The students of the MGIMO Master’s Degree Program in International Financial Law have enjoyed an excellent opportunity to attend a two-week course on «U. S. Tax Law and International Taxation» delivered by Professor Stafford Smiley. A graduate of Harvard and Yale Universities, he currently lectures on various branches of financial law all around the world and supervises the International Master’s program in International Taxation at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
Professor S. Smiley kindly agreed to answer our questions.
Professor, you have taught in different universities around the world. What is your impression of MGIMO University?
This is my third year of teaching at MGIMO and I find that MGIMO provides a very stimulating academic environment. I enjoy working with students and faculty here — each year, I have found many students deeply interested in developing a better understanding of their own tax and financial systems by studying those of my country, the United States.
What do you think about Russian students, about the way they approach studies? Can you draw any similarities with American students? In what way do they differ?
I must say, I think that Russian students show far more respect for their professors than American law students. Perhaps, I would say, too much respect. American law students seem quicker to challenge the things their professors tell them and students do so, regularly and loudly, in class. At Georgetown, we work very hard to engage our students in all aspects of their learning -not only formal classes but also clinical studies, academic writing and extracurricular activities.
Our ultimate goal is to make each student take personal responsibility for his or her success first in law school, and then in the practice of law. I find I can develop great relationships with my students here, but it seems to come a little harder. Of course, that may come partly from that fact that I am away from my familiar home ground!
Why do you believe it is important for MGIMO law graduates to know the basics of US taxation?
As a professor of comparative tax law, I think it is generally helpful for students of one tax system to study the details of another tax system in order to see how different countries have approached the fundamental problems of developing and administering modern tax systems. More specifically, though, the United States has the largest economy in the world and its tax system and tax administration are surely among the most developed in the world, which means that we in the United States have spent decades tackling the difficult issues that Russia only began to tackle in the 1990s.
My goal is to provide my insights, based on years of practice in the United States, to the students at MGIMO who, after graduation, will be responsible for the future development of the Russian tax law and tax administration.
During your studies at Harvard and Yale you were a member of several fraternities. Has it ever helped you in your professional career?
One thing that students learn in the United States these days is the importance of «networking». Not only in college and law school, but throughout your professional life, you must participate in different organizations and seek to meet people from different professional backgrounds in order to broaden your knowledge of your own field and to find fellow professionals who can expand your knowledge and contacts in related fields. In my case, the fact that after a lifetime in private practice I am now teaching at Georgetown and around the world is a tribute to the fact that, over the years, I have ventured out of my office at Caplin and Drysdale to teach at law schools in Washington and to speak at professional conferences in Washington and around the United States.
It certainly helps to begin your career with a degree from an outstanding university, such as MGIMO, but that is not enough. You have to continuously expand your horizons and keep up with the times.
Interviewed by Alexey Dundich