Lawrence Jegen III spent much of his professional life in the classroom, gaining a reputation as a demanding presence who had an encyclopedic knowledge of tax law and someone who cared about his students and would willingly offer advice and counsel long after they had graduated.
Jegen, 83, died at his Indianapolis home May 17 after an illness. Arrangements are pending.
He taught for 56 years at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, where much of his teaching and scholarly work focused on federal and state taxation, business and estate planning, and philanthropy. He also helped launch and taught for 40 years a preparation course that helped generations of Indiana lawyers study for and pass the bar exam.
“There are tens of thousands of people who are Indiana lawyers because of Larry Jegen,” said Barnes & Thornburg LLP partner John Maley. “We are better lawyers and critical thinkers because of him.”
Law students walked into Jegen’s tax classes terrified, having already heard stories of him and of tax law. The students used the tax code as their textbook and were expected to have not just read the material but to have studied it since, as Maley explained, whether something was deductible or taxable might depend on one word.
When the income tax course was a requirement, the 100-plus students would be seated in alphabetical order and Jegen would be the focus. Walking back and forth, lecturing without notes, he would call upon the students, quizzing them with a series of questions that would underscore the point he was making.
The students would avert their eyes, not wanting to look directly at him for fear of getting tossed a question. And when someone appeared to be losing interest, Jegen would query, “Friend, are you with me?”
“He loved tax,” said former student and Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Margret Robb. “He wanted his students to understand tax because he believed if they understood it, they would love tax too.”
His teaching extended outside the classroom as he became known nationally as one of the foremost experts on tax law. Jegen would speak and lecture around the country and often offered his insights to judges, attorneys and legislators.
In the 1970s, he was a driving force behind the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which has become the underpinning of pensions and 401(k) plans. He helped draft the bill and then testified before Congress, where he explained the very technical piece of legislation.
After the bill’s passage in 1974, he attended the signing ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House at the invitation of President Gerald Ford.
“Without him, I doubt we would have ERISA as we know it today,” said Curtis Shirley, solo practitioner in Indianapolis.
As a professor, Jegen received numerous awards and honors. He received the Thomas Hart Benton Mural Medallion, which is the highest award granted by Indiana University, in 1993 and in 2005. He was also honored with the IU President’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1989, IU’s Teaching Excellence Recognition Award in 1997, and IU McKinney’s Black Cane Award for Most Outstanding Law Professor six times.
Indianapolis criminal defense attorney James Voyles, partner at Voyles Vaiana Lukemeyer Baldwin & Webb, remembered seeking Jegen’s expertise for some of his cases. In those conversations, Voyles reverted to his student days and kept calling his teacher “professor Jegen” even though Jegen kept insisting he be called “Larry.”
Even so, Voyles counted his former tax professor as a trusted mentor.
“I never felt I could be his peer,” Voyles said, “but I always felt I could be his friend.”