George-Zeitlin ()

George Zeitlin, a leading tax partner at Chadbourne & Parke and a former dean of the tax law program at New York University School of Law, died Jan. 19. He was 86.

The cause of death was lung cancer, said his daughter, Judith Zeitlin.

“George was one of the true lions of the tax bar,” said Chadbourne tax department chair William Cavanagh, adding he was the firm’s lead tax partner in the 1980s and 1990s.

Zeitlin was a partner at Chadbourne for 34 years and kept up a full client caseload until he became ill in the fall. He handled bet-the-company IRS audits for corporations and advised on mergers and acquisitions and tax issues facing high net-worth individuals.

His clients included media company Bertelsmann Inc. and a large privately held pharmaceutical company, said Cavanagh.

“George had a broad command of almost all areas of tax law, which is somewhat unique for a tax lawyer,” Cavanagh said. “He was a very gifted and creative problem solver. George could take the most complex tax problem and reduce it down to simple, understandable terms and then come up with a solution.”

Zeitlin began his career as a tax lawyer at Chadbourne in 1955 after graduating from Columbia Law School in 1953 and serving a tour of duty in the U.S. Army in Texas as a radio operator. He earned his LL.M from NYU in 1961.

He briefly left Chadbourne to serve as deputy tax legislative counsel in the U.S. Treasury Department in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

Zeitlin returned to New York in 1966, serving as a full-time tax professor at New York University School of Law until 1982. He was an associate dean of the graduate tax division of the law school from 1975 to 1982, overseeing the school’s LL.M program, Cavanagh said.

While on the law school’s full-time faculty, Zeitlin was counsel to Chadbourne. He became a partner at the firm after stepping down as associate dean in 1982.

He continued to teach part time in the school’s tax program until just a few years ago.

Harvey Dale, a university professor at NYU School of Law who knew Zeitlin for more than 40 years, remarked on Zeitlin’s leadership ability as associate dean. It’s not uncommon to have sharp and personal discussions among academics, but “George never let his own ego get involved,” Dale said. “He was a calm and firm leader, and he never made it personal.” Meanwhile, Zeitlin taught “some of the most complicated portions” of the Internal Revenue Code, while inserting some fun and humor into his classes, Dale said.

Zeitlin was attracted to tax law for the puzzles inherent in the practice, said his daughter, Judith. “He liked the problem solving and the abstract nature of the problem,” she said.

She added that her father was a “child of the Depression” and enjoyed having more than one job throughout his life. “He was a man of tremendous energy and dedication,” who was uninhibited and liked to tell jokes, she said.

Cavanagh said he took his role as a teacher extremely seriously.

“He was a warm, gregarious guy who remembered all his students,” Cavanagh said, noting he frequently kept in touch with his former students who viewed him as a resource. “He was master teacher in that he would make sure young tax lawyers would understand all aspects of a transaction.”

He is survived by his wife, Froma; his children, Jonathan, Judith and Ariel; and his grandchildren, Sam, Joshua, Lida and Eve.