A unique tax law concentration, a broad offering of clinical and doctrinal courses, and a distinguished faculty are likely some of the reasons why UC Hastings’ tax program rose seven spots in the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings, breaking into the Top 20 for the first time.
This spring’s #16 ranking came as no surprise to Jennifer Fung (’18), who described UC Hastings’ tax program as a “gem.”
Fung hadn’t planned to study tax when she arrived at UC Hastings after a successful career in business. But the support and camaraderie she found among the faculty, students, and alumni of the tax program – and the opportunity to put her business skills to good use – made her fall in love with tax law and inspired her and her husband to sponsor annual scholarships for tax concentration students.
“On a personal level, the program really shines” said Fung, who also serves on the UC Hastings Law Foundation Board of Trustees. “Professors Heather Field and Manoj Viswanathan and all of the tax faculty really care about the students, both academically and personally. They never hesitate to make themselves accessible to the students.”
Co-directors of the school’s Center for Tax Law, Heather Field and Manoj Viswanathan, are both revered mentors and prominent scholars. Both are known for their scholarship about tax policy and best practices in tax teaching, and both were recently published in the leading peer-review tax journal, the Tax Law Review. Also, both have received UC Hastings’ prestigious Rutter Award for Teaching Excellence: Field in 2008 and Viswanathan in 2020.
The two are following in the footsteps of the tax program’s founding faculty members, many of whom remain active. Dan Lathrope, Stephen Schwarz, and Stephen Lind, for example, continue to author several tax textbooks being used in law schools across the country.
One unique feature of the UC Hastings program is the tax concentration that dates to the mid-1990s. Similar to a major, the concentration gives students a strong foundation in core tax courses and allows them to explore subspecialties such as estate planning, international tax, or tax controversy. Field helps each student pick the best courses to meet their professional objectives.
The coursework leads to a year-long capstone seminar, where each 3L tax concentrator writes and presents a significant research paper on a tax-related topic of their choice. The capstone seminar also offers students the opportunity to build lasting connections with faculty, alumni, and each other.
“They are in class together all year long with the people who are going to be their professional peers,” Field said. “It’s an opportunity for them to work cooperatively as they grow from student to practitioner.”
Alumni of the tax concentration serve as mentors to the tax concentrators and are just as committed and invested in the success of the students as the faculty, she said.
In addition, the students who graduate from the program are highly employed. “Employers come to campus specifically to hire students from our class,” she said. “Most of our students graduate with jobs in accounting firms or law firms.”
Sarah Nowland (’14), said the tax concentration helped her get her dream job without an extra year spent pursuing a tax master’s (LL.M.) degree because the program is so highly regarded among tax professionals. Since graduation, she has worked at Ernst & Young in its mergers & acquisitions tax consulting practice, helping private equity companies buy and sell technology companies and creating efficient tax structures for their funds’ investments.
“I learned how to combine my background in economics with case law, statutory and regulatory tax rules,” she said. “The tax professors, including Professor Field, come from diverse backgrounds and tax jobs and help us understand the theory, history, and public policy behind the complex tax rules.”
Nowland has stayed in touch with Field, who has helped connect more UC Hastings tax students with Nowland and EY.
Another feature of UC Hastings’ tax program is its experiential offerings. Students in the Business Tax Practicum work exclusively on transactional tax matters, obtaining a clinical experience that few other law schools offer. Hastings’ newly-formed Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic, led by Visiting Assistant Professor Amy Spivey (’13), helps individual taxpayers resolve disputes with the IRS and conducts regular outreach to inform and educate taxpayers.
“We’re committed,” Field said, “to preparing our students for successful tax careers.”