Professor Joel Newman shares a lifetime of scholarship and tax law

Photo of Professor Joel Newman

Professor Joel Newman has dedicated more than 40 years of service to Wake Forest School of Law. Despite his many years of legal practice and pedagogy, legal studies were not always in his plans.

 “I wanted to improve cities,” Newman says.

As an American Civilization major at Brown University in the mid-60s, Newman discovered an interest in community development from the works and advocacy of Jane Jacobs. He soon after landed a job with the Redevelopment Authority of New York City with the aspiration to continue his studies in city planning or architecture. Friends and colleagues encouraged him to do otherwise.

“They told me that the heads of city planning agencies in almost all of the major cities were lawyers,” Newman recalls. “They said if you really want to do something to have an impact, you’d better get a law degree. So I did.”

Newman began his legal education at the University of Chicago Law School during a turbulent time in American history.

“When people ask me to share my law student experiences, they often can’t relate,” Newman says. “The Vietnam War was going on, and there has not been anything like that since. Half of my entering class didn’t graduate because they either went to Canada or were drafted.”

Newman remembers the weekly protests that would gather in front of the law school’s reflecting pool.

“The Chicago campus was a radical place,” Newman says. “The undergraduates figured that anyone who chose to go to law school was willing to work within ‘the system,’ a system that they felt should be torn down.”

Despite the unrest and threat of the draft, Newman graduated in 1971. He began practicing business law, and soon discovered a passion for tax law and education.

“I like explaining things,” Newman says. “I much preferred to have a client who would say, ‘explain how this works,’ and I thought it would be more fun to do that full time.”

Shortly after, Newman received an offer to teach tax law at a small, private law school in the foothills of North Carolina.

He remembers his first flight to Winston-Salem as if it were yesterday, recalling how the green landscape of the Piedmont deeply contrasted with the snowy streets of Minneapolis.

“We broke through the clouds to land in North Carolina. I saw this lush greenery and that did it,” he says.

He joined Wake Forest Law in 1976.

Since then, Newman has become a globally-recognized scholar of tax law, having provided consultations to several countries including Uzbekistan, the Ukraine and Slovakia through the American Bar Association’s Central and Eastern European Law Initiative (CEELI).

Newman has come to see himself as a writer and an educator, one who has become a better teacher through the process of scholarship.

“The best way to learn is through scholarship,” Newman says. “One of the things I like to do most in my scholarship is to tell stories. When you’re talking tax, you’re talking political stories. When we get to a particular tax subject in class, I’ll tell them the political story behind it.”

Newman has shaped many memories with students and alumni, memories that are arguably immortalized in one large, stuffed 600-pound gorilla.

“One of my courses is International Tax,” Newman says. “When teaching that course, I tend to rail about the arrogance of the U.S. Treasury Department. We’re the big guy in the room, so the U.S. Treasury is the 600-pound gorilla. I guess I said that once too often, so one year, my students chipped in to get me a gorilla.”

Newman retires from Wake Forest Law on July 1, 2017. When he is not chasing his ideas and thoughts through scholarship and storytelling, Newman is spending time with his family, and playing jazz music.

He and his wife, Jane, have been married for 47 years. They have two children, Bryce and Becky, and three grandchildren – Jack, Juno and Nora. He and Jane routinely dress up in outrageous costumes for Jack and Juno’s themed birthday parties, and they play hide-and-seek with Nora every Friday.