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In Memoriam: Former Law School Dean, Tax Expert Bernard Wolfman

August 23, 2011
Bernard Wolfman
Dean Bernard Wolfman in a 1975 Penn Law yearbook photo

Bernard Wolfman C’46, L’48, former dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the Fessenden Professor of Law, Emeritus at Harvard University, died August 20, 2011. He was 87. 

“For more than 60 years, Bernie was a highly distinguished tax academic and expert – as well as a very loyal Penn alumnus. He will be greatly missed,” said Michael A. Fitts, Dean of Penn Law. “Bernie was a great friend and colleague, and was in constant communication with me and others about the Law School, in which he took great pride.”
A renowned scholar of tax law and a leading expert on professional responsibility and ethics for lawyers, Wolfman earned his A.B. in political science in 1946 and J.D. in 1948 from Penn. He practiced law for 15 years at the Philadelphia firm of Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen until an attraction to teaching and research moved him to return to his alma mater and enter a career in legal academia. 
In 1963, after serving for three years as an adjunct professor while he was still in private practice, Wolfman joined the Penn Law faculty full-time as the Kenneth W. Gemmill Professor of Tax Law and Tax Policy. He remained at the Law School through 1975, including serving as dean from 1970 to 1975. Following his deanship, he spent a year at the Center for Advanced Study at Stanford before joining the Harvard faculty in 1976. 
As dean of Penn Law, Wolfman led the School through a transformative period following the social upheaval of the 1960s. “The storm signals were already up when Wolfman took the helm,” Louis B. Schwartz wrote in a tribute to Wolfman in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. “Universities had become the battleground for broad social and political issues such as the Vietnam War and urban housing. New subjects – environmental law, health law, education law, women’s rights, to name a few – had to be integrated into the curriculum. New educational methods, particularly substituting field work and clinical experience for more conventional classroom courses, called for experimentation, money, time … The Dean presided over this maelstrom of forces with a serenity securely based on integrity, courage, and sagacity.”
Dean Wolfman oversaw the growth of the Penn Law faculty, including the addition of renowned professors Louis Pollak and Clyde Summers, as well as major curricular changes. During his tenure, clinical courses, which were beginning to emerge in American legal education, were added to Penn Law’s curriculum, and there was increased emphasis on student writing. 
Portrait of Bernard Wolfman
Penn Law's portrait of Dean Bernard Wolfman
Artist: Richard Hurd. Date: 1975.
As a professor, Wolfman was “a magnificent teacher and a master of the Socratic method,” wrote Howard Abramson, Wolfman’s former student at Harvard, now a tax professor, in a 2007 tribute in the Harvard Law Bulletin. “The Socratic method can impose harsh demands, but Bernie was not at all harsh; on the contrary, he was kind and treated us kindly both inside and outside the classroom. For those of us who teach tax, Professor Wolfman is our ideal.”
Wolfman was a prolific scholar, writing dozens of articles and numerous books, including Dissent Without Opinion: The Behavior of Justice William O. Douglas in Federal Tax Cases (senior author), 1975; Federal Income Taxation of Corporate Enterprise (with Diane Ring, 5th edition, 2008); Ethical Problems in Federal Tax Practice (with Deborah Schenk and Diane Ring, 4th Edition, 2008), and Standards of Tax Practice (with J. Holden and K. Harris, 6th Edition, 2004).
Throughout his years in academia, Wolfman remained active as a practitioner, serving as an expert for both private and non-profit clients. “Staying in touch with practice, I think, is valuable to teaching and writing in my field,” he said in a 2004 interview for the Penn Law Journal. “Consulting activity can inform a professor of the effect that the law as taught is having on the law as it is and is evolving. It can also induce the professor to rethink and rethink about the way he or she teaches, how to become even more effective than in the past.”
In 2003, Wolfman served as senior adviser to the assistant attorney general for the Tax Division, U.S. Department of Justice. He was a consultant on tax policy with the U.S. Treasury Department from 1963 to 1968 and again from 1977 to 1980. From 1974-1994, he served as a consultant to the American Law Institute's Federal Income Tax Project, where he made recommendations for structural legislative change. He also served as special consultant to Iran/Contra Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh from 1987 to 1989.
Wolfman was a member of the Council of the A.B.A. Section of Taxation and council director of its committees on Corporate Taxation, Standards of Tax Practice, and Tax Policy and Simplification. He served on the Council of the A.B.A. Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities, was president of the Federal Tax Institute of New England, and a fellow of the American Bar Foundation. He was also a fellow of the American College of Tax Counsel, where he served for six years as its Regent from the First Circuit.
Wolfman is survived by his wife, Toni Wolfman; children, Jonathan, Brian, Dina Wolfman Baker, Jeffrey Braemer and David Braemer; sister, Lila Booth; as well as 10 grandchildren; and nieces, nephews and cousins. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Zelda. Contributions in his memory may be made to the Greater Boston Legal Services or the University of Pennsylvania Law School. 


Gifts to Penn Law in memory of Mr. Wolfman can made online or sent by check to:

Andy Maynard
Gift Processor
University of Pennsylvania Law School
3400 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104


Please address checks to the “Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania” and include a note to indicate that the gift is for the Wolfman fund (either written on the check, or on a note with the check).