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Fulfilling A Dream
The Ultimate Law Degree

Review in the EO Tax Journal (March 2017)

By Paul Streckfus, Editor

Bruce Hopkins has written a book. (So what’s the big deal, you say – he’s written over 30 books.) Well, his most recent book is different. It takes a little explaining, but let’s start with the title: SJD: What’s the Point of Three (Law Degrees)? If you know what SJD stands for, go to the head of the class. The subtitle helps explain the book: “The Adventures of an Older Lawyer Who Returned to Law School for the Third Degree.” 

Two things you need to know off the bat. First, the SJD degree is the doctorate in law, Doctor of Juridical Science, with SJD standing for Scientiae Juridicae Doctor. Second, Bruce is now 75, and was 72 when he decided to pursue the SJD degree. (Bruce already had two degrees – a JD and LLM from George Washington Law School.) 

As he says, most people thought he was crazy to seek the SJD degree. I do, too. I can never imagine how he does all he does, and now I learn he made this major commitment to get the SJD degree without cutting back on his many other activities. All I can guess is that he must have a twin, and the two of them divide up the work without telling us there is really two Bruce Hopkins. 

I was somewhat surprised that I have some things in common with Bruce. He said he got into EO tax law by happenstance. I got into EO tax law because I needed a job and the IRS offered me a job in the EO Division. (Actually I was given a choice between EO and EP; I sometimes wonder how things would have turned out if I had chosen EP.) He and I are both interested in writing about EO tax law, although I on a much more modest scale. We both have an interest in teaching, although again I on a much more modest scale. 

I was really surprised that Bruce said he was not a very conscientious student as a University of Michigan student, barely getting into George Washington Law School, so I could identify with him. Being in contact with high-powered EO tax attorneys most of the time, I just assume all of them went to Harvard or Stanford or Yale with stellar grades and always top of their class. I remember dating a young woman who was attending law school and found her quite upset one day. She told me she had received a B on a paper she had turned in. When I said that was good, she told me she had never gotten less than an A in her entire time in school. I didn’t tell her how many times I was glad to just get a passing grade in a course. 

Part Three of the book is titled: “Come with Me to Class.” Thoughts of law school still give me nightmares so I mostly skimmed Part Three as Bruce described taking courses in American Legal History, Federal Tax Procedure, Banking Law, Professional Responsibility, Religion Clauses, and Religion and the State. In connection with the last course, Bruce wrote a paper titled: “Tax-Exempt Religious Organizations, the Establishment Clause, and the Internal Revenue Code.,” which he expects to publish in the near future. 

I do remember taking Federal Tax Procedure at Georgetown Law School. Bruce said the course is tedious, and I agree. Worse for me, my class ran from 9 am to noon each Saturday. Newly-married, my wife did not see much of me during the week as I was working at the IRS and going to law school at night. However, on Friday nights, after working all week, she was ready to boogie. I tried, usually unsuccessfully, to cut Friday nights short, but getting up to make a 9 am class on Saturday morning was tough. Most of my fellow students seemed to be in the same boat, as we either missed class or staggered in late. Fortunately, our trio of professors, all adjuncts, didn’t seem to care, and I think we all got at least a C, but don’t ask me any questions about federal tax procedure. 

Once having completed his six courses, Bruce had to do a dissertation, which he describes in Part Four, “End of the Journey.” He decided to write a paper arguing that the IRS lacks jurisdiction to regulate in the realm of nonprofit governance. 

Bruce said he was stunned in April 2007 when then TE/GE Commissioner Steve Miller announced an IRS governance initiative in a speech. Actually the Initiative got its first airing a few months earlier when Marv Friedlander spoke on February 2, 2007, at the annual Joint Councils meeting in Baltimore. As part of his remarks Marv released a couple sheets of paper with the title, “Good Governance Practices for 501(c)(3) Organizations,” which contained nine recommended governance practices on which he said the IRS was seeking comments. (For this document, see EOTJ, vol. 12, no. 1, p. 112.) 

As a result of Marv’s temerity, a mini-uproar resulted with brickbats being thrown by distinguished members of the EO tax bar, led by Bonnie Brier *. Marv became a pariah at the IRS as the complaints flooded in. At about the point when no one in the EO Division was speaking to Marv (Marv who?), then IRS Commissioner Mark Everson declared at a meeting that he thought the governance initiative was a great idea. Suddenly Marv went from goat to genius. 

I understand Bruce’s (and Bonnie’s) dislike for the governance initiative. I personally support it, as I believe the IRS has adequate legal support based on the organizational test for (c)(3) organizations. 

