Tax expert heads pair of clinical programs

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Michele Halloran, clinical professor at Michigan State University College of Law, almost plumped for a career in English literature, rather than law.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in English Literature (honors program), summa cum laude, from LeMoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., where one of her professors indicated she was one of the top English literature majors ever to come through the program, Halloran was accepted into a combined MA/Ph.D. English literature program at the State University of New York, Albany, where William Kennedy, author of "Ironweed," taught.

"However, my husband was transferred, I re-thought my career options, and set my sights on the law instead," she says. "And law presented me with a unique opportunity to use my well-honed reading, writing, and research skills."

Halloran earned her J.D., cum laude, from Cooley Law School--where she "fell into" tax law, she says.

"I enjoyed the tax law classes I took--and I took all that were offered--and then, on a whim, applied for a law clerk job with the State Board of Tax Appeals, an agency that's now defunct--it merged its caseload with the Michigan Tax Tribunal in 1976. So many accountant-types applied for that job, I thought my chances of getting it were slim--but I did!

"I knew within days of combing through the work of the SBTA that I loved tax law--the issues were genuinely interesting and complex."

For nine years, Halloran was a partner at the Lansing law firm of Howard and Howard.

"I enjoyed working with many Fortune 250 companies to work through their Michigan Single Business Tax issues," she says. "And I respected the culture of Howard & Howard."

Her passion for tax law led to her current position as director of the MSU Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic, where she teaches and supervises second- and third-year law students representing taxpayers before the IRS, the U.S. Tax Court, federal district courts, and federal appellate courts. Under her direction, students also advise clients for whom English is a second language about their rights and responsibilities under the Internal Revenue Code.

Halloran directs the general operations of the Tax Clinic, instructs students about substantive tax law as well as about matters concerning the practice of law, supervises students, and generates community awareness of Tax Clinic offerings, which include a variety of community educational programs for taxpayers.

Halloran, who teaches Tax Clinic I and II and has taught Tax Practice and Procedure, Partnership Taxation, State, Local, and Tribal Taxation, and Corporate Taxation, has secured grants from the IRS, the Michigan State Bar Foundation, the Taxation Section of the State Bar of Michigan, the Allstate Foundation, and the Coleman Foundation for various clinical programs.

Halloran also serves as director of Clinical Programs. After having only four clinics for many years--Housing Law, Tax, Chance at Childhood, and Small Business/Nonprofit--within the past three years MSU Law has added four more clinics--Immigration Law, First Amendment Law, Civil Rights, and Plea & Sentencing, along with a new practicum, the Urban Food, Farm and Agricultural Law Practicum that will explore urban farm opportunities in Detroit.

"I have the unique opportunity to work with the faculty to implement new programs that will facilitate our students' learning while assisting those in need," she says.

"Teaching law students in my clinical programs is the highlight of my professional career. It's a chance to disseminate information about substantive tax law, as well as about the practice of law, to soon-to-be professionals. And--it's always a chance to learn from the students as well. I'm always most refreshed to see the creativity and innovation exhibited by our students, and to know they're committed to serving underserved populations."

A faculty coach for two MSU Law student teams that took first place in the American Bar Association's Student Tax Law Challenge Competition, Halloran also coached a third team that made it to the semifinal rounds of the competition, and is coaching multiple teams for this year's event.

She has taught tax seminars for the Sales Tax Institute, Lorman Educational Services, National Business Institute, and the Michigan Association of CPAs, and has written numerous articles concerning Michigan and federal tax law for national and state publications.

She served as an administrative law judge for the Michigan Tax Tribunal, where she enjoyed the opportunity to craft reasoned, well-structured decisions, some of which involved questions of first impression, she says.

She was the inaugural president of the Michigan Women's Tax Association and has participated as a member of the State Treasurer's Business Tax Advisory Group.

"The MWTA is a fantastic organization that was developed to further networking opportunities and education among attorneys, accountants, and others who practice in, or are interested in, the tax field," she says. "I was privileged to be the MWTA's first president."

Halloran has been married to her husband Bob for 38 years; the couple's daughter, Marisa, is head of the Spanish Department at Thunderbird High School in Phoenix, and their son, Christopher, will graduate from Ferris State this December with a degree in industrial/commercial construction management. The couple also has two grandchildren, Lorenzo and Caroline.

The former English literature major is re-reading the classics, and enjoys well-written mysteries and poetry.

"I've loved reading ever since my grandmother gave me some Nancy Drew books for Christmas when I was eight," she says. "The summer before I entered Notre Dame High School in Schenectady I read all 100 books on the suggested summer reading list. These were hardly simple reads --the list included 'A Tale of Two Cities,' 'The Scarlet Pimpernel,' and 'Travels with My Aunt.' For the entire summer, I hung out in my bedroom at our camp in the Adirondacks reading, while my mother extolled the virtues of going outside and enjoying the wilderness. My father insisted on several trips to the library each week and often selected books he thought I would enjoy."

Halloran, who grew up in Schenectady, N.Y., loves to travel and has enjoyed trips to the Galapagos Islands and several European countries. "However, these days I seem to have little time for extensive travel," she says.

For about 20 years, she has served on the Board of Directors of Advent House Ministries in Lansing, an organization that, among other things, provides a weekend day shelter to the homeless and economically disadvantaged, engages in literacy education, and furnishes employment training to low-income people under a HUD grant. She has served as board president and vice president, chair of the Finance and Public Relations Committees, and currently is treasurer of the organization.

"I first became involved with Advent House after my mother died--I wanted to perform service work in her memory. She had grown up in a very poor community in New York's Catskill Mountains, and always preached to her children the absolute necessity of giving back to others," she says. "I also was imbued with a service mentality through my Jesuit college education.

"Advent House provides a number of critical services to Lansing-area homeless and poor people. Its employment services--in which typically 'unemployable' people are provided with the necessary skills to become gainfully employed--are amazingly successful. There is much satisfaction to be had from working with an organization that makes a significant difference in the lives of others."

Published: Thu, Nov 10, 2011