PROFILE: The Full Story on Taxes

About this time of year, you may not love taxes.

Neither does Paul Caron. But he at least finds them interesting. Interesting enough to make them his life’s work. Interesting enough to put together a new book about them.

And from his interest in tax is springing a new line of law school books published by Foundation Press, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious law school book publisher. Foundation Press has just released Tax Stories, an in-depth examination of 10 leading federal income tax cases designed to give students a new way of studying tax law.

Caron, the Charles Hartsock Professor of Law at the University of Cincinnati, is the general editor for Tax Stories, as well as series editor for Law Stories, a set of books in the same format covering the gamut of legal subjects. Currently, 14 books are in development, with many more to come.

"I came up with the idea from a pedagogical concept," said Caron. "What is true of the law in general is especially true of tax law – Congress is always changing the tax laws, which get more complicated every year. With your students, you are pressured to always cover the hottest new things in tax law. But does that serve them well?"

"We were focusing on the trees rather than the forest. I believe we have to go back and focus on the fundamentals, which equip students to understand the latest permutations in the law."

Tax Stories presents its readers with a more in-depth look at a case than is offered today to law students. Caron calls it "tax archaeology" in his introduction, as each chapter presents a behind-the-scenes look at the parties, the historical and social context of the tax dispute, the immediate impact of the case, and its continuing importance in shaping current tax law and policy.

Caron’s concept rang true with the publisher, and with many colleagues. The 10 chapter authors in Tax Stories are names recognized as the leading tax law professors in the country.

"I am, by far, the most junior member involved in the book," said Caron. Among the contributing authors, in fact, is Russell Osgood, the dean of Cornell Law School when Caron was a student there, and now the president of Grinnell College. "We went after the heavy hitters in the field."

After the contributing authors were decided upon, a list of 30 potential cases for the book was presented. That led to weeks of online discussions about the merits of what cases deserved top 10 landmark status.

The chapter authors then submitted a prioritized list of three cases they would like to research and write – fortuitously, each of the 10 was able to be assigned either their first or second choice.

Osgood, Caron’s old dean, helped by saying he would take whatever case no one else wanted. He ended up with a case on tax accounting. "I remember thinking, ‘Boy, what a dog that chapter is going to be,’" Caron recalled. "As things turned out, (Osgood) wrote his chapter right after the Enron, Tyco and WorldCom scandals. The thesis of his chapter is that you can trace all those scandals to a 1960 case involving an Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Omaha. That case established that tax accounting can be different from financial accounting. It was neat that what we thought going in would be a lousy assignment is now one of the more interesting chapters in the book."

Other topical cases deal with landmark decisions regarding tax shelters, bankruptcy, divorce, and global business competitiveness.

Caron is involved as series editor in helping to recruit other academics to oversee additional books in other fields. Foundation Press will soon release additional texts in the areas of civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, intellectual property, torts and property.

"It’s interesting intellectually as a law professor to have the opportunity to help create a whole genre of work," Caron says. "My past writing has focused on a single book or a single article. What is really rewarding with Law Stories is having a role in something that will have an impact across the entire law school curriculum."

Caron has a track record of leading initiatives that have a wide-ranging impact on the teaching of tax law. He is the editor of three electronic tax law journals as part of the Social Science Research Network; the series editor of a new line of course materials published by the LexisNexis Group for students in graduate tax programs; the owner and moderator of TaxProf, an online discussion forum of over 250 tax professors around the country; and the editor of the leading internet tax research portal on Jurist, the leading legal education web site.

In addition to his tax law work, Caron is also the UC College of Law’s Director of Faculty Projects.

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