Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Competition adds up for DU tax teams

The University of Denver’s Graduate Tax Program is adding another victory to its ledger.

In its first year of competition in the American Bar Association’s Law Student Tax Challenge, the Graduate Tax Program placed three teams in the final round of LLM (Master of Laws) competition, held Jan. 17–19 outside Las Vegas. No other school has ever done as well.

Originally battling 50 teams from 35 schools, DU captured three of the four finalist spots. The team of Cindy Schlegel and Melissa Webber won the writing portion of the competition. Another team, Kelly Young and Hailley Joyner, was first runner-up in the oral competition, and judges deemed the work of another DU team, Michelle Lee and Julie Karavas, one of the four best papers in the competition.

Other competitors included Georgetown University, Loyola, Northwestern, the University of California, Wake Forest, Boston University and the University of Florida. Traditionally, Georgetown and Loyola have dominated the event.

Adjunct professor Mick Walker says the win highlights the quality of DU’s tax law program, one of the few where accountants and attorneys study alongside each other.

“We’re one of the best programs in the nation, and we can compete with anyone,” Walker says.

Competition not only shows off the mettle of DU students but also affords students unique networking opportunities and real-world experience.

In the competition, students are given a complex tax problem to solve. They spend hundreds of hours untangling the issues and applying current tax laws to write a creative and workable solution. Only the top four teams are invited to compete in the oral competition. All of the Graduate Tax Program teams consisted of attorneys now pursuing an LLM in taxation.

Young, who graduated from the University of San Diego law school in 2005, says she returned to her home state of Colorado with the goal of attending DU’s Graduate Tax Program.

“I really enjoyed tax law,” she says. “I didn’t even consider any other program.”

Despite spending countless hours to prepare for competition, Young says she’d do it again. Not only did she learn from the exercise, Young says, it also helped her decide exactly the kind of law work she wanted to do. After graduating in December, she was hired by Holme, Roberts & Owen in Denver and works on employee benefits and compensation law.

Walker says all the credit for the exceptional showing in Nevada goes to the students.

“This was truly an outstanding effort by these teams. They worked together and proved that they are great lawyers,” he says. “The students had an opportunity to do something really special, and they did just that.”

The accountants in the Graduate Tax Program have competed for many years in a national tax challenge competition now sponsored by Deloitte & Touche. The Graduate Tax Program teams have dominated that competition as well, placing first six times and second five times.

[Editor’s note: In an earlier version of the story, Webber’s name was misspelled and we mistakenly reported that Young attended San Diego State. We regret the errors.]

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