and, as is customary, those reaction
papers will be shared with the presenters. Income Tax
will be a prerequisite, and we are planning to
experiment with an invitation/permission-of-the-
instructor format, in order to recruit students with
the interest and commitment necessary to make the
colloquium a success. We also concluded that it would
be best to have speakers only in alternate weeks so
that we can first discuss the speaker’s paper as a
class, to help prepare the students for the discussion
with the speaker.
    Perhaps the trickiest issue about a course like
this is to balance pedagogical needs with the needs of
presenters. With respect to the pedagogical component,
I plan to encourage students to ask their questions
first and faculty to hold their questions until
students have had a chance to participate. In addition,
I intend to try, as much as possible, to select papers
that will be accessible to the students. For example,
many individual federal income tax topics would be a
natural fit, particularly for early in the semester.
Ajay and I have also discussed assigning background
reading to familiarize the students with the relevant
literature. With respect to the presenters, for their
experience to be a really good one, I think faculty
participation is essential. Before proposing the
colloquium, I ascertained that Ajay; Bill Popkin; and
our Assistant Dean for Research, Archana Sridhar, who
is a tax specialist, would all be interested in
participating on a regular basis, and at least a few
other faculty would be interested in attending
periodically. To involve as many interested faculty as
possible, we will try to select some papers that fit
within their areas of interest, such as business tax
papers that will interest Kelley School faculty, so
long as the topics will be reasonably accessible to the
students.

    I have no doubt that this will be a learning
process, but it is one that my colleagues and the
students I have talked to are excited about. I look
forward to hearing from others and learning from their
experiences.



Loyola-L.A.: We all suggest Colloquium speakers,
participate in the weekly Colloquium discussions, host
the visiting speakers, and organize a faculty dinner
for each speaker. Other Loyola faculty (tax and nontax,
full-time and adjunct) and professors from other
Southern California schools also attend the Colloquium.
The Colloquium is open to Tax LLM students and JD
students who have completed Income Tax I, but
enrollment is limited. Interested students must submit
an application (cover letter, resume, and transcript)
to Katie and Ted. (Last fall, we selected a dozen
students for the Colloquium.)

    We invite a diverse group of tax scholars to
present Colloquium papers. Also, we try to select an
interesting cross-section of paper topics. (Some of the
papers are quite complex, but we believe the students
are capable and will learn from the challenge.) We also
arrange for a formal Commentator for each presentation.
Our Commentators typically come from Southern
California (law schools or RAND), but we sometimes
invite Commentators from outside Southern California.

    At the start of the term, Katie and Ted give the
students a 100-page Tax Policy primer (with article
excerpts and material we drafted) to introduce terms
and concepts. We also provide an overview of this
introductory material in the first two Colloquium class
meetings. In addition, we give the students a list of
questions to consider as they read the Colloquium
papers: (1) what problem is the author addressing? (2)
what is the thesis of the paper? (3) which normative
approaches or tools is the author using (implicitly or
explicitly) to address the problem? (4) how does the
author conceptualize the role of the IRC? (5) is the
author’s proposal an ideal proposal or a real proposal?
and (6) is the proposal politically viable?

    After two weeks of course introduction, Colloquium
speakers present papers in the weekly class meetings.
(Our approach is to have a paper presentation each
week, not every other week; we do not discuss the
papers with our students before the presentations.) The
students read all of the draft papers and submit three
written questions to Katie and Ted before each
presentation. The format for each Colloquium
presentation is like a faculty workshop, but with a
longer Q & A period; the Colloquium speaker presents
the paper for about a half hour; the Commentator
responds for 10-15 minutes; the discussion takes up the
rest of the two-hour class session. The Colloquium
students ask questions, comment on the papers, and
participate fully in the discussions. Several of the
fall 2007 Colloquium speakers remarked that the student
comments were quite thoughtful and interesting.

