Assistant Professor of Law and Public Policy
Originally published in the 2005 issue of the Law School magazine.
Tax law gets a bad rap. “You go to a dinner party and say you’re a tax lawyer and instantly people say, ‘Oh that’s nice,’ and turn to someone else,” says Lily Batchelder. She, too, once held the notion that studying tax law was about filling out forms and memorizing rules. “It wasn’t until I opened my first tax book and saw exactly what it was as an area of study—thinking about how tax burdens and benefits should be distributed across different taxpayers and how people might game the system—that I was totally in love.”
Few people are as passionate about tax law as Batchelder, 33, who traded in a tax practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in September 2004 to join the faculty at the Law School. “She’s this breathtakingly enthusiastic person,” says Fred Goldberg, a former IRS commissioner and her mentor at Skadden. Students will get their first taste of Batchelder’s energy this fall when she’ll teach Federal Income Tax and Tax and Social Policy. “If you’re interested in eradicating poverty and inequality,” explains Batchelder, who is a lifelong advocate for the economically disadvantaged, “then you need to know how to deal with the tax system. Social policy is increasingly done through the tax code.”
Batchelder’s concern for social justice started early. Raised with her three brothers in Brookline, Massachusetts, she followed her parents’ lead. Batchelder’s father, Sandy, 73, was a lawyer with a strong pro bono practice. Her mother, Molly, 68, a folk art painter, taught her that “For those to whom much is given, much will be expected,” Batchelder says. So as an undergraduate at Stanford University, Batchelder joined a number of activist groups, including a pro-choice alliance, a solidarity network for Central America and an anti-apartheid group. As the director of the Stanford Homelessness Action Coalition, she moved the group’s meetings off campus so that neighborhood residents and homeless people alike could participate. “Some people were on sports teams; I was in activist groups. It was what I loved and what I thought was important,” she says.
Batchelder graduated in 1994 with an A.B. in political science, a 4.0 GPA and the Firestone Medal for Excellence in Undergraduate Research for her thesis analyzing the implications of East Palo Alto’s incorporation. After college she worked as a client advocate at a small social service agency in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where she occasionally broke up violent fights in the soup kitchen. She went on to become the director of community affairs for state senator Marty Markowitz, now the Brooklyn borough president.
She enjoyed community work, but “I wanted to address some of the problems I saw and to deal with the policy issues that were creating them,” she says. A master’s in public policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government did the trick. After graduating in June 1999, she entered Yale Law School, where she founded the Pro Bono Network, was editor of the Law Journal and was the director of a human rights project.
Lured by Goldberg to Skadden, Arps in 2002, Batchelder proved adept at practicing law. “I’ve seen how she manages a conversation with a bunch of grumpy lawyers. And I’ve seen how she has insight on issues where conversation stops,” Goldberg says.
Professor Daniel Shaviro says, “She’s the first entry-level tax person the school has hired in 20 years. Even though she wasn’t fully on the job market, we heard about her and went after her.” Her work currently focuses on tax and transfer policies affecting low- and middle-income families. In particular, she is researching arguments that behavioral tax incentives are often best structured as refundable tax credits. She is also exploring the continuing relevance of traditional arguments for tax incentives to encourage individual savings.
Batchelder spends her free time watching bad action movies and having dinner with friends. Teaching will be a new experience, but one she’s looking forward to: “I love trying to convince people to love tax. Tax usually is not seen as an exciting subject, but it’s one of my goals to convince people it is.”