GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In a rapidly globalizing economy, international tax lawyers are more in demand * and young lawyers around the world are eager to get into the field.
To meet the burgeoning demand for courses in the specialty, the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, one of the nation’s top-ranking schools for tax law, is launching a Master of Laws in International Taxation degree. Though the program was created primarily to serve foreign students, law school administrators believe it will also attract U.S. students.
“Legal expertise in international taxation is greatly valued in a world of multinational corporations, electronic commerce, and international business and investment transactions,” said Associate Dean Michael Friel, head of the law school’s Graduate Tax Program. “U.S. lawyers in cities throughout the country must become more familiar with international tax rules, and foreign lawyers must become more familiar with both U.S. and international tax rules.”
For years, many of America’s brightest young lawyers have been coming to Gainesville to study tax law. UF’s Graduate Tax Program consistently ranks among a handful of top tax law programs in the country.
Since the late 1990s, however, the tax faculty have noticed a new trend: a growing number of applications from international students. Those prospective students came from literally all over the map * from Peru to the People’s Republic of China * but they all shared a desire to study America’s tax system.
“We weren’t marketing this program overseas at all,” said Friel. “The international students just seemed to find us, either on the Web or by word of mouth.”
Oscar Picon Gonzalez was one of those students. Already a practicing tax lawyer in a Peruvian firm, Picon wanted to set up his own international tax practice to meet the demand created by Peru’s recent surge of foreign investment. Picon, a Fulbright scholar, chose to study at the Levin College of Law after researching the nation’s top tax law schools * UF, New York University, Harvard and others * on the Internet.
“I chose UF because it offers one of the top programs in the United States at a very good price,” Picon said.
The tax program’s U.S. students have also shown a growing interest in international tax courses in recent years.
“At some point, we realized that there was more than enough demand for a degree program just for international tax,” Friel said. “We also realized that with our current faculty * including internationally respected people in the field such as (Culverhouse Eminent Scholar) Larry Lokken and (Freeland Eminent Scholar) Paul McDaniel * we had already had the core of a degree program in place.”
Even before the degree program was approved by the Board of Trustees in mid-June, the law school received inquiries from dozens of potential students. Law school administrators say that, in coming years, the degree program will be able to enroll up to 25 students at a time.
Those new arrivals will join current UF law students such as Patrick Schmutz and Virna Vallucci-Schmutz, who traveled from Switzerland to attend UF because of the selection of courses the school offers in U.S. and international tax. The couple say matters of American tax law came up often in their earlier careers – when both worked as lawyers for a Swiss bank.
“We chose UF because of the strength of the faculty, and because the school offers a broader range of courses than many other programs,” Schmutz said. “As an added benefit, we’ve found that one can live more inexpensively in Gainesville than in most university towns, and the people are very friendly.”
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