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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Choosing a Casebook: Taxation

Please use the comments section to share thoughts on choosing a casebook in Taxation (individual or basic).  (See here and here for a discussion of the Course Preparation Project.)

Posted by Matt Bodie on May 10, 2007 at 04:39 PM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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I second the recommendation for the Donaldson book, we used it in my Intro to Income Tax for individuals class. The book is entertaining, and I appreciated that we could "jump around" in the book without getting lost (my professor didn't teach the class in the exact order of the book, but that didn't make things any more confusing). As the previous commenter mentioned, the format of "basic concepts" - "closer look" - "hard stare" is useful, both in class and in preparing for the exam. I could find basic answers to my questions in the introductory chapters, but could look to the next two sections for more detailed explanations (where I sought them).

Posted by: Another Law Student | May 15, 2007 1:01:49 PM

"Federal Income Taxation of Individuals" by Samuel A. Donaldson is an amazing text. I'm a student and we used it last semester. It was so easy to read and often entertaining. I never knew tax could be so engrossing. I'm not alone--practically everyone in my class loved this book. The format is very easy to tinker with as well. The first chapters introduce you to the basic concepts. The next sections takes a "closer look" at what you learned, filling in the details. The third section is a "hard stare" and really dives into the complexities of income tax. Our professor focused on a few concepts for the third section, but we got the basic background for everything through the first few chapters.

The book is very well written and chose interesting cases. My favorite part, though, was the "Self Assesment Questions." These questions had answers in the back of the book, and I really enjoyed testing myself. (There are also harder questions, for which the answers are not included). In my opinion, every book should have these types of questions--it is really nice to be able to test yourself and then see if you were right instead of waiting for a lecture for the professor to explain it. (We only did the harder problems in class, for which our book did not have answers.)

Posted by: Law Student | May 14, 2007 6:00:53 PM

David -- I'd also recommend reproducing portions of Richmond's "Federal Tax Research." It sounds silly now, but I would get confused when seeing a statute refer to "this subparagraph" or "this subsection." The Richmond book provides the nuts and bolts of dissecting a statute. It also has excerpts of various sources of law, which should be quite useful. Again, it sounds silly now, but my first response to seeing a revenue ruling was "what the hell...?"

The technical complexity of the code puts the fear of god into many students, but the lack of familiarity with the various documents that comprise the tax law also contribute to that fear.

I'm also not a fan of the KBS book. It reproduces many cases, which I suppose is all well and good, but by 2L year law students have a tendency to just read the cases in a casebook and "skip the other stuff" (I know that's what I did). Using a casebook is a horrid way to teach tax law, but I can't think of any better option that doesn't involve a ton of work.

Posted by: andy | May 14, 2007 2:20:11 PM

Thanks for the advice Andy,

I just asked my assistant to order me an instructor copy of the Mikva and Lane book and I will consider using it when I teach basic tax next year. I've been looking for a way to add a session or two on statutory interpretation to my basic tax class. Does anyone else have suggestions along these lines?

Although it departs from the topic of selecting casebooks, I'll note that I at least try to discentivize students from preparing only for "narrow exam questions." A third of the exam in my basic tax class consists of a statutory counterfactual question. For that part of the exam, I either make up a new code section or alter an existing code section and then ask the students a number of problems based on the new code section -- a mixture of issue spotter problems, planning problems, and policy problems. I tell them that I will be doing this from day one, with the hope of encouraging them to focus on broader tax principles and tax statutory intepretation, in addition to just learning the code sections discussed in class.

Posted by: David Gamage | May 14, 2007 1:25:41 PM

Were I ever to become a tax professor, I would make Mikva & Lane, "An Introduction to Statutory Interpretation and the Legislative Process," required reading in the first week of class (it's only about 100 pages or so, I think).

Too much of intro tax courses is geared towards learning "how the rules work," and not too little is geared towards how the rules come to be and how they are interpreted. As a tax student, I was overwhelmed by the Code, doubly overwhelmed when ask to interpret these things called "regulations," and completely confused when I was assigned "revenue rulings" and "committee reports." I do not think more than 20 minutes (if that much) was spent in my tax 1 class was spent discussing the authoritative weight of these materials, and it was quite hard to make sense of those materials without really understanding what they were.

Given the infirmities and general uselessness of the 1L curriculum, tax profs would be doing a great service to their students if they taught not just "intro tax," but "intro tax + intro to legislation." A key part of tax practice is dealing with ambiguous, conflicting, overlapping, contradictory statutes/regs/rulings, and if a student knows only how to "apply the technical rule," s/he will have a very difficult time knowing what to do when there is no rule on point.

I suppose this is ultimately a consequence of rewarding students who prepare for narrow exam questions, rather than learn the law , but I digress...

Posted by: andy | May 13, 2007 9:26:32 PM

I'm using a well-known casebook but will not mention it by name, largely because I have a complaint (to go along with the complaints of some of my students). In choosing a casebook, I try to read the opening chapter from the perspective of a student who knows nothing about the subject matter. From that viewpoint, the text I currently use fails miserably. The first chapter is conceptual beef stew. In fact, I was left thinking, "What the HELL are they trying to accomplish?" Progressivity, history, tax expenditure budget, time value of money, dividends, capital gains, marginal rates, and other subjects are all just hobbled together as if someone decided to type up a tax-focused rambling session, "Yeah! Throw that in too! It'll make sense a few weeks from now." The only reason I use the text is because it contains entertaining cases; but the cost/benefit analysis is giving me pause. I'm afraid I'll have to modify the syllabus so that students read the cases and nothing more. I teach many courses, but it seems as though textbook authors simply CANNOT pull together a coherent, smooth Chapter 1. Stop trying to accomplish some other goal and focus on introducing an eager NEW learner to the subject. Keep it short. Introduce the subject, explain why the subject is important, foreshadow key issues, and proceed to a more detailed roadmap of the textbook. With Chapter 2, jump right in. And if you cannot produce a solid Chapter 1, rip out what's there and just start with Chapter 2. Good grief!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 11, 2007 5:09:21 PM

I have been using Klein, Bankman, Shaviro. I really like the book and will likely continue using it. If I decide to switch, I'm looking at both Zelenak & Schmalbeck, and at Linvington's book. I actually haven't looked at Livingston's book yet -- I just recently ordered an instructor copy. But his approach sounds intriguing to me.

For context, I've had a teaching fellowship for the last two years and taught the basic tax course last spring. I will be starting a tenure track job in the fall.

If this discussion actually takes off, I'll post more about my thoughts on the books I've looked at.

Posted by: David Gamage | May 11, 2007 3:19:33 PM

Not Burke & Friel. That casebook is about as interesting and informative as an unedited IRC.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 11, 2007 3:40:50 AM

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