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Law Students Place Second at National Tax Challenge Competition

On January 19, West Virginia University Law students Emmanuel Backus and Logan Wagner came in second place in the 23rd Annual American Bar Association Law Student Tax Challenge – J.D. Division – (LSTC) held during the ABA Tax Section’s its Mid-Year meeting in San Francisco, California. The LSTC, organized annually by the Tax Section’s Young Lawyer Forum, is recognized as one of the premier transactional tax law competitions in the country.

WVU Law Students at ABA Student Tax Challenge in 2024

Pictured left to right: WVU Law Professor Elaine Waterhouse Wilson, 3L Logan Wagner, Scott D. Michel (ABA Tax Section Chair), and 3L Emmanuel Backus

Unlike traditional moot court competitions, the LSTC does not involve appellate or trial advocacy. Instead, two-person teams of students are presented with a memorandum detailing a client's complex business problems that might arise in everyday tax practice. 

The students were required to analyze the problem in a memorandum to a senior partner, and to provide a draft letter to a client containing their tax advice. From these submissions, the Tax Section selected finalists to travel to the Mid-Year Meeting to defend their work orally in front of a panel consisting of the senior partners and the client. 

While the final rounds kicked off the new year for our 3L students, the journey to compete in the challenge began during the Fall 2023 semester. 

“Logan and I were both members of the West Virginia College of Law’s Low Income Taxpayer Clinic with Director Stephanie Coleman,” said 3L and West Virginia native, Emmanuel Backus. “As part of our grade for clinic, we had to do the written problem for the LSTC.  We felt that after having completed core tax classes that we had the skills to do well.”

There were 64 teams total (for both divisions), including WVU Law, that submitted the written portion to compete by November 1.

“We couldn’t review the written work. We couldn’t even edit it. That was all them,” said Professor of Law and Tax Challenge Coach, Elaine Waterhouse Wilson. “The most we could do substantively would be to point students in the right direction saying, you should maybe look at this code section or I think there’s a case out there on this.” 

Based on the written work, the ABA invited only the top six J.D. teams and four L.L.M. teams to travel to San Francisco.

WVU Law was one of those six.

“We got an email that said congratulations you’re semi-finalists and you’re going to San Francisco,” said 3L and West Virginia Native, Logan Wagner. “Up until this point, I was unaware how prestigious this competition was. I didn’t realize just how many teams submitted the written portion and what an honor it was to be selected to compete alongside some of the nation’s top law schools, as well as in front of some of the most prolific and prominent law figures.” 

“Once the spring semester started, we had about two and a half weeks where we could really focus in our the tax challenge and really start focusing on our arguments,” said Backus. “Everyone who could helped us, including another 3L student Zach Spurrier.”

And what they say is true: practice makes perfect.

After traveling across the country, Backus and Wagner defended their written advice in front of judges, consisting of prominent tax lawyers from Treasury, the IRS, and private practice.

“When we actually got to San Francisco it was about sitting down and arguing our legal memorandum that we had written with individuals who played senior partners and clients,” said Backus. “We basically had about 20 minutes to explain and defend our written work to the judges.”

Law Studnets Logan Wagner and Emmanuel Backus arguing their ABA Tax Challenge Competition written portion.

Logan Wagner and Emmanuel Backus arguing their written portion.

“It was an amazing opportunity to be able to go to San Francisco and represent the WVU Law, and be able to showcase the skills and talents that Professor Wilson was able to help us develop as our tax professor,” Backus said. “This is definitely the highest honor I have received during my time as a law student.”

After the six teams completed the first round, only three teams continued onto the final round, where they had 40 minutes with three different judges.  

“We found out shortly after that we were in the top three,” Wagner said. “We only had a couple of hours in between rounds and we had a conversation about what we did well the first round and what we could look up answers or refresh ourselves on.” 

After the final round with the two other teams, they were immediately awarded second place where they each received a monetary prize along with trophies.

“One thing I was most proud of as a tax professor is that both sets of judges gave our team extraordinarily high marks and great comments on how they handled the professional responsibility parts of the problem,” said Wilson. “There were a couple of ethical issues embedded in the fact pattern and Logan and Emmanuel received glowing remarks from both panels on how they handled them.

“Knowing that we are turning out substantially great tax lawyers who are also ethical and responsible members of the bar is super important to me.”

This was WVU Law’s first time competing in the LSTC, but it won’t be the last. 

Based on Backus and Wagner's experience, some 2L students are already lining up to participate next year.

After graduation, Backus will work at the Jackson Kelly PLLC Morgantown office and Wagner has accepted a position in Charleston at the firm Bailey & Wyant, PLLC.

WVU Law would like to thank our donors who have given to the competition team fund, which assisted in paying the expense of this trip that were not covered by the ABA.

For more information about the challenge or WVU’s involvement, please visit ABA's website or email 

Information about the number of teams and Photos was provided by The American Bar Association.

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