Marrying your passion and profession inevitably involves a journey. Even during the peaks of the journey, becoming proficient – and even accomplished – may bring satisfaction and even accolades, but also a sense that something is missing.
Like many of my generation, I was reared to (at least in part) “save the world.” Even after the reality of an extended stint in Washington, D.C., there was still enough left in me to want to “make the world a little bit better.”
Upon graduation from the University of Virginia School of Law, I was eager to avoid the fate of young associates consigned to perform background research for years. I was “in the right place at the right time” fortunate enough to become involved in two high profile cases. One concerned the dispute between the Del Valle and Noriega administrations over which was the lawful government of the Republic of Panama, and the other involved the “outlaw” Bank of Credit and Commerce International. I appeared (all too) frequently in federal court, in newspaper and television interviews, and even testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Terrorism.
But two things were missing. My “non-attorney” life was non-existent. The endless deadlines and demands of judges, opposing counsel, co-counsel, journalists, experts, lay witnesses, etc. not only consumed most waking hours but made scheduling personal events virtually impossible. The attorney life, which replaced it, provided excitement and accolades which were temporarily fulfilling but ultimately lacking in long term purpose and fulfillment. Too much of the focus was on extracting the maximum possible revenue from the client, all in the name of advocating on the client’s behalf.
I decided to open my own law firm, where I could set my own direction, policies and goals. Originally specializing in “threshold” law; i.e., whatever came through the threshold, the practice gradually but surely evolved toward estate administration – navigating the assets and beneficiaries of a loved one who died through the economic and emotional minefields of probate court and the Internal Revenue Service. It was closer to the mission of helping others while making a living than litigation, but the expense and frustration of the process for clients left most of them feeling less “helped” than if they had been given the opportunity to plan things ahead.
You may have figured the ending, but it took me some time. I had become intimately acquainted with the financial and emotional hazards accompanying end-of-life issues, and, more importantly, how almost all of them could have been avoided with some advance planning (by definition, “planning” is in advance:” after the fact it is “damage control.”
Now I have the “happily ever after” business model – instead of paying a fortune in legal fees, accounting fees, valuation fees, court costs, estate taxes and other ancillary fees and expenses, clients get peace of mind while they are still alive and, quite often, supplement their fee with a hug or fruit basket (candies, baked goods and other sugar-laden gifts are also appreciated but with a wife in the film industry, I have to watch my weight). Happy clients refer other clients, which keeps the rest of my family happy. Finally, when the inevitable comes, the surviving families are usually happy enough to retain me to administer the estate, particularly when they find out how much more expeditious – and less expensive - it will be because of prudent planning.
The best part is meeting the families and learning the life stories of my clients. I am fortunate that many clients become friends; and friends become part of the family. Most of them were not born into wealth, but rather earned it the hard way. They want to pass it to their families, but quite often not merely to “pay for stuff” but rather to further their hopes, dreams and aspirations. All of them, however, want their hard-earned assets to go to whom, where, when and how they want it to go – and it’s my mission to make sure that happens.
Elegant pictures by mugleyTaken from flickr, under creative common. If you keep any of these pictures in your final website, please keep this credit too, thanks
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