    The Colloquium students also write four reaction
papers (of 8-12 pages each) over the term. Two of the
reaction papers are pre-presentation papers and two are
post-presentation papers. We assign the reaction papers
based on the students’ preferences. (In our first class
meeting, we distribute the list of Colloquium
presentation topics and ask the students to rank the
topics according to their preferences.) We try to
allocate the reaction paper assignments evenly across
the various papers being presented.

    Grades are based on: (1) the four reaction papers,
(2) the written questions submitted weekly, and (3)
class participation. There is no final exam.


Michigan: Our Tax Policy Workshop is loosely modeled
on NYU's, except that the authors get to present their
own papers. It is attended by students and faculty from
law, economics and business. The speaker presents for
about half an hour and then we have an open discussion.
Two recent innovations have been to enforce a rule that
students get to speak first (otherwise faculty tend to
dominate the discussion), and to have a preparatory
session with students the week before the speaker
presentation (so that we only have six or seven
presenters each year other than thirteen). Over the
years since 2002, we have been able to hear many of the
top names in the field, including both lawyers and
economists. We try not to have too many repeat players,
so as to open the opportunity to as wide a field as
possible. I think we all feel the series has been a
successful contribution to the intellectual life of the
law school and to our students, including both the JDs
and the tax LLM students (for whom it is a required
course).
NYU (Convenor) NYU had the first tax policy colloquium,
for which I must thank John Sexton, our dean at the
time when I was considering moving from Chicago to NYU.
John put me in touch with David Bradford and suggested
that we introduce a colloquium along the lines of the
Dworkin-Nagel law and philosophy colloquium at NYU.
Ours remains fairly unique among tax colloquia that I
have attended, in that we don’t have the author present
the paper but plunge right into directed discussion in
the public afternoon session (which comes after a two-
hour morning session with the students followed by
lunch with the speaker).

    Done right in circumstances where it’s feasible, I
believe this is the best approach, but there are a
number of preconditions for it to be feasible. The
conveners (there really have to be at least 2 for it to
work well) have to be ready, willing, and able to take
on all topics. They have to have enough time (which
depends in part on the teaching credits they get) to be
able to spend a great deal of time thinking about the
issues. They have to spend enough time with the author
in advance of the session, in a collegial spirit that
avoids being either too deferential or too
confrontational, to make the public discussion a shared
enterprise based on having cleared away all initial
misunderstandings. And they have to have a sufficiently
large and lively audience, with a culture of
participation, so that the audience doesn’t sit there
thinking: “Why do we need to listen to these guys again
instead of hearing the author, who is here just for the
day?” When I am the discussion leader (I take turns
with my partner), then even if I have lots of things to
say I try to keep in mind the maxim “Jason Kidd, not
Stephon Marbury.” In other words, try to facilitate
discussion not dominate it, and get things to the
audience fairly swiftly but having suggested guidelines
that will shape what comes next.

    Done right, you crisply tee up a few key issues for
in-depth discussion, focusing on one issue at a time,
using the paper as a starting point, and the audience
gets a richer experience than they would from listening
to a summary that merely repeats what the paper already
said. Done wrong, you can bet that the audience will
vote against you over time with its feet.

    Those are the basics of the afternoon session as we
do it at NYU. We prepare discussion notes, typically
with 3 main topics and a few central points about each.
At lunch this can all change due to discussions with
the author, but at 4 pm we do it as revised, keeping
each point short, with the author responding each time
and then the audience chiming in. Sometimes we fail to
move on as swiftly as we should to cover all of the
topics, but that’s a lesser sin than cutting off lively
audience discussion prematurely.

    The central aim of the afternoon session is not to
assess the paper, or even to tell the author what to do
with the paper (though this usually happens). Rather,
it is to advance, through dialogue and collective
effort, all of our thinking about the topics discussed
in the paper. In doing so, we try to combine
accessibility to students with cutting edge content for
the legal and other academics, practitioners, etc., in
the room.

