Miami Law graduate Melissa Muhammad has taken her talents far afield, and finds herself handling international taxation matters for the Japanese government.
Muhammad is a 2010-2012 Fellow in the Mike Mansfield Fellowship Program, which is administered by the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation and has offices in Washington D.C. and Tokyo. It enables U.S. federal government employees to work in their counterpart agencies in Japan. Muhammad's placements have included the National Tax Agency of Japan, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"Those of us who knew Ms. Muhammad as a student are not at all surprised by her success as a tax professional," said Frances R. Hill, Professor of Law and Dean's Distinguished Scholar for the Profession. "At the law school, she stood out as intelligent, serious and interested in making a difference in the world. We are all immensely proud of her."
The Mansfield Fellowship Program – established in 1994 and named after Mike Mansfield, a former U.S. ambassador to Japan – is a first-of-its-kind endeavor for both the United States and Japan. The Fellowship enables U.S. federal government employees to develop an in-depth understanding of Japan, learn how its government works, and establish relationships with their counterparts in the government of Japan as well as in the business, professional and academic communities.
"The Mansfield Fellowship has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life," Muhammad said. "Learning Japanese, working in a Japanese government office every day, and living in the culturally-rich city of Tokyo, have been not only enlightening and challenging, but also quite exhilarating."
In the U.S., Muhammad – J.D. '96, LL.M. Tax '00 – has worked for the Internal Revenue Service since 2001, as an international tax attorney. Muhammad is the first IRS employee to be selected as a Mansfield Fellow, and is the first non-Japanese person to work for the National Tax Agency of Japan. "The reception and hospitality of the Japanese government officials have been astounding," said Muhammad. "They have really included me on great projects and allowed me to not only understand but also contribute to their process."
At the National Tax Agency (NTA), Muhammad works in the Office of International Operations, which handles all matters related to international taxation for the Japanese government, including projects and conferences related to taxation in developing countries. She conducts training seminars for the NTA officials and participates in the agency's two-month International Seminar on Taxation with tax officials from 30 developing nations.
"The NTA and the Mansfield Foundation provided me with an incredible opportunity to train with the technical tax officers and tax managers from thirty developing countries," she said. "This was not only a phenomenal opportunity to learn Japanese tax law and administration, but also a remarkable chance to listen and talk with developing countries about their issues related to taxation. To say the least, my perspective on taxation has really broadened."
While at Miami Law, Muhammad was the President of the Black Law Student Association and was the recipient of the Florida Association of Women Lawyers Scholarship Award. After completing her J.D., she spent four years in the Dade County Public Defender's Office.
"Before attending the UM tax law program, I was a public defender and I never knew the world of international taxation existed," Muhammad said. "I decided to do an LL.M. in tax, and through UM's international tax program, I walked into a whole new world and found my niche. I absolutely love doing international tax. I get to travel around the world, handling high– valued, complex tax cases, working with large law firms, accounting firms, and with numerous foreign government tax officials. I always dreamed of a career that allows me to travel. With UM Law as my legal base, I can honestly say, my career is exceeding my expectations."
Muhammad grew up in a rural area of south Georgia and always dreamed of being a lawyer, a goal that became clearer while she was attending Howard University. "My deans and professors always stressed that Howard grooms global leaders," she said. "That mantra has always stuck with me and gave me the mindset to think globally. I chose UM Law largely because the law school and its leaders have an international focus."
Muhammad said she looks forward to more great opportunities in the field of international taxation and encourages lawyers to seek opportunities to work abroad and try new experiences. "I am eternally grateful to my husband and family for supporting my dreams and embracing a not-so traditional lifestyle," she said. "Moreover, I am grateful to UM Law School for opening my mind to try a not-so-traditional area of law, and to the Mike Mansfield Fellowship Program for affording me a not-so-traditional career opportunity. All-in-all, being not-so-traditional has been pretty awesome."