Faculty Focus

University Distinguished Professor Bridget Crawford

Professor Bridget Crawford has been a professor at Haub Law since 2003 and was named a University Distinguished Professor in 2021, which is the highest honor the University can bestow upon a faculty member. Prior to joining the Haub Law faculty, she was a practicing attorney at Milbank LLP, where she specialized in taxation and estate planning. At Haub Law, Professor Crawford teaches Federal Income Taxation; Estate and Gift Taxation; Wills, Trusts and Estates; Tax Policy; Corporations & Partnerships; and Feminist Legal Theory. Professor Crawford is a leading authority on taxation, as well as feminist legal theory, and menstrual equity. A favorite in the classroom, she has also been honored multiple times by graduating students at Haub Law as Outstanding Professor of the Year, as well as recognized by her colleagues with Haub Law’s Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching. Learn more about Professor Crawford in this Q&A.

How did you become interested in tax?

My grandmother was the first tax professional I ever met. Although she never went to college or law school, Gram taught herself the tax law and went to work for H&R Block. She lived in a rural community in southeastern Ohio, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Gram took great pride in helping her neighbors comply with their obligations under the complicated self-reporting system that we have in the U.S.

What is your favorite tax concept or case?

If I ever got a tattoo, it definitely would be a quote from Welch v. Helvering, 290 U.S. 111 (1933). That is the case that established the test for when a business expense is “ordinary and necessary.” Justice Cardozo said that when no ready test or statute is available, “[l]ife in all its fullness must supply an answer to the riddle” that is the tax law.

What do you find most enjoyable about being a professor?

I love helping students understand the complexities of the law, develop critical thinking skills, and become more confident in their abilities. In Federal Income Tax class, students may start out intimidated by the statute and regulations, but by the end of the semester, they know exactly how to work with the most complex rules. The tax code yields its secrets with careful study and time spent! As a law professor, I have the opportunity every day to help guide students from diverse backgrounds and perspectives as they develop into the professionals they want to become. I have great confidence in the future of the legal profession and our students are going to be leading the way.

Every year, you host a “Tax Alumni Come Back to the Classroom” event – where you invite former students to come speak to your current tax class. What benefit do you feel experiences like this have for both the students and alumni? 

The purpose of this program is to connect current law students with alumni and inspire students to think about their future careers. In law school, we hear all the time about the value of “networking,” but sometimes it is hard to know how to go about it. This program aims to make it easier by providing a day dedicated to networking. Students also do readings to encourage self-reflection on how they are using their time in law school and what various career paths are available. The alumni are willing to offer guidance and support to students as they navigate law school and the legal profession. They are also happy to share their contacts and help in any way they can.

You recently published a book with Professor Emily Waldman called Menstruation Matters: Challenging the Law’s Silence on Periods. What inspires a tax professor to write a book about menstruation? 

It all started as a tax story. I had been living in New York for more than twenty years before I realized that the sales of menstrual products like tampons were subject to tax. That made absolutely no sense to me. I started doing some research and I wrote an article explaining why I thought the “tampon tax” was a human rights issue. When I was presenting my work in one of our regular faculty colloquia, I mentioned that there was a class action brought in New York challenging the tampon tax, and Professor Waldman asked me about that. One conversation led to another and we decided to write an article explaining the argument that the sales tax on menstrual products violates the Equal Protection Clause. New York repealed its sales tax in 2016, but our article is now the basis for a state-by-state challenge to the sales tax on menstrual products. The more we spoke about the tampon tax, the more we realized that menstruation touches on everything – schools, employment, prisons, environmental law, poverty law, corporate law. We teamed up to write the book to show that menstruation is a baseline justice and equity issue.

What are some of the tax rules that disproportionately impact women and families?

The tax code does not recognize the value of unpaid caregiving work that is often performed by women, such as caring for children or elderly relatives. This can leave women with fewer retirement savings and lower Social Security benefits. What would the law look like if society truly valued caregiving? 

Your writing is frequently published in prestigious journals – what advice do you have for law students who may want to start trying to publish papers?

Write about what you want to understand, what makes you mad, what makes you happy, what you want to fix. Just write. There is no better way to teach yourself an area of law then to try to explain it in writing to someone else. Your professors are here as resources, too. There are lots of publication outlets that need and want to hear from students and lawyers of all levels of seniority.

Do you have any techniques to propel your own writing?

At least once a semester, Professor Leslie Tenzer and I have a writing challenge. There are only two rules: set your own goals and bring positive vibes only. We then report our progress on a shared spreadsheet. The mutual accountability and encouragement is really helpful. There have been so many times where I haven’t wanted to write, I feel like I’m not getting anywhere, and I have wanted to quit the writing challenge. What I’ve learned from these experiences, though, is that the key is to be consistent and show up. We write even when we don’t feel like it and we encourage each other through the inevitable rough patches. My goals are usually relatively small—20 minutes of writing each day— but I end up with an outline, a first draft, or progress that I otherwise would not have made. The best thing about writing is having written. Anyone who wants to join our writing challenge is totally welcome. It works!

What is something that your students may not know about you?

Dean Horace Anderson and I were first-year study partners in law school. He has always been brilliant, and without him, I would have never made it through Constitutional Law!

If you were not a law professor, or an attorney, what other profession could you see yourself pursuing?

As long as I am being useful, then I can be happy doing anything. I’m interested these days in all things technological. What if there was a program that accurately calculated our taxes for us? What if it was as easy to make a will online as it is to order a pizza? What if depositions were conducted via artificial intelligence? Could decentralized digital currency be the key to a universal basic income? How can we harness machine learning to eliminate bias in hiring and lending? I am so interested in all of these questions.

Learn more about Professor Crawford.