December 10, 2006

How I Know My 9AM Tax Prof Will Have No Mercy

by PG

From "In Honor of Walter J. Blum: Walter J. Blum and My Brilliant Career," 55 U. Chi. L. Rev. 725:

Perhaps other social scientists can avoid it, but lawyers must surely be concerned with the question of "What's fair?" or "Who gets what?" In a sense, it is the only question worth discussing seriously. ...

The original Materials never enjoyed wide adoption in the law schools because, for many years, there was little practical reason to interest students in insolvency problems. Indeed, Walter once offered to mail me his annual royalty check if I would send him a postage stamp. But the influence this novel work has had on class materials subsequently published by other academics -- which do enjoy wide and profitable adoption -- and on the teaching of corporate law has been considerable.

Having completed this brief appreciation, I must add that in at least one important undertaking Walter Blum failed utterly. This was his earnest and determined effort -- buttressed by threatening notes from the Dean's office -- to get the writer, then a second-year student, to attend his early morning classes in federal taxation. Actually, I did attend a few times, but the hour and the subject matter -- together with personal considerations which I do not care to discuss -- speedily proved terminal. We had small classes in those days, one's identity was known to the instructor, and, accordingly, Walter sought me out individually with the warning that a student who did not attend class could not possibly earn a respectable grade on the final exam. This seemed to me arrogant, presumptuous and in my case directly contrary to experience. I took his warning as a challenge and a dare. I did, however, put some extra effort into exam preparation and felt confident that I would do very well under a blind (i.e., non-vindictive) grading system.

The grade I received was a low C -- 70 is the number I seem to recall (distinctly) -- and thus was answered for me the elemental question "Who gets what?" though not quite in the way I expected. Years have passed, but I have not forgotten. Indeed, looking back on my own career as an academic -- largely devoted to the study of federal taxation, with a minor in corporate finance -- it occurs to me that what I have really been trying to do -- everything else aside -- is to up that miserable grade.

Talk about influence.

-- Marvin A. Chirelstein

December 10, 2006 07:16 PM | TrackBack
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