Internal Revenue: Columbia Law School Tax Scholar Becomes New Dean By Susan L. Wampler, Contributing Editor
WHEN DAVID M. SCHIZER ENTERED first grade, he announced he was going "with great regret," according to his mother, Hazel Schizer '59.
"He figured out he'd have to do homework, then he'd have to go to college, then graduate school, and then work. He thought he wouldn't have any fun anymore."
Dean Schizer in front of the Law School. Photo: Dustin Ross
How things change. Young David quickly became an enthusiastic student. By sixth grade, he was attacking a project on China with the zeal of a Ph.D. candidate, Mrs. Schizer recalls, and was on his way to becoming valedictorian of his class at Midwood High School in Brooklyn.
"He is brilliant with a tremendous work ethic," says Mark McCarren, an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey and a friend since their undergraduate years at Yale. "His credentials are a product of natural talent and old-fashioned hard work."
They also are the product of an ethic of education in the Schizer family. His older sisters, Deborah Scott and Miriam Schizer Landau, are a professor at Temple University and a Harvard-trained pediatrician, respectively. As for David, he seems to have set his sights on the law from a young age. When he once visited his father's firm and one of the partners asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he replied, "A lawyer." When asked where he wanted to practice, David pointed at the man's office.
His father, Zevie Schizer, a securities attorney, is quick to point out that neither he nor his wife pushed David toward law, but that didn't stop father and son from frequently conversing about law over the dinner table.
"I think we all knew he would become a lawyer," says Mrs. Schizer, who specializes in family and estate law at her husband's firm.
At Yale College, David graduated with the highest grades in his class. He studied history in a dual-degree program that awarded both a bachelor's and master's degree in four years. He then earned his law degree from Yale, as well. David Schizer takes after his paternal grandfather, for whom he is named. The elder David immigrated to the United States in the 1920s from the Ukraine. He earned two degrees from Columbia and Teachers College and became a Hebrew teacher and scholar.
In addition to studying Hebrew, the younger David Schizer and his grandfather also shared an appreciation of tax law.
"My father always overpaid his taxes," says Zevie Schizer. "I tried to get him to deduct some books he had purchased and he said, ‘I didn't buy them as a teacher, I bought them to read.' He gave the benefit of the doubt to the IRS. David is like him."
Dean Schizer's choice of tax as a specialty was a bit more of a shock to his mother.
"I found tax law very difficult. David is charmed and intrigued by its various nuances," she says. "He thinks it's great fun."
Geoffrey C. Hazard Jr. '54, who taught David procedure at Yale Law School, also found his student's interest in tax law surprising, though he was hardly surprised when David entered academia.
Now the Trustee Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania, Prof. Hazard oversaw David's work on a research project and says "his performance on the topic, in terms of acuity and sophistication, was that of a Ph.D. student. When he applied for clerkships after graduation, I thought he might well go into the academic life."
Following a clerkship with Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, David Schizer clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg '59 who, coincidentally, was a classmate of his mother's.
Dean Schizer and Justice Ginsburg in 1994-95
"In the now 24 years I have been in the judging business, I have never had a law clerk who exceeded David's performance," Justice Ginsburg says. "It is rare that a law clerk is able to produce a useable opinion draft for me. David was one of the very few who could, and did so consistently."
After clerking, David landed a position in the tax department of Davis Polk & Wardwell.
"The first week he was here, I knew he was going to be a partner if he wanted to," says Bill Gifford, a senior partner at the firm. "It was clear he could do anything he wanted to in the law."
There were also signs that the young associate might not remain long enough at the firm to become a partner. While at Davis Polk, David Schizer did extensive pro bono work for the New York State Bar Association, which has a reputation for providing unbiased commentary on proposed and existing regulations to the U.S. Treasury Department and other governmental agencies.
"He did things that a budding academic would do," adds Mr. Gifford. "He wrote some pretty scholarly papers. It was clear he would be a great academic."
His intellectual gifts are not infinite, however, according to Michael Goldhaber, a friend since first grade and later a law school roommate. David once used a kitchen knife to defrost their refrigerator and cut into the Freon pipe, destroying the appliance. He also failed to notice, for an entire semester, a digital watch that fell inside the sofa in his room during a late-night study session.
"We found it behind the cushions the day we moved out," recalls Mr. Goldhaber. "His response was, ‘I wondered what was beeping every hour on the hour!'"
Despite these minor lapses, it is clear that David Schizer is bright and possesses a solid legal pedigree. Does that qualify him to be a great dean?
It turns out that he is acknowledged as much for his personal skills and sense of humor as for his intellectual prowess.
"David has an unusual combination of gifts," says Mr. Goldhaber, who is chief European correspondent for American Lawyer. "It's hard to find someone with the brain power and diligence to be a leading tax scholar, who also has social skills and intellectual breadth."
"He is sophisticated and self-confident, but not arrogant," says Peter H. Schuck, the Simeon E. Baldwin Professor of Law at Yale and one of the dean's former teachers.
He also seems to have a gift for making tax law - usually one of the least popular courses in a law school curriculum - a favorite among students. His classes are typically over-subscribed, and in 2002 he received the Willis L.M. Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching, an honor bestowed by a vote of the student body. He has also served as a mentor to younger faculty, such as Victor Fleischer '96, now an acting professor at UCLA.
Dean Schizer receiving the Reese Prize for teaching in May 2002
"David was a great model for me, both as a scholar and a teacher," says Prof. Fleischer. "I've patterned my own teaching style on his, and I enjoyed working with him so much on the Deals class at Columbia that I've imported a version of it to UCLA."
Outside the Law School, David Schizer is a devoted husband and father to 3-year-old Josephine and Eve, who was born in March.
"He takes Jo to school every morning and gets up very early to play with her, so I can sleep in," says his wife of six years, Meredith Wolf Schizer, a book editor who specializes in illustrated nonfiction.
David Schizer embodies the complexity of the tax code that he relishes studying and on which he has published extensively. He is the product of Hebrew schools, where he was taught ethical and moral values. He is a respected colleague and tax scholar. As a youth, he was an avid tennis player and learned the piano and the double bass. And, according to Mr. McCarren, he was also a big fan of Ozzy Osbourne, though he eventually gave the records away.
Ozzy Ozbourne. Photo: Getty Images
"I suspect he didn't want to be known as having them," says his friend. "It's probably safe to say that he is the first dean of Columbia Law School to be a tried-and-true Ozzy Osbourne fan before it was socially acceptable. Now the truth is revealed."