    The aim of having an advanced discussion while also
including and enlightening the students would be
unachievable if the afternoon session was all we had.
In our morning session, however, our aim is to provide
the students with as full a background as possible on
the literature and ideas that underlie the paper.
Indeed, the aim of the AM session is not to do a dry
run of the PM session but rather to equip the students
to understand and follow it.

    We also have every student participate in one AM
class as a discussion leader (usually with one other
student) who prepares an outline just for us that we
review with the preparer(s) in advance but don’t grade.
Rather, the grade is based on critique papers,
assessing and responding to the week’s reading, that
are due at the start of the AM class. Students are
required to write 5 papers of about 6 to 8 pages (the
details of this vary with the year) and can choose
whichever weeks they like. One of the key pedagogical
features of the class is that we write comments back to
the students concerning their critique papers, often 2
or 3 pages long, containing a grade but also offering
not just an assessment of how good a job the critique
paper did but further thoughts on the issues it raised.

    The day’s final event is a dinner, typically with 7
to 9 people including the authors, the conveners, and
usually 1 to 3 students along with academics,
practitioners, etcetera, who have attended the PM
session. In addition to being enjoyable (given that we
are in lower Manhattan, our motto is “14 weeks, 14
different places”), we also aim both to further pursue
the PM session and to advance our aims of creating a
tax policy discussion community where people inside and
outside NYU, including students, make lasting
connections with others.

    One final point about our design is that it aims to
be inter-disciplinary. I always co-teach it with an
economist, and we exhibit some inclination to have the
economists comment on more law-based papers while I
comment on more economics-based papers. While we mainly
invite law professors (and an occasional legal
practitioner) and always try to keep in mind
readability for the students and broader legal
audience, we always have several papers by economists,
and also invite political scientists and philosophers
when they have suitable papers. Among invited law
professors, we aim for a mix that includes junior
people. We also interpret “tax policy” broadly to
include, for example, budgetary issues, entitlements,
transfers, and even topics such as regulatory mandates
if they appear sufficiently “tax-like” for our
discussion purposes.


NYU (Student) Part I: When I attended NYU's Graduate
Tax Program, I took the Tax Policy Colloquium (then
taught by David Shaviro and the late David Bradford).
Sometimes I found the papers to be accessible and
interesting; other times I felt that I didn't have a
sufficient knowledge of, or experience with, tax to
comment on them critically. There were some papers that
I understood the substance of but could not appreciate
why they were important.

    Profs. Shaviro and Bradford did an excellent job at
getting the class up to speed on the substance of the
papers, but sometimes the "why this is important or
merits examination" was lost just in an effort to get
the class up to speed on the subject of the paper (or
perhaps because without any experience in tax and
without knowledge of current developments in tax I
could not appreciate why the paper was written). As
Leandra intends this workshop to be for J.D. students,
I think she may have a very tough road ahead of her in
getting scholarly works that will be manageable for a
J.D. with only basic tax and perhaps an additional tax
course or two.

    Additionally, I remember the afternoon discussions
of the papers -- which also were attended by NYU tax
faculty, tax faculty of other New York area law
schools, and sometimes local tax professionals (who
sometimes had devoted a lifetime to the subject of the
paper). Virtually every afternoon discussion contained
at least one question and answer that went over not
only my head, but those of the other students in the
class. I think keeping discourse about the papers to a
J.D. level will be more difficult than finding papers
that the students will be able to digest.

    Also, I remember the fear of asking a question that
was "stupid" in front of professors and professionals.
I recall only asking one question during the
"presentation" portion of the colloquium, and I
remember it being on a topic that I researched and
wrote and independent study paper on as a J.D. student
(so I felt comfortable with the material and that I
would not embarrass myself). Having students ask
questions first (before faculty and other
professionals) may be asking too much of J.D. students.
Perhaps questions could be vetted in advance with the
students proposing the questions during the classroom
component? Basic questions could be answered in the
classroom setting and questions that merit discussion
could be held off until the presentation of the paper
(e.g., "Why don't you save that question and ask it to
[the presenter].")

