Katherine Mann ‘19
Features Editor Emeritus
A (Not So) Taxing Lunch: Law Weekly Gains Exclusive Interview with Professor Mason
Many 3Ls might remember the first day of orientation in August 2016––the Friday before actual orientation started––when we were invited to attend a bonus session including a panel of professors kind enough to give their time to advise us on our first year and beyond. I clearly remember Professor Ruth Mason, who was introduced as a tax professor, respond to the moderator’s request for advice to first years. Her response: “Take tax.” Suffice it to say I was skeptical; of all the things I knew I wanted to know about the law, tax was one topic I was pretty sure was not on my list. But I was smart enough to listen, and I took her three-credit Federal Income Tax class that spring. Of course, she was correct, and I would give the same advice to any first year.
Last week, we at the Law Weekly attended lunch with Professor Mason and she gave us her story about how she landed in tax herself. An older friend from law school told her about watching all the tax lawyers at his firm leave at a reasonable hour every day. Professor Mason, who had no prior financial background, took a tax class and realized she loved it. She worked as a tax associate at Wilkie Farr & Gallagher after graduating from Harvard Law School and subsequently worked in the Graduate Tax Program at NYU. She later transitioned to a professor position at the University of Connecticut School of Law before coming to UVA.
Her husband grew up in New York City, and she lived there for ten years. She said that they were both terrified to transition out of the City. Now they live happily with their two children in Charlottesville, where the kids can “walk on dirt,” as opposed to the concrete of their former city digs. As an example of the difference between raising kids here as opposed to New York, she said kids in New York know what a bond trader is at a pretty young age. When she has time for non-academic reading, it is mostly about gardening, since they finally have some space to grow vegetables, and their past efforts have led her to research animal-proof fencing. She noted that her husband had a rather different experience as a child in school in New York, as his school was once visited by the local police, who informed the kids that they needed to toughen up because they were becoming easy targets for muggings.
Professor Mason’s specialization is international tax, and she said that a major current issue is keeping up with international cooperative efforts to address cross-border commerce, particularly with tech companies. Apple is a famous example of a company that was able to avoid taxation by incorporating in Ireland but being active elsewhere, and countries are currently engaged in negotiations to avoid similar future tax avoidance. The recent changes to the United States Tax Code have also kept tax lawyers busy.
Professor Mason teaches the International Tax Practicum, which prepares students for the International and European Tax Moot Court Competition. Last year the UVA team became the first U.S. team to win the competition, and they are defending their title this week in Belgium. Professor Mason encourages all students to take at least one tax class, and to take it early. If you take it too late and find out you love it, you’ll have missed an opportunity to take more advanced tax classes. If you have an opportunity to take a class with her, you’ll find she has a good sense of humor, but she’s not afraid to give students a little scare once in a while. She once handed out a class evaluation form during a break, and when a few stragglers returned a few minutes late, she asked the other students to hand in their quizzes.
She has also been a visiting professor at Johannes Kepler University, Leiden University, Universite Paris 1 (Pantheon Sorbonne), and Yale Law School. Last summer, Professor Mason spent six weeks in Amsterdam as the first and youngest female professor in residence at the International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation. The goal of the appointment is to get perspectives from tax scholars around the world to facilitate discussion on cross-border taxation. She and her family enjoyed the city, and she said her kids were even speaking a little Dutch by the time they left. And she gave a pro-tip for parents: don't entirely shift kids to the new time zone. They slept in and stayed up late, so they could do activities in the evening as a family.
I may not have fallen in love with tax enough to pursue courses beyond Federal Income Tax, but I am glad I took Professor Mason’s advice early on. I will echo her advice and say “take tax,” but especially if you can get into one of her sections. Just make sure to return from the break on time.