My practices falls within three broad areas. They are: (a) probate and fiduciary matters, and estate planning; (b) business and real estate, including advising, documenting transactions, and handling lawsuits; and (c) ethics, professionalism, and discipline.
In the probate and fiduciary world, there’s lots of paper and process. Probate involves the affairs of people who have died, as well as young people with money or no parents, or both, and older people who need help because of mental or physical infirmities. There’s paper and process because we are handling matters for someone else, and our system takes that concept seriously. Getting the process right counts, and it’s what often trips up do-it-yourselfers and dabbling attorneys.
As an attorney I represent someone, whether it’s the Personal Representative for a decedent’s estate, a guardian/conservator for an incapacitated person, or a trustee or trust beneficiary. As a Licensed Fiduciary, I am the Personal Representative, Guardian/Conservator, or Trustee.* I get appointed, usually, because no one else can or will serve, no one else can get bonded, or because someone thinks the matter needs my set of skills – organization, business and real estate experience, and the ability to solve problems. (Some of my fiduciary cases are easy; in others, the battles seem intractable. My job? Bring peace to the valley!)
Disputes arise in probate cases, albeit not that often relative to the number of cases. They’re often nasty, as family members and—usually—money are involved. Too often, more gets spent with attorneys than the amounts at issue. It’s a problem I watch for, always, but it’s a problem which is not always evident until it’s … here!
I also write wills and trusts for people, and help them with estate planning issues. In this area, and in the rest of my “probate” practice, I rely heavily on legal assistants to draft documents, “push the paper,” meet deadlines, and help me maintain a high degree of credibility with the probate division at the court house.
My business and real estate practice is wide and deep. I have many clients, some of whom I have represented for more than 25 years. They throw out employment, real estate, finance, creditor rights, intellectual property, ESOP, tax, and health care questions, and that is an abbreviated list. When I can answer their inquiries I do, and when I can’t I get help. Regardless, on matters involving IP, ESOPs, taxes, and health care I always work with others, as I know my limits.
In addition to answering questions, I negotiate and draft agreements. Some are short; some are longer. Rarely do I start from scratch, but it’s also rare that an agreement does not require significant tailoring. Over time, attorneys—me included—get used less and less for easy stuff, so most of what I do gets pretty complicated.
Business and real estate litigation occupies part my practice. In most of these cases the parties are fighting about real dollars—sums larger than the fees will likely ever be—and in most instances we get to a resolution without a trial.
My ethics, professionalism, and discipline practice touches many parts of the lawyering system. Recently, I testified as an expert witness in a fee dispute between a law firm and its client, where the fight involved seven figures. I help applicants with issues—they usually involve substance problems—get admitted to the State Bar, so they can practice law. I also represent attorneys who face discipline from the State Bar. Finally, I advise attorneys and law firms on ethics issues.
Attorney literature focuses on specializing, and it’s the way of the world, for sure. On the other hand—and maybe because I stretch—I think there’s value associated with a problem solver who has exposure to and knowledge of a broad spectrum of legal matters.
*I am a member of the Fiduciary Board, the 11-member body which regulates Licensed Fiduciaries in Arizona. Thus, it would not do for me to ignore the requirement that I provide my license number. It’s 20546.
P.S. The marketing folks talk often about sharing relevant experiences. I don’t think they pay adequate attention to ER 1.6 (Confidentiality of Information). I’ve shared all I think I can share although, for sure, this piece would be more interesting if I could tell stories.