Much of the work that tax lawyers do in private practice is to "plan" their clients' transactions so as to minimize the impact of federal income taxes. One of the bedeviling questions in the tax field is when, or at one point, such "planning" may be regarded as a legitimate and appropriate exercise of the tax lawyer's skill, and when, or at what point, it sinks into illegitimate tax avoidance. The judicially developed "economic substance" doctrine has been used as a dividing line -- but, unfortunately, a highly uncertain one -- between "good" tax planning and "bad" tax planning. The federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have struggled with the question of just what constitutes "economic substance" from the very beginning.
After years of controversy, Congress has now (2010) added a detailed "economic substance" provision to the Internal Revenue Code itself. The new provision bristles with interpretive problems, which was a major objection to its enactment. The aim of this seminar (the first of its kind) is to sort through those problems and develop some tentative answers. Along with cases and administrative materials, students will review transactional documents, law-firm opinions, experts' testimony, and arbitrators' awards.