Monthly Archives: March 2017

How to Get a Valuable Law School Recommendation

Congratulations on your decision to apply to law school.  Now comes the hard part: getting in. It’s not just stellar grades and all of the exciting things you’ve done that will get you there. It’s what other people think about what you’ve done and how you’ve done it that will help.

What do you need?  Recommendations.  Great ones.  You need people who can offer objective feedback on your intellect, talents, and endeavors.  You need people you trust who can speak to your strengths—and your areas for growth.

How do you find these people?  Let’s take a look at 5 ways to get valuable law school recommendations.

1. Top up the positive people in your corner.

You need to ensure that your law school recommendations are positive.  How do you do this?  When you ask a professor or other recommender to write you a recommendation, ask directly if they feel comfortable writing you a positive recommendation—and give them plenty of time—at least three weeks.

These people should know you well and have a sense of your academic accomplishments.  They should be able to speak positively to your character, work ethic, problem-solving skills, initiative, and academic strengths.

Make it a point to meet with each recommender either in-person or over the phone to offer insight and information into your recommendation (see #2).

2. Give your recommender lots of information.

You should give each recommender a packet of information—not of overwhelming size—that includes your: resume or CV, transcripts, well-written papers (if you’re asking a professor), any work evaluations (if you’re asking an employer), your personal statement, any forms required by the law school, and directions for submission.  Some law schools want the recommendations online and otherwise want them by mail.  Give your recommender whatever he or she needs to submit the recommendation easily.

Bottom line: your recommender should be able to use your packet of information, combined with a brief meeting (see #1), to compose a brilliant, positive recommendation that will get you into the law school of your choice.

3. Get concrete examples of your skills.

Positive, flowery prose won’t get you into law school.  Admissions officers want concrete examples of what you can do—and why that’s an asset to their program.

This is where you have a chance to shine and set yourself apart from the pile of other applicants.

Ask your recommender to discuss tangible things you’ve done—papers you’ve written, projects you’ve lead, and any other specific things you’ve done that demonstrate your suitability to law school.

One tip? In that packet (see #2), highlight two or three strengths you have—and ask your recommender to tell a brief story that shows at least one of them.  A paragraph or two is sufficient.

Admissions officers will enjoy getting to know you—and the specificity of your recommender’s letter will illuminate that for them.

4. Don’t submit too many letters.

Submit only what the law school requests.  The norm is two—the upper end is four.

Make sure the letters are distinct and that they each tell something unique about you.  The recommendations should reflect you as a balanced, unique individual, highly qualified to tackle the demands of law school and the legal profession.

5. Make sure you know the deadlines.

Give your recommender more than enough time (see #1) to meet with you, draft the letter, and send it.  Ensure that you equip your recommender with appropriate deadlines—and all materials, like envelopes, stamps, or log-in information.

Ask to be notified when the letter is sent so that you can follow up with the admissions office to ensure their receipt of the letters.

Ready?  Good.

Bottom line? Submit letters of recommendation with your law school application.  Send handwritten thank you notes.  You’ll be glad you did.

What Students Need to Know about the First Amendment

Freedom of speech has been a hot-button issue in the U.S. lately. Aside from the Trump administration’s challenges to free speech (a situation which prompted Huffington Post contributor Matthew Menendez to declare, “American democracy is at stake”),  debates over everything from trigger warnings to Harvard’s recent decision to revoke the admission of incoming students for posting offensive comments online have brought the issue front and center in the higher education space.

What better time to take a closer look at this vital principle than on the celebration of the country’s independence? Here’s a closer look at the First Amendment, along with why it’s important for students — particularly at this point in American history.

What is the First Amendment?

Freedom of freedom of speech was so cherished by the founding fathers that they dedicated the First Amendment to the new country’s Constitution to guaranteeing its protection: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

According to US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., meanwhile, “If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”

Why the First Amendment Matter to Students?