According to Bruce, most recently in SJD, the IRS’ ruling policy is that “small nonprofit boards and nonprofit boards comprised of related individuals [are] inherent manifestations of private benefit, precluding tax exemption.” I have never seen a denial based solely on this basis. I have seen plenty of rulings where board size is mentioned, but it is one of a number of factors, as most denials are based on the totality of facts and circumstances. Because of the section 7428 declaratory judgment procedures, the IRS tends to put every conceivable basis for denial in an adverse ruling, hoping that if a denial goes to court, the court will support its denial based either on the totality of facts and circumstances or at least some of the facts. 

Another complaint of Bruce’s, also noted in SJD, is that the IRS is issuing denials to “nonprofit organizations that did not adopt certain governance policies, most frequently conflict-of-interest policies.” I have not seen such a ruling, but if they exist, they are incorrect, and I assume the IRS honchos in the TEGE Associate Chief Counsel office will agree that any such rulings were done in error. Again, the lack of a conflict-of-interest policy may have been mentioned as part of the totality of facts and circumstances that resulted in an adverse ruling. 

Bruce ends SJD by saying that his plan is to expand his dissertation into a book. I certainly look forward to that, and I can certainly recommend SJD to readers. Bruce is very honest in SJD about himself and others. I suppose, as I am finding out, that one of the few advantages of getting old is that you truly start being yourself and stop playing games or letting other people direct your activities. Bruce has had a very interesting life, with a few downs to go with all the ups, but the foot faults build character. 

My one counsel to him has been to start looking for someone (probably a number of someones) to keep his publishing empire going. EO tax law does not stand still and supplements for all his books are needed fairly frequently. 

I’m sure Bruce remembers Paul Treusch. He and Norman Sugarman had a book that was similar in content to Bruce’s Bible, simply titled Tax-Exempt Charitable Organizations. Paul and Norman put out a first edition in 1979 and a second edition in 1983. After Norman’s death, Paul put out a third edition in 1988, but by then Paul needed to pass authorship on to someone younger. Unfortunately, he resisted this, and the third edition was the last. 

While I know Bruce will be cranking out many more editions of The Law of Tax-Exempt Organizations, now in its eleventh edition, I hope Bruce starts thinking of recruiting some youngsters, and probably many will be required, to begin assisting him with the idea that they will eventually continue his work when he begins a well-deserved retirement. 

*As a member of the Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities (ACT), Bonnie Brier was a co-project leader for its critical report, “The Appropriate Role of the Internal Revenue Service with Respect to Tax-Exempt Organization Good Governance Issues,” dated June 11, 2008. 

Kirkus Book Review:
February 22, 2018

Bruce R. Hopkins

A veteran nonprofit lawyer reflects

on his career and the fundamentals

of his profession.

Hopkins (Starting and Managing a Nonprofit Organization, 2017, etc.) often encounters bewilderment when he informs people he’s a nonprofit lawyer, and so it makes sense he would write a book explaining what precisely that means. The author is inarguably an expert on the topic, having practiced law for nearly 50 years, a wealth of experience chronicled in the portion of the volume devoted to autobiographical remembrance. After a year attending Flint Junior College in Michigan and a stint working in Washington, D.C., he transferred to the University of Michigan, where he majored in political science (he wishes he chose English literature in hindsight). He graduated in 1964 and subsequently earned a degree in law from the George Washington University School of Law in 1967. Hopkins completed a master’s degree in tax law from the same institution and began teaching university courses and ultimately became a professor at the University of Kansas Law School in 2015, finishing a doctorate there.

His work experience at seven law firms is also cataloged in great detail. But the bulk of the book is devoted to an exhaustive account of the fundamentals of nonprofit tax law and practice—the last section describes the 150 most fundamental elements. The author’s unfailingly lucid study seems designed for someone considering a career as a nonprofit lawyer—it’s unclear who else would benefit from such a comprehensive overview. The volume as a whole is charmingly, if eccentrically eclectic—Hopkins combines a surprisingly candid memoir with an encyclopedic primer on nonprofit law. He expresses himself in a breezy, curmudgeonly style—he bristles at the conflation of lawyer with attorney and the use of “not-for-profit” in place of nonprofit. Most importantly, the author is a natural teacher and a seasoned writer, and as a result, his overview of the subject is likely as good if not better than any other available. He even supplies a thoughtful account of the political philosophy that undergirds the creation of tax exemption.

An impressively thorough introduction to the basic elements of nonprofit law.


This book was selected by Kirkus for review in its 2018 Fall Preview Special Issue. The review appears at LXXXVI Kirkus Reviews (No. 16) p. 221 (August 2018).

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Fulfilling a Dream: 
The Ultimate Law Degree
and A Nonprofit Lawyer are available 
through these booksellers.


