Joshua Thomas ’20 came to UCLA School of Law with no plans to be a tax attorney. “If I had not attended UCLA Law and had access to its brilliant and engaging faculty, I highly doubt I would have developed a passion for tax, nor felt prepared to practice tax law without further education – and that speaks volumes,” says the recent graduate.
But years of success as a student in the law school’s rigorous tax law program led to a previously unexpected honor when Thomas graduated in May: He was awarded the 2020 Bruce I. Hochman Award for Excellence in the Study of Tax Law, the highest honor that UCLA Law presents to outstanding graduates in the field. The $15,000 award is presented by the Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy and has gone to the law school’s top tax law students since 2002. “Learning federal tax law from scratch is a huge undertaking,” Thomas says, “but with the help of incredible faculty, fellow students, a patient spouse, and secondary sources, I feel like I was able to leave law school well prepared for the future. The award was the cherry on top.”
Now, Thomas is headed to work in the tax and benefits group at Ropes & Gray in New York, where he hopes “to specialize in our tax controversy group, which deals with disputes and litigation in the tax area.”
The work will build on his education at UCLA Law, which involved key mentorship from UCLA Law’s esteemed tax law faculty members. Thomas points to one introductory course with Professor Eric Zolt that sparked his interest. “I struggled to understand the material because I had no prior tax exposure – I remember spending over two hours in front of a white board trying to diagram and understand what was going on in one case. But I kept working hard, and Professor Zolt’s strong emphasis on principles of tax law and policy helped open my mind and plant the seed of understanding. I haven't looked back since then.”
A colloquium with Professors Kirk Stark and Jason Oh further allowed Thomas to “see that tax law can be used to solve a significant number of problems facing society.”
Coming out of UCLA Law, where “there are so many talented tax students who are on their way to accomplishing great things in the field,” Thomas says, will benefit him as a tax lawyer at a major New York firm. “I learned to appreciate the economic and practical implications of various policies. This has allowed me to understand real-life tax problems in context, which will be key to performing well in practice.”
The Hochman Award is named for a member of UCLA Law’s first graduating class in 1952 who went on to become a fixture of the Los Angeles legal landscape. Bruce Hochman worked as a judge advocate general in the U.S. Air Force and a federal prosecutor before founding his own firm in 1956 and becoming one of the most respected litigators in the federal tax bar. He was also a prominent philanthropist and the regional chairman of the Anti-Defamation League. Hochman’s family established the award after he died in 2001.