It’s all too easy to go through college life in a bubble of attending classes, studying, exploring your new environment and, yes, partying. In other words, the real world can seem very far away. However, this is a short-sighted perspective with potentially far-reaching consequences.

Say law professors Howard Gillman and Erwin Chemerinsky in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times on the lack of familiarity among college students with the First Amendment, “Teaching a freshman seminar on freedom of speech on college campuses has made us aware of the urgent need to educate the current generation of students about the importance of the 1st Amendment.”

Understanding freedom of speech isn’t absolute in protecting people’s right to express themselves. According to Gillman and Chemerinsky, incitement of illegal activity, defamation, true threats and harassment are not protected, and “Learning what kinds of expression can be constitutionally punished gives students a realistic sense of how speech can be regulated on public university campuses.”

In this sense, teaching the First Amendment to students can also be a powerful learning tool. The topic is anything but black and white, and studying the First Amendment helps students develop essential critical thinking skills aimed at helping them navigate these and other complex topics.

However, the First Amendment can also serve a very pragmatic purpose for students — both in terms of avoiding life-changing mistakes (See: Harvard rescindments) and in terms of successfully making a difference through activism of their own.

The First Amendment in the 21st Century

One of the biggest challenges to understanding the First Amendment today is that we’re attempting to apply it in a very different society than the one in which it was created.

As Mary Beth Tinker — of the landmark Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines, which ruled that students “do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate” — told The Atlantic, “The digital age, with its wonderful capacity to democratize speech, is so important to students’ rights, but also carries new and interesting threats to students’ rights. If we don’t encourage young people to use their First Amendment rights, our society is deprived of their creativity, energy, and new ideas. This is a huge loss, and also a human rights abuse.”

Meanwhile, battles over free speech are playing out on campuses all over the country every day, with many universities adopting very different stances. The ultimate question, according to The New York Times? “How can campuses best navigate inclusiveness and debate while being mindful of students who feel marginalized, disrespected and overlooked?”

U.S. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.” So while parades, barbecues, and fireworks are great fun, it’s also important to remember that there’s something larger at stake. Why not take a moment today to reflect on the First Amendment, all it was designed to protect, and where you stand on the matter: Are we meeting or missing the mark when it comes to interpreting the First Amendment for the way we live today?

6 Countries to Study the Master in International Taxation

Tax law is complicated to begin with. The complexity increases when one factors in globalization, the growing number of people and businesses subject to cross border taxation, international tax reforms and the rapid spread of digitization.

Enter international taxation studies, offering tax officials the knowledge and preparation they need to operate in our increasingly multinational world.

Once the domain of only a few countries, international taxation programs are growing in diversity. But all destinations are far from equal, and when it comes to choosing an international taxation program will need to consider the merits of both the educational institution and the advantages offered by studying in a specific country.  Here’s a closer look at six countries where you can study international taxation.

1. Switzerland

Switzerland houses several international organizations and has long been recognized as the preferred head quarter location for several multinational corporations. When you hear about education in the international taxation, Switzerland is likely the first country that comes to mind. Switzerland is well-known for its international cooperation with other countries in the area of taxation and is also involved in the development of international taxation standards. Additionally, Switzerland is a founding member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a member of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes, and a member of the Intra-European Organisation of Tax Administrations (IOTA).

The University of Lausanne’s Master of Advanced Studies in International Taxation (MASIT) is the only Swiss program that offers leading education in tax law that is aimed at creating the next generation of skilled tax professionals, decision makers, and thought leaders. The program is offered by the Tax Policy Center, a joint initiative between the Faculty of Business & Economics | HEC Lausanne and the Faculty of Law, Criminal Sciences & Public Administration. The MASIT is ideal for those looking to practice either in Switzerland or abroad in a variety of settings, including law and consulting firms, banks, the corporate world, and government bodies.