    I wish Leandra luck on this endeavor. If I may
brave another suggestion: Profs. Shaviro and Bradford
required my class to write a short paper (I think it
was 1-5 pages) in response to each paper that was
presented in the colloquium, but gave us the option to
take a "pass" on one paper. I suggest she adopt the
same "one pass rule" to allow students the opportunity
to avoid having to write on every paper submitted (even
if it is simply to allow students to maintain their
dignity by not forcing them to write something about
which they have nothing to say).

    Part II: It is interesting to read some of the
responses you have posted. It has made me reflect upon
my earlier email regarding my experience at NYU.

    Before attending NYU's Graduate Tax Program, I had
taken a significant number of tax classes, including
Tax Policy course taught by Prof. Linda Sugin. I came
to the Colloquium with 16 J.D. tax credits and 1
semester at NYU's LL.M. program. As I stated
previously, even so I found many of the papers
presented challenging and even after discussing them in
class I had little to add to the discussion that
followed.

    I am confused, however, by professors finding the
pedagogical need for students to participate in the
"presentation" portion of the colloquium. I learned so
much by listening to others question, reflect, and
argue about the paper I had read. As I said, there was
usually a question or 2 that was beyond me (and perhaps
the rest of the class too), but this was over the
course of a 2 hour presentation, discussion, critique,
and defense of the paper. Many insightful questions and
answers were presented and discussed, and I got much
more out of this than if the presenter had had to
answer some basic questions asked by the students.
Often the discussion developed in ways I could not have
anticipated and I would not have have benefited from
this had discussion been retarded by devoting a
substantial portion of the discussion to answering
student's questions.

    I believe students can learn as much or more by
listening to others discuss a subject as they can by
participating in the discussion. I believe that if a
student has a question worth asking in a colloquium
that it will get asked. That was my experience without
having a "student's first" rule in place. I think
pedagogically a "student's first" rule might put undue
pressure on the students to ask questions
("volunteering" only in the Army sense of the word),
could reflect poorly on the professor (e.g., "THOSE
were the questions the students had?" or "the students
didn't have ANY questions after preparing for 2
weeks?"), and could be a time black hole. The presenter
and the audience would better served by a discussion
developing naturally, rather than by "forced"
questioning by the students, of the paper presented.
Hopefully, the students will listen (sans laptop) to
the discussion, learn, and if they have a question ask
it.


Northwestern: We have generally had seven authors in a
semester, with a class discussion of the next paper in
the alternate weeks. The author sessions are in the
late afternoon and are open not only to our law school
and university faculty, but to the other tax faculty
and interested others in the Chicago area.

    So far, we have opted for a broad range of authors
with a broad range of topics and methods, rather than
trying to have any particular focus. The emphasis of
the colloquium, as well as the other invited speakers
programs maintained by the Graduate Tax Program, has
been on exposing the students to the full variety of
scholarly and professional pursuits that can emerge
from and feed into tax expertise they are developing.

    This year (my first running the tax colloquium), I
had our students not only write response papers, but
also had them engage with the papers in two other ways.
First, they each were required to role-play, and
present the paper as if they were the author during the
first 30-45 minutes of the class the week before the
author present. When the timing of the availability of
the paper and the mock presentation allowed it, the
response papers were prepared in time that the student
presenter had the benefit of them. (The presenter has
also sometimes been responsible for writing a draft
summary of the comments of their fellow students, to be
shared with the presenter before the talk; scheduling
constraints has sometimes made this difficult.) Second,
one of them was required to take notes during the
author’s presentation. (Their instructions were to note
in particular those points which did not seem to be in
the paper or were emphasized differently in the paper,
and to record the exchange during the discussion part
of the presentation so that the author would not have
to worry about not being able to reconstruct the
discussion.) Third, they are required to ask a question
during each presentation.

