Law professor and attorney collaborate on Guidebook to Michigan Taxes


By Cynthia Price
Legal News

WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Marjorie Gell and Wayne Roberts of Varnum have been invited back for the seventh time to edit the national Guidebook to Michigan Taxes.

Not only is this an honor due to the prestige of the publisher, CCH Wolters Kluwer, and its widespread use among practitioners, but it is also a sign of how well the two collaborate

“I can’t say enough good things about Wayne,” Gell says. “We’ve collaborated for many years, and we know each other so well that we work very well together.”

The admiration is mutual. “We’ve been friends since 2005,” Roberts says. “Even though we collaborate with the CCH in-house people as well, it really comes down to the two of us, and I really think the book benefits from our good working relationship.”

Gell and Roberts originally met while at a boutique tax firm in Detroit, Raymond and Prokop, which disbanded. They originally collaborated on a book about the Michigan Business Tax (Practical Guide to the Michigan Business Tax, 2010.) “That was selling well, but then Gov. Snyder said, ‘We’re going to repeal the MBT,’ and it became a collector’s edition,” says Roberts with a smile.

So in 2012, the two moved on to editing, researching, and writing the more comprehensive guidebook, which the CCH website says is now in its 48th edition.

The purpose of the book is to offer accounting professionals a general picture of the “impact and pattern” of Michigan taxes and provide a readable summary of the landscape of Michigan tax law, what Roberts calls a “first-look reference.”

He adds, “This book is comprehensive, but everyone worked to make it very easy to use.”

The guidebook summarizes the findings in significant court cases and administrative rulings, and offers a comparative analysis of the differences between Michigan and federal law. It also covers the general property tax levied by local governments.

Both say that the prestige of the publisher, formerly just CCH for Commerce Clearing House, is part of what makes the time they spend each year on the guidebook worthwhile. Because CCH is the go-to resource for practitioners in the accounting field (and several others), they know it will be distributed widely enough to help the practitioners it is designed to serve.

“These are on the desks of the in-house accountant and lawyer in large and small companies, and also on the shelf of CPA firms,” Roberts says. “These are on everybody’s shelf. It’s a lot of work if you’re not certain that it’s going to be used, and that’s one of the reasons we started working with CCH, because it was so established.”

“Being asked to keep editing this is gratifying,” Gell comments. “The publisher has a lot of credibility.”

After Raymond and Prokop, Roberts’ and Gell’s careers diverged.

Gell joined the faculty of Western Michigan University-Thomas M. Cooley Law School ten years ago, after working as an adjunct professor for about a year. She has a B.A. from the University of Michigan, and both a Juris Doctor degree and an LL.M. in Taxation from Wayne State University Law School.

She teaches a variety of courses in taxation law, as well as on wills, estates, and trusts. “Wills are not my primary expertise, and though I  teach federal income tax, I would say my real expertise is in state and local tax,” she says.

The founder of the Michigan Women's Tax Association, Gell has served the community in a variety of ways, including on the Grand Rapids Arts Council and Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce Tax and Regulatory Policy Committee. She also  writes extensively on many topics, including collaborating with Roberts on “Rebirth of the Michigan Corporate Income Tax” in Tax Notes 1/13/2011.

Though Roberts has also been an adjunct professor at WMU-Cooley, as well as at Walsh College, he has remained in the private sector.

After receiving his B.S. in Accountancy summa cum laude from Western Michigan University and his M.S. in Taxation with distinction from Grand Valley State University, Roberts had a six-year career as an accountant. He worked for such firms as Ernst and Young in Columbus, Ohio, and BDO Seidman in Grand Rapids, before attending The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law for his J.D.

Before joining Varnum in 2015, he practiced for almost ten years at Dykema Gossett’s Grand Rapids office. He too enjoys giving back to the community, and just last week volunteered with the Homelessness Prevention Program in Detroit helping people avoid tax foreclosures.

Roberts has been named a Best Lawyers in America® Lawyer of the Year for Grand Rapids in 2014 and 2017, the first in Tax Law and the latter for Litigation and Controversy-Tax and Tax Law. He is also a fellow of the State Bar Foundation and was awarded the L. Hart Wright Service Award in 2015 State Bar of Michigan (SBM) Taxation Section.

Gell and Roberts also share in having both chaired that SBM section. When Gell took over after Roberts had served, she put together a past-chairs advisory board in part to take advantage of his experience. “He just has a really good sense of how to proceed, a good political sense,” Gell says.

In such work, they join what Gell calls “a pretty tight-knit group of tax lawyers in the state,” but even within those parameters, their collaboration stands out as enjoyable and productive.