An esteemed faculty comprising of leading academics, government officials, members of the OECD/EU, practitioners working in international consulting/law firms and in legal departments of major corporations is one of the MASIT’s differentiating features. Students can also specialize in International Corporate Taxation and Tax Governance, International Estate Planning and Tax Compliance, or Advanced Swiss tax law. Additionally, the opportunity to attend workshops, tutorials, seminars and conferences not only further prepares participants to succeed in global tax environments, but also offers plenty of networking opportunities.

2. The Netherlands

The Netherlands is home to the International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation (IBFD), the world’s foremost authority on cross-border taxation. Its mission statement? “IBFD is a unique center of expertise offering high quality information and education on International Tax. IBFD’s powerful research platform allows tax practitioners around the world to access this valuable content, on which they can rely to do their work faster and more effectively. IBFD is the pre-eminent independent (nonprofit) foundation with the ultimate goal to promote and disseminate the understanding of cross-border taxation at the highest level.”

We can think of no better destination for international students than this epicenter of international taxation expertise in such close proximity to the IBFD. The IBFD has a partnership with the University of Amsterdam, and the Netherlands boast other top programs like Maastricht University’s LLM in International and European Tax Law and Leiden University’s LLM in International Tax Law.

3. The United States

Not only is the United States one of the globe’s major centers of international business, but it’s also home to some of the most prestigious international tax programs. Of course, it’s not surprising that universities like New York University offer highly ranked international taxation programs – New York City is, after all, the world’s financial hub.

However, for international students looking more specifically for an education in US tax law, Hofstra University’s MBA in Taxation may be the perfect fit. Aimed at preparing students for leadership roles in various types of organizations, the program builds on core business competencies while imbuing in students strategic perspectives on federal business and taxation issues.

4. Austria

Austria has a long history in banking and finance, and was a primary capital market in central Europe throughout most of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Today, Austria maintains a strong presence within the European financial sector.  It has expanded its financial institutions into Eastern Europe and places great importance on cooperation and investment in international financial institutions. In July of 2018, Austria will also assume the presidency of the Council of the European Union, and as one of its priorities during its tenure, will work to deter profit sharing and tax evasion.

All of these factors make Austria a prime location for studies in international taxation.  And if you choose the Institute for Austrian and International Tax Law at Vienna University, you’ll have access to both interdisciplinary and non-traditional disciplines within the field of international taxation.

5. Spain

Spain is so focused on international taxation that in 2013 it established a National Office for International Taxation aimed at controlling and coordinating all aspect of international taxation — from transfer pricing to the cross-border coordination of tax audits. Said Ernst & Young of the development, “With the creation of this highly specialized unit, the Spanish government follows the global trend to tackle aggressive tax planning and, in particular, what is perceived as an increase in the level of sophistication in the structuring of cross-border transactions.”

Another benefit to studying international taxation in Spain? The opportunity to learn Spanish.  Spanish now stands as the second-most spoken language in the world, and coupling your international taxation education with Spanish fluency will open doors in developed and emerging markets throughout the world.

If you’re looking for a top-notch education in international taxation against a backdrop of all that glorious Spain has to offer, look no further than the Centro de Estudios Garrigues’ Executive Master in International Taxation. Featuring a cutting-edge curriculum fusing theoretical analysis with hands-on learning opportunities based on actual international taxation cases, students gain both knowledge and the confidence to apply that knowledge in the real world.

6. South Africa

The African continent is, perhaps, one of the most rapidly expanding economic markets in the developing world. Described as “lions on the move” by the McKinsey Global Institute, several African economies present impressive potential for investment and business development and have shown continued growth, despite downturns in some of the world’s more established economies. While Africa may not be the center of the economic world now, forward-thinking students of economics and finance will recognize the advantages offered by studying international taxation in Africa.

As one of the continent’s most dynamic economies, South Africa is an optimal choice for international taxation studies.  South Africa is one of Africa’s largest business hubs and is rapidly expanding into extremely relevant industries, like fintech, with new international start-ups entering the market all the time. It follows that complicated topics pertaining to taxation and investment continue to emerge, and that professionals with the expertise to manage these issues both domestically and internationally will be increasingly in demand.

