McLaughlin Named Robert W. Swenson Professor of Law

Dean Hiram Chodosh of the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law recently announced that Nancy McLaughlin has been named the Robert W. Swenson Professor of Law.  McLaughlin, a member of the Quinney College faculty since 2000, teaches courses in federal income tax, trusts & estates, estate planning, gift & estate tax, private land conservation, and a class on conservation easements.

In the following interview, she discusses her current work on perpetual conservation easements, her new research and writing projects, and the privilege she feels at recognizing and honoring the contributions of Robert W. Swenson, a distinguished environmental law professor at the College of Law.

What kinds of projects are you currently working on?

I have been working on a number of interrelated projects over the past year.

The first is a book forthcoming with Oxford University Press entitled In Perpetuity: The Future of Conservation Easements, which will discuss, among other things, the interpretation and enforcement of perpetual conservation easements, the modification and termination of such easements to respond to changing conditions, standing to sue to enforce conservation easements, the role of state attorneys general in easement enforcement, and the condemnation of land subject to conservation easements. I published two articles in the Wyoming Law Review discussing a case of first impression in which Johnson County, Wyoming, improperly agreed to terminate a perpetual conservation easement and allow the value inherent therein to pass as a windfall to subsequent owners of the land (the second article is forthcoming in January 2010). I also have provided assistance to the Wyoming Attorney General’s office as it seeks to uphold the conservation easement on behalf of the easement donor and the public.

In August of this year I was appointed to the position of Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development at the College of Law. In this position, in addition to a variety of administrative duties, I am responsible for assisting the faculty in the production of scholarly research, defining a collective research strategy for the college, promoting excellence in research, coordinating scholarly activities, developing resources for research, and publicizing the scholarship of the faculty. One of my major initiatives this year is to oversee the complete overhaul and updating of faculty webpages, which increasingly represent the face of the faculty of the College of Law to the outside world. Part of this project involves assisting faculty members in establishing a presence on the legal scholarship network (LSN), an on-line repository of legal scholarship available to users globally, and making their scholarship readily available to other scholars and the general public through links on their faculty webpages. I also am working on the creation of a web-based portal for faculty members that will serve as a central repository for scholarship, service, and teaching opportunities, including fellowship and grant opportunities. The goal is to minimize the time spent by faculty in searching for such opportunities, thus allowing them to devote their energies to their scholarly, teaching, and service activities.

What do you anticipate your next project will be?

After completion of my book, I will turn to the following two projects, both of which are in the beginning stages. The first is a law review article discussing the historical and contemporary enforcement of charitable gifts made for specific purposes,  including the rapidly evolving rules governing who has standing to sue to enforce such gifts (many existing and would-be charitable donors are surprised to learn that under the common law they lack standing to sue to enforce the terms of their gifts). There is much controversy over the impact these changes will have on both charitable giving and administrative efficiency in the charitable context. The second project is a law review article discussing the contours of the Internal Revenue Code’s private benefit prohibition as it relates to the modification or termination of conservation easements. When the restrictions in a perpetual conservation easement are relaxed or released, economic or other benefit may be conferred upon the private landowner at the public’s expense.  To date, no guidance has been issued by the Internal Revenue Service, the Treasury Department, or the courts regarding how such “benefit” should be calculated or how the public should be compensated for its loss.

How would you describe the significance of this appointment?

I am privileged by this appointment and to have been awarded a chaired professorship that recognizes and honors the legacy of Robert W. Swenson, a distinguished environmental professor at the law school. This appointment further inspires me, both with regard to my own scholarly endeavors and my responsibility as Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development to promote a maximally supportive and productive scholarly environment for all faculty at the law school.