Why is Golden Gate University’s MST (Master’s of Science in Taxation) Program So Well Known?
Introducing the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration and the Office of Tax Appeals

Ranking the Top Tax LLM Programs: Part 3.2 of Is a Tax LLM a Good Idea? [2019 Update]

Tax LLM Rankings.

I last posted about the top Master of Laws in Taxation programs about four years ago.  Really, not much can change in that time, except the methodologies of those who are ranking the “best” LL.M. programs. The top 3 programs are NYU, Georgetown, and Florida by most’s accounting, but I still question University of Florida’s inclusion in the top 3, or a “top 3” as a concept in tax LLMs at all, because in ten years as a tax practitioner I still have yet to meet a UF LLM tax grad that I was aware of, though I have met plenty of NYU and Georgetown tax LLM grads.  Being a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School and having a certain affection for Northwestern, I would still place Northwestern’s tax LLM program above Florida’s, even though it is relatively fledgling.

One thing I did not mention at that time is that Paul Caron of the TaxProf Blog has published a fairly in-depth article ranking programs (see the abstract and find the download by clicking here).  The article is very comprehensive and I think it at least provides some insight on why UF’s program is considered a top program – mainly the productivity of its faculty. However, as discussed at length in the article, employment information for LL.M. programs is unclear or not readily available.  Caron also concedes that the driving factor for most attending LLM programs is improved career prospects.  Thus, the utility of relying on either Caron’s ranking or USNEWs as a guide for choosing an LLM program beyond the top 2 based on rankings is dubious.  Nonetheless, the in-depth information provided by Caron is invaluable.

Caron’s article provides the following ranking for 2011:

  1.  New York University
  2. University of Florida
  3. Georgetown University
  4. Northwestern University
  5. University of Miami
  6. Boston University
  7. University of San Diego
  8. Loyola Los Angeles
  9. Southern Methodist University
  10. Denvery Univ./Univ. Of Washington/Villanova

This can be compared to the US News list of top law schools in the area of tax (on a page formerly at https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/tax-law-rankings?int=9d0608&int=acf809 which has since been removed) omitting the schools without Tax LLM programs:

  1. NYU
  2. Georgetown
  3. Florida
  4. Northwestern
  5. Boston University
  6. Loyola LA
  7. San Diego
  8. Denver

I omitted UCLA because it has only a business LLM with a tax concentration.

These two can be compared to taxtalent.com’s 2018 Top in Tax Educational Survey, which is a survey of 370 current heads of corporate in-house tax departments (who each selected up to 5 LLM tax programs):

  1. NYU
  2. Georgetown
  3. Harvard
  4. Florida
  5. Boston Univ.
  6. Villanova
  7. Northwestern
  8. University of San Francisco
  9. Univ. Michigan
  10. (tie) Univ. Denver, Sturm and DePaul University

I would love to tout Tax Talent’s survey as the best for students concerned with career prospects, but Harvard and Michigan simply don’t belong on this list.  Year after year they make this same mistake. Harvard has only an LLM program designed for foreign law graduates, with the option of focusing on tax with a few select courses.  Michigan, as noted in a prior post, only has a tiny academically-driven tax program that most people don’t know exists.  Tax Talent’s continued failure to account for this severely undermines its ranking’s credibility.

In addition, the ranking has fluctuated so much year, which may be in part due to the drastic increase in survey responses (it was 155 years ago, less than half the current tally).  A few years ago, the Tax Talent ranking fairly well matches my personal view of tax LLM programs., with Northwestern (at that time coming in third) and Boston University both outperforming Florida among employers. Northwestern’s drop from 3rd to 7th could only be explained by the change in demographics of respondents, rather than reputation – which doesn’t shift so drastically year to year.  University of Denver also appears in the top-ten of this ranking, which I think matches historical impressions of UD’s tax program.  Golden Gate was previously in the top ten, punching above its weight relative to its JD program, but this was probably a reflection of its surprisingly popular Master’s of Science in Taxation program.  Now, a much less nationally known tax school, USF, is in the top ten and GGU is nowhere to be seen.

That isn’t to say that one should fly across the nation to attend any program other than NYU’s or maybe Georgetown’s.  I certainly wouldn’t advise someone trying to find employment in California to fly to Philadelphia to attend Villanova.  My own experience at Golden Gate was good, but my employment campaign was a local one. In fact, I chose to attend Golden Gate rather than NYU or Georgetown because of its local connections – something I was missing coming from the University of Chicago – and it was the right choice for me.  The balancing of a local program versus a national one is always a difficult choice.

The author of this post is Daniel W. Layton.

This post was last updated 01/21/2019.

Blog Posts On This Topic Include:

Is Getting a Tax LLM A Good Idea? Part 1: LLM Programs Grew More Competitive…

Is Getting A Tax LLM A Good Idea? Part 2.1: Is It Worth the Cost?

Is Getting a Tax LLM a Good Idea? Part 2.2: Value of a Tax LLM After Your First Job

Is Getting a Tax LLM a Good Idea? Part 3.1: Ranking the Top Tax LLM Programs (2014)

Is Getting a Tax LLM a Good Idea? Part 3.2: Ranking the Top Tax LLM Programs – Update (2019)