The Execution

So I wound up going back to law school for an extra year to get my Master's Degree (LL.M.) in taxation and to learn to be an estate planner. However, in school they never teach you how to handle clients and client meetings. I had to learn that the hard way, by trial and error (And, wow, did I have a few screw ups before I figured it out).

The next law firm I joined (after my Master's Degree) put me to work right away on the estate plan for one of the firm's biggest and oldest clients, a stern 93 year old widow. I was warned that, while discussing her plan with her, I should never mention the word "death" as she was morbidly fearful of it, so I was very careful to use terms like, "when you're gone," "after you've passed," and "when you're not around." I met with her several times before diligently preparing all the necessary, detailed paperwork. Then, the day came for her document signing.

As I arrived in the meeting room, several firm partners and associates were solemnly seated at a large conference table in imperious, high-backed leather chairs, while the elderly and frail lady client sat all the way at the far end of the table, expressionless. The room was filled with tension, as they all dreaded dealing with the forbidden "D" word. I walked in with a huge stack of documents under my left arm, and looking to break the ice, I blurted out, "Mrs. Green, are you ready for the execution?", while I banged down the documents onto the table! All the attorneys' jaws dropped and all eyes immediately turned to her, fearing her reaction. A few seconds went by (which, to me, felt like an eternity) and finally her stern expression morphed into a loud laugh, a side of her none of us had ever seen! I survived even though, afterward, I was known in that firm as "the executioner!"

If That Wasn't Bad Enough, Then I Met Nick

After less than a year I moved to another law firm (before forming my own). I was confident by then that I had mastered the estate planner "client routine" pretty well. That is, until I met with Nick. Again, I was dealing with one of the firm's biggest clients who was notoriously demanding and tough, and again, I was barely prepared for what would occur.

I knew Nick had a large business empire and ran it with his daughter, to whom he intended to pass it down. I understood that's why I was meeting with him. What I didn't know was that he had recently remarried, so when he introduced himself and a much younger lady in the lobby, I assumed she was his daughter--to which he angrily responded, "NO, this is my wife!" (Oops, I was in big time trouble already, before I even got them into my office!)

When we went into my office things got even colder. Nick did all the talking, dictating the way his estate plan was going to work. Very little was to be set aside for his wife, and with lots of conditions attached. Every time I tried to engage his wife's participation, he cut me off. I already insulted him in the lobby and, knowing he was a major firm client, I decided to just remain quiet and subservient. I managed to get through the meeting and summed up the plan that I would document. I asked Nick, "Is this what you want?" to which he retorted, "Yes!" Then I turned and asked his wife, "Is that what you want?" but received no answer. There was heavy silence as she stared at me without a response for almost 30 seconds. Finally, she shouted with disdain, "What I really want is a divorce!" and jumped out of her chair and ran screaming down the hallway (past the senior partner's office) and out through the crowded lobby! 

I thought, for sure, I had lost my job, but it turned out that later the same day, Nick called and thanked the senior partner because what he really wanted was a divorce too! I did get to keep my job, but thereafter I was forever "Nick"-named by the firm's attorneys "The Homewrecker!"

 So Be Nice (and Forgiving) to Jillian!

 I could write about a lot more "horror stories" from my early days as an estate planning attorney, but how is that relevant to you (other than perhaps, as entertainment)? Here's how...

  We'd like to introduce you to our firm's newest attorney:

Jillian Malone.

She's a terrific person and we assure you, you'll really enjoy meeting and working with her! That's because in order to avoid my early career experiences, we developed and had Jillian attend a rigorous, in-house, new attorney training program, not only on the technical aspects of estate planning, but also on how to successfully hold client meetings (including observing other attorneys' meetings and using detailed meeting checklists and client interview forms - - all the stuff I wasn't trained on or equipped with). Plus, all Jillian's estate plans are reviewed by our senior paralegal who has been with us for over 25 years, as well as another attorney of our firm, so you'll know the job will get done right!

And hopefully, Jillian will steer clear of the kind of bloopers I made! 

Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.