In 1988, Michael Friel assumed the director’s position for UF Law Graduate Tax. He took over a program with a reputation as among the best in America that needed someone who could continue to guide it and maintain that status.
“Don’t screw it up,” Friel says he kept telling himself as he took the helm of the program.
As 2014 approaches, Graduate Tax remains UF Law’s signature program, widely recognized by tax scholars and practitioners nationwide as among the best. Indeed, the UF Law tax program is consistently ranked first among public schools and in the top three by U.S. News & World Report.
Since its inception in 1974 through today, UF Law’s tax faculty have authored some of the most widely used textbooks and treatises in the field. They have been leaders in professional organizations and consultants for the Internal Revenue Service and other major entities. Graduates continue to be principal architects of U.S. tax policies and their application, and alumni of the new LL.M. in International Taxation influence tax laws far beyond America’s shores.
The reputation of Grad Tax, as it is known among friends, was evident just a few years after its creation when a 1980 study by the accounting firm Ernst & Whinney placed Florida’s tax program among the top five in the nation.
Grad Tax is set apart from many of its peer programs by the fact that it is a full-time residential program. The majority of its tax professors are full-time as well. This allows for continued interaction among classmates and professors both inside and outside the classroom, providing an immersive experience.
The program gets students ready to respond to tax issues that arise in practice, whether or not those problems have been encountered before.
“What’s been consistent is a method of teaching and a goal. I tend to express this as providing a foundation for tax practice,” Friel said. “The incredible faculty we’ve had starting in 1974 and continuing today are the ones who have provided that foundation, while building the program’s reputation to its current level.”
And when it comes to value, UF Law stands alone. According to data compiled by U.S. News & World Report, tuition is $21,421 per year for in-state full-time students. That’s less than half the yearly tuition paid by students at all but one of the other schools atop the U.S. News rankings.
The LL.M. in Taxation program enrolled about 60 students per year during its first 25 years, Friel said. Since then, the program has expanded class size to about 90 per year, including the addition of the LL.M. in International Law and the nation’s first Doctor of Juridical Science in Taxation.
David A. Brennen (JD 91, LLMT 94) first became aware of the tax program when he was a J.D. student at UF Law. Realizing he had an affinity for code-based courses while taking environmental law, Brennen applied to the LL.M. program during his third year of law school.
Brennen received his LL.M. in tax and went on to become the current dean of the University of Kentucky’s law school. UF continues to set the standard for taxation law, earning respect from its peers in the process.
“I have kept my eye on the program,” Brennen said. “They have been continuously hiring top-notch faculty.”
As illustrated by the high-powered firms that regularly recruit its students, employers are aware of the high quality of graduates produced by the program as well, Friel said. The program’s reputation proves advantageous for graduates in a competitive job market.
Brennen said he expects UF Law’s tax program to continue to excel. “Tax law is one of those aspects of law that is going to be important for years to come.”
The LL.M. in International Taxation Program places Grad Tax at the forefront in the study of international tax. UF Law created its International Tax program in 2005 to meet the increasing demand from international students. The International Tax degree program attracts students from all over the world. Typically the 20 to 25 who enroll each year have practiced in their home countries and many come from Latin America.
Meanwhile, an interconnected world demands international tax expertise.
Tax experts say legal multinational corporations, electronic commerce, and international business and investment transactions — in other words globalization — place a premium on knowledge of international tax rules. Meanwhile, foreign lawyers must become more familiar with both U.S. and international tax rules.
Grad Tax tries to deliver that expertise through its LL.M., but also through the S.J.D. in Taxation, which accepts one or two students per year. The S.J.D. is also aimed mainly at international students, especially those who are interested in teaching tax law. The S.J.D. is typically necessary in foreign countries, where full-time law teaching may require a Ph.D. or the equivalent.
Tax law continues to evolve. UF’s Grad Tax expects to go right on evolving with it.