Dorrance Publishing Company

Law professor, practicing lawyer pens memoir
on attaining third degree at age 72
KU News, Tuesday, 03/07/2017

LAWRENCE, KS -- Plenty of people go back to school at a nontraditional age. But most of them don't take classes for a doctorate at a school in which they are also a professor. Or while they are practicing law full-time. Or at the age of 72. 

But that’s exactly what Bruce Hopkins did when he decided to get an SJD at the University of Kansas School of Law, where he also serves as a professor from practice. He details his experiences in having the same young people as students and classmates, attending classes with professors many years his junior and answering why he was doing such a thing to just about everyone in his new memoir “SJD: What’s the Point of Three (Law Degrees)? The Adventures of an Older Lawyer Who Returned to Law School for the Third Degree.”

A well-established and respected lawyer in the field of tax-exempt and nonprofit law, Hopkins is no stranger to the classroom or writing. Approaching his 50th year in practicing law, he has written more than 30 books, most of them on all manner of tax-exempt or nonprofit legal topics. He earned his first two law degrees from George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. He practiced there for many years, often thinking about getting the SJD, or Scientiae Juridicae Doctor, commonly known as the equivalent of a Ph.D. in law. But at the time George Washington and Georgetown did not offer it. He considered Harvard, but the commute proved impractical.

About 20 years ago he moved to the Kansas City area and began practicing his specialty there. In 2008, he became an adjunct professor at KU, eventually becoming professor from practice in 2015.

“It’s an odd thing,” Hopkins said of the decision to go back to school. “I’d wanted to do this for a long time. Part of it was like a mountain climber looking at a mountain. It was right there. I’d wanted to do it for a while, so I did.”

He didn’t want to have regrets or excuses about age, lack of time or money or fears of flunking out of the school at which he teaches to get in his way, although he admits many of those reservations did enter his mind. In 2013, he enrolled in classes while still teaching his class on nonprofit organizations and law and while practicing law in Kansas City.

The book begins by addressing the question he gets most often: Why? Why would he possibly consider doing this, many asked. Many lawyers didn’t even know the degree existed and told him he was wasting his time and money. Fellow lawyers had told him they’d sworn they’d never attend another law class after completing their degree and passing the bar. As one can imagine, there were many unique happenings, which he outlines in the memoir.

“The problem was I was about 72 years old, which seems young now,” Hopkins said with a laugh. “One of the peculiar things was teaching here (at KU) while also being a student. There was some overlap.”


Students would be sitting next to him as peers during one class, then be sitting in front of him learning from him in another. The professors who taught his classes were all younger than him. And he had the same challenges as any other student, writing papers, completing assignments, taking tests and taking courses such as banking law and tax procedure, which proved to be exceedingly difficult, he said.

Bruce Hopkins' Excellent Adventure
By Patti Van Slyke, Editor
The Journal of the Kansas Bar Association
May 2017 issue 

While my position as editor of The Journal of the Kansas Bar Association affords me many benefits, I have to say one of my favorite benefits to date is receiving my own signed first edition Bruce Hopkins. I can’t wait to see what challenge Bruce will take on next. As Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Indeed, Bruce Hopkins is reaping impressive dividends.

SJD: I was unfamiliar with this acronym when I first saw it in connection with a new book by Bruce R. Hopkins, K.U. Professor from Practice at The University of Kansas School of Law. Apparently, I am not the only one who didn’t know the meaning of SJD, as I learned in the first pages of Hopkins’ book, “SJD: What’s the Point of Three (Law Degrees)? The Adventures of an Older Lawyer Who Returned to Law School for the Third Degree.” With typical humor, Hopkins writes that SJD could stand for a Houston church named Saint John the Divine, or Sir John Deanes college in Northwich, England, or (as Google showed me) for the San Jose del Cabo airport in Mexico. However, in this instance, SJD actually stands for Scientiae Juridicae Doctor which is Latin for Doctor of Juridical Science. This advanced degree is also known as Doctor of the Science of Law or Doctor of Laws.

Even many practicing lawyers are unaware of this degree, or are only peripherally aware of it. Bruce discovered that many of his colleagues in law had quite deliberately made the decision never to darken a classroom door after graduating from law school. Many of his friends and coworkers at the Polsinelli Law Firm in Kansas City were not just surprised, but were outright shocked and somewhat horrified when they learned that Bruce intended to pursue this highest advanced law degree. It wasn’t simply that Bruce already had an undergraduate degree from University of Michigan, and his JD and LLM from George Washington University. For most people, the idea of an accomplished lawyer, teacher and prolific author pursuing another degree at the age of 72 was simply hard to believe.

Hopkins faced endless varieties of the question, “Why?” And while he tried to reasonably and rationally respond to each, the answer was not easy to condense down into a simple reply.

