Knowing Your Limitations

–From Debby Toland, University of Oklahoma College of Law, Date of event: circa 1983

It was Income Tax I in the fifth semester of law school. I was sitting in Professor’s Teselle’s class, totally and utterly clueless as to: (1) Why was I in law school?; and (2) Why in god’s name was I in a tax class?

Of course, on that day the worse thing that could happen in tax class did happen. I was called on to answer a question. And, of course, it was a question that I had absolutely no idea how to answer.

The question was: “If a client came to you asking XXXX (X = some arcane question on the tax code) … what would be your advice?” In my best and most professional voice, I said: “I would acknowledge that the question was an interesting one outside my realm of expertise and refer them to Mr. Phillips who offices next door and who specializes in that area (in this case, my seat mate). Luckily Professor Teselle laughed and turned and said “Mr. Phillips, so how would YOU answer the question?” Needless to say Mr. Phillips was not as appreciative of my wit as were the professor and the rest of the class!

P.S. I did pass the course and have employed CPAs heavily from that day forward!

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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