We continue our series of open threads about small law firms focused on different areas of practice. In light of the turmoil being experienced by Biglaw, as well as the many laid-off lawyers and job-hunting law students looking for other opportunities, now is an excellent time to look beyond large law firms.
Today we turn our attention to TRUSTS AND ESTATES. What is it like to work at a small (or at least non-big) firm focused on T&E work? What are your hours like? Your compensation? What do you like the most — and the least — about your job?
Please discuss, in the comments.
Speaking of trusts and estates, at the recent Lavender Law conference we attended a workshop on advanced estate planning. The panelists offered advice that might be helpful to people who practice in, or aspire to practice in, trusts and estates.
Read about it, after the jump.
The panel featured the following participants:
Much of the discussion was fairly technical. We’ve distilled it down to 10 general observations and practical tips:
1. Trusts and estates is a fun area. You can be creative in helping your clients — and your clients, who are “real people,” will be grateful for your help.
2. One challenge: T&E work is very state-specific (which makes it harder to generalize about).
3. The field is very much in flux. Always keep in mind how future changes in law might affect the instruments you’ve drafted. E.g., if the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed or struck down, how might that affect a will you’ve prepared for a same-sex couple?
4. Probate clerks are your friends. Always treat them with respect. They can be very helpful to you — or make your life hell.
5. When counseling same-sex couples, life insurance can be a very useful tool in estate planning (but there are intricacies here — e.g., who holds the policy).
6. It’s wise to travel with important personal planning documents (and you should advise your clients to do so). E.g., a living will, medical proxy, designation of health care surrogate, etc.
7. The importance of estate planning should not be underestimated. These conversations can be uncomfortable — some clients don’t want to sign a will because it puts them in mind of death — but clients need to understand that the consequences of not planning ahead can be serious.
8. Estate planning is cost-effective. Drafting a solid will and getting it through probate can cost a few thousand dollars. But if the will is poorly drafted, and litigation over the estate ensues, the legal bills can get into the six figures.
9. When preparing a will, think about what can be done to avoid estate litigation down the road. The key issue to watch out for is a potential claim of undue influence or coercion.
10. To avoid such a claim, it’s sometimes a good idea not to have the beneficiaries in the room (which is why house calls can be problematic — it’s better to have clients come to your office if possible). Always make sure everything is well-documented, of course.
What do you think of these suggestions? Do you agree, or disagree? Have any tips of your own to add?
Please discuss practicing in the area of trusts and estates law — what’s good about the field, what’s not so good, how to break into it, etc. — in the comments to this open thread. Thanks.
Family Law: Advanced Estate Planning [Lavender Law / National LGBT Bar Association]
Earlier: Prior small law firm open threads