Professor Jeffrey L. Kwall shares why every budding lawyer must learn tax law

A student once said, “Professor Kwall could teach tax to a rock.” And that’s music to the ears of Jeffrey L. Kwall, the Kathleen and Bernard Beazley Professor of Law, who has been on the faculty at Loyola University Chicago School of Law for more than 30 years. An expert in tax law, the Pennsylvania native has been named Professor of the Year three times. Here he discusses how he found his calling, the importance of patience, and why every budding lawyer must learn tax law.

Why is tax law important?

Most of us are familiar with the saying that only two things in life are certain: death and taxes. Tax considerations come into play in every area of law practice. Whether you become a personal injury lawyer, litigator, corporate lawyer, health lawyer, real estate lawyer, estate planner, or any other type of lawyer, you must acquire basic knowledge of the tax law. You must know enough tax law to recognize the tax issues that will inevitably arise in your practice so that you can consult with a tax lawyer to resolve them.

“So many law students, regardless of background, find tax intellectually stimulating and highly practical.”

Why did you decide to make tax law your specialty?

From an early age, I have memories of my father, who was an immigrant from eastern Europe, stressing the importance of being educated in the law. During my college years, I became interested in business, but it was not clear to me whether I wanted to pursue a career in law or business. To keep my options open, I enrolled in a JD/MBA program. I did not become passionate about a subject until the spring of my 2L year when I took Corporate Tax. In that class, it became clear to me that tax considerations determine the structure of almost every business transaction. I then knew that tax was the area of law for me.

You’ve been named the law school’s Professor of the Year three times. Why do you think students respond so positively to your teaching?

I really love teaching tax, and I feel as excited when I walk into a classroom today as I did the first time I ever taught a class. I love the challenge of explaining complex law in a way that all my students can understand. My goal is to bring everyone in all my classes into my world. Many undergraduate humanities majors and social science majors who thought they would have no interest in tax end up taking lots of tax courses at Loyola. 

One of my favorite comments on a student evaluation was, “Professor Kwall could teach tax to a rock.”  That’s obviously not true, but I would like to think I can teach tax to every law student who desires to learn it.

What’s the number-one thing you want students to learn from you?

My number-one goal is to teach students to analyze a problem carefully and methodically. It is critical to resist the temptation to jump to an answer without working through each step along the way. The reality is that tax is not that difficult if you take the time to diagnose the problem and then follow the relevant analytical framework in a step-by-step manner to arrive at the best solution.

What makes Loyola unique?

The people. The law school has had outstanding leadership for at least the past 30-plus years. We have had only three deans during that period of time, and all three have been thoughtful, caring leaders with a clear vision of the future. We have also been fortunate to have a strong administrative staff, many of whom have served the school for long periods of time. We have a diverse and caring faculty who respect one another and work well together. And, most importantly, we have always attracted a talented group of students who are intelligent, practical, and have a strong work ethic. Together, we have created an atmosphere in which everyone thrives.