Twenty years ago, Rusty Stutes entered the doors of the LSU Law Center eager to become a lawyer. His interest in tax law led him to Professor Susan Kalinka, a beloved tax law professor. Stutes eagerly pursued every tax class she offered, and Kalinka encouraged him to earn a Master of Laws (LL.M), which was an uncommon endeavor at the time.
In the late 1990s, Philip Hackney, like Stutes, took as many of Kalinka's tax classes as he could. After Kalinka passed away in 2009, Hackney's alma mater approached him about filling her position. Last summer, Hackney and his family moved from Washington, D.C., back to his hometown of Baton Rouge so he could join the LSU Law faculty as an assistant professor.
Hackney now coaches the LSU Law tax moot court team that Kalinka started—and which was recently named the Susan C. Kalinka/Russell J. Stutes, Jr. Tax Moot Court Team because of a gift made by Rusty and his wife, Debbie. The Stutes family established an endowed fund to offset student travel and operational expenses related to the tax moot court team's competitions. Theirs is the first gift made to name a moot court team at LSU Law.
Rusty also supports LSU Law through its annual fund; his support is acknowledged through his membership in the Chancellor's Council. Rusty shares that LSU Law more than prepared him to be successful in pursuing an LL.M. at University of Florida (from which he graduated second in his class) and in his career.
"That was the best investment I ever made in my life," Rusty says of attending LSU Law.
Like Rusty, Kalinka/Stutes Tax Team students Ed Waters and Kelly Burris were drawn by LSU Law's strong reputation and affordability, which Burris calls "the perfect combination." Those qualities and the friendliness of the faculty and staff led the students to leave their hometowns of Cincinnati and Portland, Ore., respectively, to attend LSU Law. The students now carry on Kalinka's legacy through their participation in moot court.
Rusty was chairman of the moot court program during his third year of law school and says Kalinka was "on the ground floor" of starting the program and expanding LSU Law students' exposure to tax law.
"She was one of the masters around here who you still hear talked about," says Waters.
"All of her encouragement bore fruit for me because I wound up establishing a successful business," explains Rusty, who is managing partner of the firm Stutes & Lavergne in Lake Charles, La., and has argued hundreds of tax trials and motions.
Hackney, too, credits Kalinka with having a major role in his professional success.
"Susan is the reason I'm here," he says. "She was always encouraging me to go teach. She was a cheerleader for pretty much everyone."
Stutes echoes Hackney's assessment, recalling, "Her enthusiasm was pretty infectious."
"I think it's very appropriate that her name be attached to this team," Waters shares. "It's a tremendous honor."
In February, Waters, Burris and classmate Rebecca Luster competed in the 2012 National Taxation Moot Court Competition in Clearwater, Fla., ultimately placing as second runner-up. It was the culmination of a few months of intense work under the guidance of coaches Hackney, Professor Elizabeth Carter and Christopher Pietruszkiewicz, former LSU Law vice chancellor and new dean of Stetson University College of Law.
Burris says of her feelings before joining the Kalinka/Stutes Tax Team, "I want to be a trial attorney, and I knew I had to get over public speaking. I was terrified."
That fear is now gone. Waters says the necessary focus on style and substance overrides any concerns students might have about public speaking.
"[Moot court] teaches you how to argue law and sound like a lawyer," Waters says.
Hackney remarks, "That ability to communicate well is their craft."
Hackney likens the value of the moot court experience to his personal experience coaching youth soccer, explaining, "I can put them through drills, but until you actually put them into a game situation, they don't learn the game."
Moot court, coupled with his coursework in tax law, has strengthened Waters' interest in tax and insurance. He will intern with the Louisiana Department of Revenue and is considering earning an LL.M. Burris, whose parents are criminal attorneys, has for a long time planned to pursue criminal law and is considering a focus in criminal tax law.
Burrus says alumni support of current students through gifts like the Stutes family's exemplifies the strong sense of community at LSU Law.
"It just further demonstrates how great this school is," she asserts. "That speaks volumes in and of itself."
For Rusty, giving back to LSU Law through the Kalinka/Stutes Tax Team is the ideal tribute to his profession, his law school experience, and a favorite professor.
"It makes so much sense when you think of Susan ... This was incredibly generous of Rusty," says Hackney.