    These tasks helped ensure that the students engaged
with the papers to the fullest extent possible. Knowing
that the mock presenter and their fellow students, as
well as the actual author, were likely to see the
response papers increased the care with which they were
written. (It remains a challenge to convince the
students that you would really prefer to have a
response paper that develops one sustained argument
instead of a series of essentially unrelated reactions;
part of the point of the exercise, it seems to me,
should be to help them understand the difference.) The
students appreciate the “skills training” that these
tasks introduced to the course, and the tasks do give
them more reason to dig deeper into topics that might
not otherwise seem interesting.

    Many of the students in the class are in the second
semester of our LLM program, which presents something
of a challenge for keeping the JDs from being
intimidated by the course. (We have a fairly
traditional tax policy seminar, also open to both JDs
and LLMs offered in the fall, which helps
considerably.) For some of the papers, I made available
some background readings in the relevant tax policy
area, but only the first set of such readings were
required. For some of the papers, I find myself
lecturing during the class discussion a bit about the
background literature — I think that this may have been
motivated as much by my sense that they should be fully
versed in certain aspects of the tax policy canon as it
was by the difficulty of the particular papers.

    Our enrollments have been small enough to make this
manageable. Some of it would have to be scaled back if
enrollments were substantially greater—for instance, by
not expecting a question from each student at each
author’s presentation.

    We have no set expectation for author’s schedule on
the day of the presentation, except that the tax
faculty (and such others as may be appropriately
included) all join the author for dinner.

    Northwestern University School of Law has number of
colloquia besides the one run by the Graduate Tax
Program, so the basic template is fairly well
established. We can and do deviate a bit, but the
expectations of the wider law school community have
generally taken into account in our design.


At Penn, we have been running our tax policy workshop
since 2002. Each year, we invite roughly half as many
academic speakers as there are class sessions. That
generally means we have only five or six paper
presentations. The week before each speaker's
presentation one of us presents a lecture on the topic
area of the speaker's paper. Before attending that
preparatory lecture the students have read a set of
background materials. The readings are intended to
situate the speaker’s paper within the existing
literature or introduce the students to some of the
tools used by the speaker. We find that providing both
background readings and a preparatory lecture for each
speaker greatly raises the level of student interest
and the quality of student questions and comments at
the speaker's presentation.

    The day of the presentation, we take the speaker to
lunch or coffee before the talk. At that point, we ask
our own questions, provide our own comments and
generally engage the presenter in a lengthy discussion
of the paper. At the presentation itself, we rarely
interject ourselves, but rather we try to leave the
hour and half to student comments and to the comments
of other faculty who might be in attendance.

    After the presentation, we take the speaker out to
dinner and continue our discussion from lunch, adding
interesting topics that arose during the presentation.

    Students are required to write short reaction
papers on four of the five speakers. Later in the
semester we give them the opportunity to rewrite one of
the papers.

    Each year we have run the workshop, we have added
one speaker from the government. Usually, the
government speaker is a current senior tax official
with substantial policy experience. The government
speaker is usually off of the regular calendar to
accommodate the speaker’s schedule and late in the
semester. Although we give the government speaker the
option to present a paper or assign readings, that
option is rarely taken. Accordingly, we do not conduct
a preparatory lecture for the government speaker.


The James Hausman Tax Law and Policy Workshop began at
the Faculty of Law of the University of Toronto in the
fall of 2004. The primary motivation behind the
workshop is to increase the profile and circulation of
innovative and emerging tax research at the law school
and, to the extent possible through this type of forum,
the broader tax community. A number of secondary
motivations surrounding the workshop include: (a)
promoting the pedagogical value of exposing all
interested students to the latest tax research; (b)
generating useful feedback for our invited guests in
the form of written student comments; and (c)
solidifying the desirability of the law school for JD
and graduate students who are interested in studying
tax law and policy. The primary motivation of the
workshop — to increase and profile and circulation of
innovative and emerging tax research at the law school
— in my view has been and remains dominant as we
approach its fifth year.

