Basic Federal Income Taxation

As part of a continuing series on Spring 2020 semester courses that relate to innovation and business, this post spotlights Basic Federal Income Taxation.

For many students, federal income tax seems like an overwhelming topic. It's hard enough to do one's own taxes, and many people use software that does it all for them. But lawyers need to be able to deal with complexity, and Basic Federal Income Tax gives students an opportunity to learn how. In Basic Federal Income Tax, students have a chance to learn about the tax laws and codes that affect all of us. Of course, “if you want to be a tax lawyer, you have to take Basic Fed Tax,” noted Professor Grewal, who taught the course in fall 2017 and will teach it again this fall. “For everyone else, no matter what area of law you go into, you need to know how to read statutes. And Basic Fed Tax gives a student great exposure to working through complex statutes.” Professor Jones, who teaches the course in the spring, explained that the course gives an overview of the basics of the federal income tax and is a good education for anyone who will be subject to those taxes: the why and how behind those fancy software packages and the complexities involved in planning for the future.

The course covers the policies surrounding the tax code and how the code imperfectly implements those policies. By the end of the course, Professor Jones observed, “students should have a coherent understanding of the policies behind the tax code.” In addition to policy, the course provides an excellent basis for students to develop skills in statutory analysis and provides an overview of tax regulations. Professor Grewal noted that students should “know how to read a statute” when they are done with the course as well.

Professor Grewal’s iteration of the course is mostly problem-based. “There is far less case discussion, and more focus on applying the law to specific sets of facts,” Professor Grewal observed. “Most of the discussion occurs in connection with working through a problem, rather than providing a general overview.”

The course is not just for students interested in business or tax law. While the topics covered in the course can be particularly useful in structuring transactions, federal income tax touches many different areas of the law. “A lot of the sections of the code are not necessarily administered by tax lawyers,” Professor Jones explained. For example, sections of the tax code that pertain to family law issues are implemented by family law attorneys. For students who will be practicing in areas of the law such as real estate or family law, Professor Jones said it’s good to “have basic knowledge of the tax implications of what it is students will be doing.”

Thomas Laehn, who took the course with Professor Grewal, noted that in Basic Federal Income Tax, “probably more so than any other course I’ve taken, you see the full hierarchy of the law.” From the passage of the 16th Amendment permitting the federal income tax, to the statute and the code, interpretation of the law plays an essential role. “The IRS must interpret the law while implementing it,” Laehn observed. “You gain insight into the discretion the IRS has in that interpretation.”

Students do not need to have any prior coursework in business, tax, or economics to take this course. Basic Federal Income Taxation is a prerequisite for Corporate Taxation, Taxation of International Business Transactions, Taxation of Partnerships, and Tax Practice & Procedure.

​last updated November 24, 2019 

Course Description

This course focuses on the principles and policies underlying the operation of the federal income tax. A major goal is to aid the student in developing the skills in statutory analysis that are essential to much legal work, including, of course, the resolution of income-tax issues. The course examines substantive issues such as the concept of “income,” the deductibility of various types of outlays, efforts to shift income among family members, the treatment of property transactions, and the timing of income and deductions. Students need not have any previous coursework in business, economics or taxation.

Schedule Information

Mon, Tues, Wed 2:00-3:20