To law school dean candidate, tax laws are no puzzles

Published: Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 9:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 9:35 p.m.

Sam Donaldson's career straddles two worlds -- one foot firmly planted in legal academia and the other set in private practice, but at all times immersed in the ever-changing, complicated realm of tax law.


Samuel Donaldson, 45, Atlanta

Spouse: Shelly Nixon Donaldson, 39

Professor, Georgia State University College of Law (2012-present)
Associate dean, University of Washington School of Law (2010-12)
Professor, UW School of Law (1999-2012)
Counsel, Perkins Cole LLP (2006-present)

LLM, UF College of Law, 1994
JD, Magna Cum Laude, University of Arizona College of Law, 1993
BA, History and political science, with highest honors, Oregon State University (1990)

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And the University of Florida Levin College of Law alumnus appears to be perfectly at ease in both worlds.

Donaldson, the second of four finalists in the search for a new dean for University of Florida Levin College of Law to come to Gainesville for two days of interviews, was at ease talking to 11 search committee members during his preliminary 75-minute interview two weeks ago. He was relaxed and conversational in his tone with the group, some of whom he recognized or knew from his long career.

But he was serious about why he wants to be the next dean of the college of law.

“Because I'm an academic, what I can't repay in fiscal capital I can repay in human capital,” Donaldson told the committee. Being dean would be the utmost service I can do for the institution that allowed me to be a success.”

Donaldson, who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, got his L.L.M. in tax law from UF in 1994, after getting a J.D. magna cum laude from the University of Arizona College of Law.

He spent 13 years at the University of Washington School of Law, as director of the graduate tax program from 2004 to 2012 and the last two as associate dean for academic administration, before taking a faculty position at the Georgia State University College of Law in 2012.

Donaldson made the move to Georgia to marry his wife, Shelly, an estate planning lawyer who also is a UF Law graduate (class of 2003, cum laude) and a native of Bradenton.

For the last eight of those years he has been of counsel to the personal planning group of the international Perkins Cole law firm based in Seattle, and was an associate specializing in tax law with Egger Betts Austin law firm in Bellevue, Wa. from 1995 to 1999.

He was more of an academic dean than an administrative dean, an issue that could be a problem for faculty members who have said they want a dean with more administrative experience.

Donaldson also has an extensive published academic record. He has seven published books on taxation, 11 chapters and supplements, seven articles on federal tax law and other tax topics, and dozens of presentations.

On a side note, Donaldson is an avid crossword constructor, with puzzles published in The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and USA Today.

While acknowledging that these are challenging times for law schools, Donaldson said he doesn't subscribe to the popular theory that the legal profession is in a crisis, and he expected it to self-correct by 2016. Nonetheless, he said, it's given law schools around the country a “good opportunity to look at curriculum.”

Fifteen years ago there were jobs for law school graduates, he said. Those jobs are not so abundant today, and the cost of a legal education has gone up 10 times since the 1990s, he said.

He will get to share his views on the legal profession and the law school's mission with faculty, staff, students and administrators during a full schedule of meetings Monday and Tuesday. He will meet with committee members, outgoing Dean Robert Jerry and associate deans, faculty, students, alumni, and get a tour of the law college and UF campus.

He also will get a chance to meet individually with UF President Bernie Machen and Provost Joe Glover, who ultimately will decide who replaces Jerry, who has been dean of the Levin College of Law for 11 years. Jerry will step down as dean in June and become a faculty member.

Ultimately, the committee will give Machen and Glover two to three recommendations.

Donaldson said he has been invited to apply for deanships in the past, but this is the only time he ever applied for a deanship. “I choose to be a Florida Gator.”

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