    While the workshop is open to all members of the
law school community (and beyond), it is offered for
credit to a limited number of upper year JD and
graduate students (maximum enrollment is 10), all of
whom must have taken at least the introductory income
tax course, and are encouraged to take additional tax
courses as well. The workshops are usually held every
two to three weeks throughout the year. Students
enrolled in the workshop for credit prepare short
written responses to the papers that are presented, and
produce a longer tax policy paper at the end of the
course on a topic of their own choosing. In keeping
with the primary motivation of the workshop, there has
not been a preoccupation with an overall theme or with
establishing a logical course of development from one
workshop to the next; instead, the workshop strives
simply to attract those who are doing important and
influential work in tax law and policy to Toronto. We
are extraordinarily grateful to the friends and family
of James Hausman who continue to honour his life and
work by providing financial support to the workshop.
Without them, the workshop would not be possible.


We started the UCLA Colloquium on Tax Policy and Public
Finance in January 2004. From the outset, one of our
main objectives was to bring in speakers from a wide
range of fields in the hopes of contributing to a
dialogue on tax policy that transcends the usual
disciplinary boundaries of academia.

    Toward that end, we have hosted 56 speakers from
several areas of study, including law, government,
economics, political science, history and sociology. We
also wanted to take advantage of the law school's
proximity to other schools and departments here on the
UCLA campus. While the workshop is organized each
Spring by two of us here in the law school (alternately
including Eric Zolt, Kirk Stark, Steve Bank and --
before he left for better weather -- Victor Fleischer),
we've been fortunate to have other UCLA faculty
regularly involved as well. Most notably, we've
benefited greatly from the regular attendance of Al
Harberger from our economics department. Al has
attended nearly every session since January 2004 and on
more than one occasion has graced our whiteboard with
his famous triangles.

    Our format has varied from year to year. Our
typical approach has been to give the author 20-30
minutes to present the paper, followed by 10-15 minutes
of remarks from a designated commentator. The
commentator is often one of us, but we've also been
very fortunate to draw in some our colleagues from
other LA schools, including Ted Seto, Ellen Aprill and
Katie Pratt from Loyola and Ed McCaffery and Tom
Griffith from USC. Like the other tax policy workshops
already discussed here on TaxProf, ours is open to
students, who are allowed to enroll in the workshop for
law school credit. We've gone back and forth on the
question of devoting class time to introducing students
to the various topics to be covered in upcoming
workshops. For example, one semester we interspersed
the workshops with two-hour sessions devoted to
discussing assigned readings on a particular subject,
ranging from tax incidence theory to transfer pricing.
At a minimum, we assign students some basic public
finance reading (typically from one or more of the
public finance textbooks) at the beginning of the
semester with an eye toward getting them up to speed on
some of the vocabulary of tax policy analysis. In
addition, we sometimes assign two or three related
articles so that the student have a better sense of the
literature in which the author is writing.

    We've also experimented with co-hosting our
workshop with other workshops here at UCLA. For
example, last year we co-hosted a session with Seana
Shiffrin's Legal Theory Workshop. The presenter was Rob
Reich, a political theorist from Stanford, who
presented his work on a political theory of
philanthropy, which included an extended critique of
tax subsidies for charitable contributions. While it
can be hard to coordinate schedules and find authors
whose work satisfies both workshops' intended subject
areas, our experience suggests that it is well worth
the effort.

    Probably the best thing about running a workshop
like this is the sense that you are participating in a
tangible way with the cross-fertilization of ideas in
the tax policy community. It's hard to imagine a better
way to stay engaged with developments in a field than
by devoting several months each year to face-to-face
exchanges with leading scholars on their forthcoming
work.