I last posted about the top Master of Laws in Taxation programs about two 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 Florida’s inclusion in the top 3, 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 and having a certain affection for Northwestern, I would still place its relatively fledgling program above Florida’s.
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 a dubious. Nonetheless, the in-depth information provided by Caron is invaluable.
Caron’s article provides the following ranking for 2011:
This can be compared to the US News list of top law schools in the area of tax, omitting the schools without Tax LLM programs:
I omitted UCLA because it has only a business LLM with a tax concentration.
These two can be compared to taxtalent.com’s 2016 Top in Tax Educational Survey, which is a survey of 155 current heads of corporate in-house tax departments (who each selected up to 5 LLM tax programs):
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. 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.
If not for that glaring discrepancy, however, the Tax Talent ranking fairly well matches my personal view of tax LLM programs., with Northwestern and Boston University both outperforming Florida among employers. 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 punches above its weight relative to its JD program, but this is probably a reflection of its surprisingly popular Master’s of Science in Taxation program, mentioned in my most recent post. But, why shouldn’t a school with a strong tax program be held in high regard for its tax law program?
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, but is fodder for another post.
–The author of this post is Daniel W. Layton, a partner at Layton & Lopez Tax Attorneys, LLP in Orange County, CA. He is a former IRS trial attorney and ex-prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Tax Division in downtown Los Angeles.