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Four New Year’s Resolutions from a Trust Professional

Apply these to your practice

I’ve never been a big resolution person.  In general, I’ve found that artificial plans are just that—artificial.  If the impetus for change doesn’t come from something more substantial than the change in the calendar, it’s unlikely to be effective or to stick.  (My only exception was a resolution about 20 years ago to stop being late to everything—that one I’ve kept for 20 years!)

Having said that, as I embark on a brand new world as a blogger, the idea of resolutions keeps coming back to me.  So, with a clear understanding that these resolutions may not stick, I thought I would start out with a few resolutions of my own, which I hope will also apply to you and your practice:

Read the Whole Document!

As a young lawyer, I did my very best to avoid spending too much time looking at the back of the documents I was drafting—the tax apportionment, facility of payment, powers of a trustee, funding and clauses.  I would generally look at the provision on trustee succession, and I spent a lot of time on the distribution and the beneficiaries, but most of the rest of the document just didn’t seem very important.  Ah, to be young and foolish.

Now that I spend my days on the fiduciary side, much of my time is spent parsing through all that boilerplate.  Is the funding a Suisman or 64-19?  Who has to receive notice of a trustee resignation?  Is the trustee truly directed on investments?  Is there a duty to diversify that concentrated asset?  The list goes on and on.

Even when I have a document on my desk that I’ve worked with for a number of years, a refresher is almost always in order.  So my resolution is to go back through the documents on my desk (even the long or poorly drafted ones) and actually read them, cover to cover (so to speak).  Remind myself about all those squirrely provisions buried in the back or provisions that have a new or different relevance now than they may have had at the time of my last reading.  It’s time!

Communicate Often

I am, by nature, a conflict-averse person.  I like to work with people who are pleasant and like to find solutions to problems.  Unfortunately, I have a number of clients who don’t have the same approach to life.  They love conflict—it’s how they communicate and what they eat for breakfast.  I’ve learned how to deal with these folks over the years, but they’re never high on my list of favorite people to call.

As a result, I’m not always eager to reach out to those clients to touch base and find out what’s new or different in their life.  I prefer to wait until they call me, because the conversation may not always be fun or pleasant.  In reality, of course, my lack of proactive communication undoubtedly exacerbates their feelings that I’m not as available as they would like me to be.  So I’m really hurting my own position.

So, my resolution is to reach out to my prickliest, most challenging clients more regularly, just to check in.  I remain an optimist—maybe I can turn around their attitude.  And if I can’t, maybe I can at least get in front of any issues before they become problems!

Keep Up With Changes

I’m often envious of some of my other lawyer friends, who regularly tell me that their area of the law doesn’t change much, so the expertise they have doesn’t really get stale.  In our field, nothing could be farther from the truth.  As a young lawyer, I remember telling clients who would ask me a question that I couldn’t answer, that I was pretty sure there was a new Internal Revenue Service ruling on that issue (no matter what the issue was), so I would need to do some research before I could give them a response.  In addition to getting me out of an awkward situation, this had the distinct advantage of pretty much always being true.  There really is almost always a new ruling, case, procedure, private letter ruling or something that could impact the answer to almost any given question.  That terrified me then, and it still does.

So, my resolution here, which isn’t new but more a renewal, is to keep making the effort to keep up on what’s going on—via listservs, magazines, seminars, study groups—and maybe even a blog or two!

Focus on What Really Matters

I consider myself to be very lucky—I have a job I love, working with people I genuinely enjoy and respect. Nearly every day brings a new and (often) unexpected challenge.  Figuring out how to proceed or what needs to be considered is always interesting—I’m truly grateful.

But doing what I do every day, which includes seeing people in challenging situations or dealing with the disability or death of a loved one, is a constant reminder of what REALLY matters.  Taking time for our families and ourselves, spending time doing what we love with the people we love, is the real work of life.  To quote Harold Kushner, “No one ever said on their deathbed ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’”

So my last resolution: spend time with the people and doing the things that matter.  I hope you do the same!

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