Tax Clinic News
Talented MSU Law Tax Students Take Top Prize in ABA Competition
Julie A. Camden (a December 2006 graduate) and Jason Frederick Maus (2L) are the most recent beneficiaries of MSU College of Law’s sterling tax law program – they took first place in the American Bar Association’s national student tax law competition. Julie and Jason competed in Hollywood, Florida at the ABA Tax Section’s mid-year meeting, after notification in December 2006 that they were one of six J.D. teams nationally to be selected to participate in the competition’s oral rounds. Their selection took place after they submitted a ten-page “senior partner” memorandum and a four-page “client” letter addressed to a complex tax problem involving a client’s proposal about acquisition of a target company and its one of its key employees, as well as some employment issues.
At the mid-year meeting, Jason and Julie made a presentation to a group of seasoned tax professionals – including United States Tax Court Chief Judge Colvin – who pretended to be “senior partners,” and on the basis of their oral defense were one of three teams nationally to be selected to participate in the “client” rounds on the afternoon of January 19, 2007. ( Northern Illinois School of Law and the University of Virginia also advanced to the final session.) Their performance in the client presentation – headed by some of the nation’s leading tax practitioners posing as clients, among them IRS Chief Counsel Donald Korb – determined their status as the “best of the best.” Learning that they had claimed first place in the competition was not easy, however – at the ABA awards reception, at which all semi-finalists and finalists were recognized for their work in the competition, Jason and Julie were, at first, informed that they had taken third place in the competition. However, the announcer quickly changed his tune – there had been a mistake in the order in which the winners were announced, and the pair, in fact, had taken first, not third, place!
Julie and Jason came by their success in this competition through much diligence – not only have both been dedicated students at Michigan State University College of Law’s Tax Clinic, they devoted more than two hundred hours to their written and oral preparations for the competition. Success has its definite perks – not only have they both received monetary awards for taking first place, they also have received “on the spot” multiple job offers from Tax Section members who saw or heard about their stellar performances. Clinical Professor Michele Halloran, Director of Clinical Programs and Director of the Tax Clinic at Michigan State University College of Law, coached Julie and Jason in the competition. This is the second time in the six-year history of the Tax Challenge that one of her teams took the top prize.
Jason, who is from North Dakota, and Julie, who lives in Indianapolis, offer their personal perspectives on the challenges and benefits of participating in the ABA’s Law Student Tax Challenge (“LSTC”):
Jason: I first heard about the LSTC through Professor Halloran at the MSU College of Law Tax Clinic. I knew it was going to be a challenge. I was lucky to have a hard-working partner in Julie Camden. Julie and I have talents and personalities that created a perfect balance for our team.
Julie and I each spent hundreds of hours preparing to champion the Tax Challenge. We developed a schedule that allowed us to communicate frequently, even though our schedules varied greatly. Julie and I were privileged to have an energetic coach in Professor Halloran. Furthermore, most of the resources we needed were available to us at the MSU College of Law Tax Clinic. Consequently, the Tax Clinic became our “situation room,” where we spent many hours – some very late into the night – developing our written answer to the tax problem.
Julie and I found out that our written submission had made it to the semi-final rounds in mid-December. We immediately began to develop our oral presentation. Many tax practitioners (and others) volunteered to hear our presentations and critique us. Again, Professor Halloran led us by organizing professionals and guiding us through the presentations. It was great to have that kind of guidance; it is no wonder that Professor Halloran led another team to Tax Challenge victory just three years ago.
In the end, the work was definitely worth it. It is an honor to be involved with Michigan State University College of Law’s tax program. After the finals, many practitioners at the ABA’s Tax Section mid-year meeting commented that MSU Law has an outstanding tax law program.
Julie:When Professor Halloran emailed me about the LSTC, I immediately knew that Jason and I should enter. Jason’s very likeable personality contrasts well with my strong approach. We made a great team! I called Pa, my grandfather (who lives in southern Florida), told him I had entered the competition, and informed him that if I made it to the final two rounds, I would visit him in Florida on his birthday. Pa told me “you’ll win and I will see you in Florida.”
Jason’s residence in Michigan and mine in Indiana added a level of complexity to the logistics of the Challenge. We had to meet when, where, and how we could – in strange places, at strange hours, and by any means (email, cellular phones, etc.). Jason even drove to my home (four hours from East Lansing) so that we could assemble our partner memorandum. Needless to say, I was relieved once we mailed our written submissions to the ABA. And, when the ABA notified us that we were “Team 27,” I called Pa. Pa again assured me that we would win the contest because our team number was the birthday of my grandmother who had recently passed away.
Pa continued to send good thoughts our way. A week before Jason and I learned that we were selected for the semi-final rounds in Florida, Pa called to say that he had just driven someone to the Westin Diplomat where, according to him, I would be staying when I won the tax competition. I told Pa not to count his chickens too soon, but he remained convinced that we were going to win.
A new challenge confronted us once we learned that we were one of six teams selected to compete in Florida – Jason was headed for North Dakota for the holidays, I was at home in Indiana, and our coach was in Michigan. And, to make things even more difficult, I was to begin my Bar review course and the intensive work associated with preparing to sit for the Bar exam on February 27 and 28! We divided up the work and began to prepare our respective parts. We met when we could – on New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, and on one entire weekend. Professor Halloran came into the Tax Clinic on New Year’s Day, drove to Fort Wayne on a weekend, and drove to Novi, Michigan on Martin Luther King Day to watch our presentations. Even though our presentations seemed awful to me, Professor Halloran encouraged us.
The day before the competition, I went to my Bar review class and then boarded an airplane for Florida. Our flight stopped in Charlotte, NC – where an ice storm was in progress. I nearly missed my connecting flight to Ft. Lauderdale, and likely would not have made it to the competition had the ice intensified, or had I not run like a gazelle to catch my flight.
Jason and I were unable to practice the night before our oral presentation, although our original plan had been to work on our client presentation. We met the next morning to run through our partner presentation and appeared before the “partner panel” mid-morning. It was our best presentation ever! When I walked out of the room, I knew our team number would be posted for the final rounds, and it was. In the afternoon, we drew straws with the other two advancing teams – we would be the second team to present.
Before entering the room to make our final presentation of the day, I asked one of the competition organizers if Jason and I could have the poster board displaying the advancing and winning teams once we won. His response: “Oh, you’re one of them.” When I again asked if we could have the poster, he stated that he would wait and see. I exited our afternoon presentation with little sense of how we had performed. However, the panel’s critiques indicated a positive result – we learned that we had been the only group who understood and cited IRC § 83(b)!
Just as Pa had predicted, we won the competition! Immediately, people approached us with job opportunities. All of this occurred because of Professor Halloran’s efforts and Michigan State University College of Law’s tax program. Professor Halloran has even gone one step further by offering to help Jason and me with our resumes in the aftermath of the competition. It is an honor to have won this award for her, our school, and Pa.