An Interview with Professor Allison Christians

Q. Why did you go to law school?
I went to law school because I was interested in how the legal structure informed and was impacted by different socio-economic groups, and I sought to access the resources that would allow me to work effectively towards social justice.

How did you get interested in tax law?
I became interested in tax law when, as a law student, I became aware of the many socio-economic projects that are undertaken via the tax system. When I started law school, I had an interest in affordable housing and envisioned myself as a real estate attorney. When I began to look closely at the legal issues involved in the issue of affordable housing, however, I found that the aspect that fascinated me the most was how the tax system was being used as a regulatory solution for a very fundamental market failure. Writing a student note on the topic of the low income housing tax credit solidified my interest in how we use tax laws to do more than just raise revenues for government functionality, that we use tax laws to incentivize and reward certain behaviors and activities, and to discourage others.

Does one need an LL.M. in tax to be a tax lawyer?
The short answer is no. Of course, an LL.M. can be very beneficial, especially to the extent a person can tailor their LL.M. classes towards their specific area of practice (for example, tax controversy work (i.e., litigation), transactional work, or personal tax planning work). For some, it makes sense to practice first before pursuing the LL.M., or to pursue the degree part-time while in practice, so that one can tailor the program as much as possible toward one’s particular area of interest.

What’s the best way for a student to get to know you?
I love to hear students’ stories—what led them to law school, where they think they are headed, what kinds of aspirations they hold. Stopping me in the hall, stopping by my office, or sending me an email is always a good way to start a conversation.

What’s the best thing about your job?
The best thing about my job is that it involves constant learning. I am a curious person at heart, so it is gratifying to always be on the lookout for new information, new ideas, and new ways to think about old things. I learn more about my subject each time I teach it, both by varying the particular topics I cover and by simply discovering more about the topics I have covered in the past by thinking about them again. And of course I learn more about my chosen discipline the more I collaborate with colleagues, take advantage of opportunities for on-the-ground study and experiences, and read others’ scholarship both in my field and in complementary fields.

You’ve lived in Chicago and New York for much of your professional life. What’s it like living in Madison?
I love it in Madison! The open spaces, the beautiful trees, the lakes, the bike paths, the communities and neighborhoods of this city are all invaluable to me. The things I appreciate the most in Madison include the close-knit feel of my neighborhood, the great public schools, the fantastic variety of restaurants, the many opportunities for outdoor activities, the connection between the University and downtown, via State Street, the fall colors, and of course the outdoor ice skating in winter.

How did you come to be a law professor?
Following law school, I practiced tax law in New York, first at Debevoise & Plimpton and later at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. I spent most of my time climbing the steep learning curve of technical tax practice and pursuing an LL.M. in tax at NYU, one course at a time. Prior to law school, I had been interested in the relationship between law and legal systems and distribution of wealth and power in society. My experiences in law school and in practice demonstrated to me that the next step in my career should be to move beyond immediate problem-solving to systemic analysis.

I joined the faculty at Northwestern as a Visiting Assistant Professor in 2003, where my colleagues and mentors encouraged and supported my teaching and scholarship, including giving me the opportunity to travel twice to Africa to investigate first-hand how tax systems operate in developing economies and to begin building an invaluable network of colleagues around the world.

Having joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin in 2005, I feel so privileged to now have the opportunity to work in such a dynamic and supportive environment. The support of my colleagues and mentors for my teaching, research, and personal well-being has been fantastic here, as have my experiences with our diverse and multi-faceted student body.

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