In the course of reading the book, one discovers that the idea of earning his third law degree was not some crazy notion that came along late in Hopkins’ career(s). He had long been interested in pursuing the degree, but had been thwarted by the labor intensive process of taking the actual courses. As a lawyer with a full time practice in a busy law firm, an adjunct professor first at George Washington University in D.C. and ultimately at K.U., and a very productive and successful author of books of law in his area of expertise, Bruce had a difficult time figuring out just when he might fit in those classes – not to mention the studying, the reading, the paper writing and the dissertation that would be required.

Bruce discloses that on more than one occasion, when in Boston, he picked up application papers for the SJD program at what was for years his dream school, Harvard. But that was simply not to be for many reasons, not the least of which was cost – not just of the program itself, but for travel to and from. It simply was not feasible at that point in his career to be making trips to Cambridge twice a week to attend classes.

So in 2012, while teaching as an adjunct professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, Bruce decided to take advantage of the program that was right there at K.U. As you read this book, it is striking how many instances of happenstance led to that place and time, resulting in the kismet of the right program, the right academic advisor, and the right personal circumstances to bring his long-held dream to fruition.

Don’t think for a moment the journey was a cakewalk. Far from it. Hopkins discovered that “doing in theory is much different than actually doing it." His memoir takes you through the gratifying highs and the resolve-shaking lows of his odyssey, outlining his experience in each class, and sharing anecdotes of specific incidents with his fellow students and with SJD Bruce R. Hopkins, J.D., L.L.M., S.J.D. 22 The Journal of the Kansas Bar Association professors, nearly all of whom were decades younger than himself. Their perceptions of his saga are as telling as his own. He candidly admits his greatest challenges were the courses on taxes and banking. He also offers observations about the changes in law and students and society from the time he was in law school through his SJD course of study.

It is interesting to note that the SJD is not generally available except in the U.S. and Canada. Some 40 American colleges and universities currently offer it. In many of the programs, the degree is geared toward foreign students, those who want to become government officials or university professors in their own countries. In fact, during the time Hopkins was in the program at K.U., he and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt were the only two Americans in the program. While there is not a large number of students seeking this advanced degree, Hopkins said there were maybe 15-20 individuals pursuing the degree at K.U.

Throughout the book, many things about Bruce Hopkins become shiningly clear. He has a tremendous love for the law and for learning. He has a deep love, respect, and appreciation for his wife, Dr. Bonnie J. Buchele, who is an accomplished psychologist and psychoanalyst in her own right. While he takes his academic and professional pursuits very seriously, he has a delightful sense of humor that informs much of the book.

When asked what he primarily hoped readers would take from the book, Bruce replied, “That is it never too late to pursue a dream. Don’t let age or time or any other obstacle keep you from achieving a goal.” He sees that his experience has changed him, changed the way he teaches and interacts with students. As a lawyer who has taught since 1978, he now leads classes more in discussion than in lecture. No longer with a large firm, he has his own private practice focusing on nonprofit law.

Bruce continues to write. Throughout his career, his practice has focused in the area of nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations. As a brand new lawyer, one of his first jobs was monitoring the progression of major tax legislation working its way through the process in Congress. That legislation became the Tax Reform Act of 1969, which essentially created the law practice field of tax-exempt organizations. Because of his immersion in the process, he was intimately familiar with the sweeping changes brought about by the new law, and found himself sought out as a speaker at conferences and seminars that sprang out of the tax reform. Due to his growing popularity as a speaker, he was offered the opportunity to teach a non-profit law course in the evenings for George Washington University.

There was no book available for the course, so he pulled together materials from a variety of original sources to use. He began summarizing those materials. “The Law of Tax-Exempt Organizations” became his first book. Hopkins self-published the first two editions, but landed with publishers John Wiley and Sons, Inc., which published the third edition and a new edition every four years afterward, with annual supplements. With the success of his first book, he turned to another facet of his law practice for material and soon produced Charity Under Siege, Government Regulation of Fund-Raising, which under a later editor became The Law of Fundraising (which produced its fifth edition in 2013).

Hopkins has authored more than 30 books about nonprofit organization law, all published by Wiley and Sons. Wiley also publishes his monthly newsletter, "Bruce R. Hopkins’ Nonprofit Counsel," now in its 34th year. He wrote a trade book, “Starting and Managing a Nonprofit Organization: A Legal Guide” which this year saw its 7th edition. He has co-written books on health care law, religious organizations, nonprofit governance, private foundations, higher education law, and tax exempt organizations annual information returns.

Hopkins' memoir, however, proved somewhat harder to market. His regular publisher is not in the memoir business, so it declined the opportunity to publish “SJD”. After exploring other options, Bruce decided to take the self-publishing route This book is now available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Interested readers can learn more about Bruce and his extensive library through his books website.

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