It also follows that international taxation would be at the forefront of the educational sector, as evidenced by programs like the University of Johannesburg’s MCom in South African and International Taxation.

If you’re looking for a challenging career in international taxation, advanced studies are the best way to position yourself for a quick ascent up the ladder. While this list is not exhaustive, these six countries offer particularly opportune environments in which to gain the skills and experience you need to become a leader in the field of international taxation.

What is the Law Students Should Know to Communicate with a Professor?

Above the Law recently shared the story of one law school professor’s struggle to navigate the relationship between professor and student. Her quandary is a relatively unique one: Like most of her students, she’s a Millennial. For law students attempting to communicate with professors who may not be as directly in tune with the generation-of-the-moment, however, the gap may be even wider. Here’s a closer look at why communication matters in law school, and how students can best position themselves to succeed through enhanced communications.

Communication Counts

Relationship building is an important part of law school. Aside from the fact that getting to know your professors can help make the law school experience less intimidating, there are numerous benefits to connecting with your law professors, including everything from potential research opportunities to letters of reference. Factor in the opportunity to develop a mentor-mentee relationship which can help you throughout your career, and the reasons to reach out grow.

Unfortunately, connecting with professors is sometimes easier said than done.  Ms. JD recently addressed three typical challenges faced by students when attempting to get to know their professors. While some of these may seem harsh, they’re rooted in reality. From hard-to-talk-to professors to the intimidation factor, these problems can stand between students and the professorial contact they crave.

Tip for Talking to Your Professors

Adhering to a few basic guidelines can help you optimize your interactions with law professors without coming off like a “gunner,” AKA an overly ambitious (and frequently annoying) student.

For starters, keep in mind that professors aren’t at your disposal. Just like you’re on campus to learn, they’re there to teach, which makes respecting their time a must. Recommends LawSchooli, “When you see one making his or her way through the parking lot in the morning, they often have to get up to the office and prepare a million things before class. Generally, when they are on their way somewhere it’s best to just nod and let them carry on. Gunner types break this rule a lot and I’m sure it’s fine some of the time, but I recommend against the hallway ambush.”

So if not hallways, then where and when are the best times to try to talk to your law professor? Office hours are an obvious place to start — especially for more complicated and elaborate issues. For quick questions, approaching your professor right after class, during events, or even in the lounge (an inherently social space) are all acceptable venues to strike up a conversation.

And then there’s the how to address your law professors. The Washington Post recently ran an opinion piece on whether law students should use titles or first names when talking to their professors. While this is largely a matter of personal preference (on the professor’s part, that is), erring on the side of caution and following social conventions (ie. using the title, “Professor”) is the safest bet. Trust that professors who prefer to be called by their first names will let you know.

When it comes to the generation gap, meanwhile, one word can work wonders: Defer. Explains Inc., “Consider the communication preference of the individual you wish to communicate with and defer to their likely communication preference. We often communicate with others how we prefer to be communicated with, but the countless options for communication that now exist force us to be adaptive….Since age has a strong correlation with an individual’s communication preference, it’s useful to use generations as a clue to what form of communication would be most efficient and impactful.”

For example, if your professor is a Baby Boomer, scheduling an appointment or stopping by formal office hours may be preferable. However, if your professor is a Millennial, emails may be the way to go. Continues Inc., “Adjusting our communications for each generation can be exhausting but it’s a new reality we must face. What’s more exhausting is the constant miscommunication that occurs when you try to communicate with everyone based on your specific communication preference.”

And, regardless of generation, being respectful and concise when talking to professors is a must-do.

One last thing to keep in mind? The desire to connect is not one-sided. Just as law students are keen on building relationships with their professors, so are professors and law schools alike keen on deepening student engagement.