2012 Legal Elite Profile: TAXES/ESTATES/TRUSTS/ELDER LAW
- November 29, 2012
Odin, Feldman & Pittleman PC
Other legal specialties: Asset protection
Birthplace: Teaneck, N.J.
Education: George Washington University, bachelor’s degree; New England School of Law, law degree; Georgetown Law, master of laws degree in tax
Spouse: Karen, married 33 years
Children: Whitney, 28; Patrick, 24; Kara, 19
Hobbies: Triathlons, Crossfit, occasional beer at the Starboard
First job as a lawyer: Law clerk for Judge Randolph Caldwell, U.S Tax Court, 1982-84.
Fan of: “Washington Nationals — they have a great young team and Mike Rizzo, the best general manager in professional sports.”
Favorite vacation spot: South Beach
Career mentor: “Jimmy Pittleman: integrity, professionalism, knowledge and generosity — he is the gold standard. I have also learned a lot from my assistant of 10 years, Lynn Tindall, whose devotion to our clients is extraordinary.”
What do you like about your job?
“Except for playing in the E Street Band, I can’t imagine doing anything else. It is challenging and rewarding working for families to protect closely held businesses and other assets from federal estate taxes. It is even more challenging and rewarding serving as a trusted adviser and family counselor. Just a couple of days ago a client told me ‘other than you, I don’t know who to talk to about this [dynasty] trust.’ And he didn’t mean the tax language, but rather how significant wealth would affect his children’s choices. Clients are often retaining attorneys at a time of heightened stress, and the issues are not necessarily tax related. The seriousness of the moment must always be treated as such, with as much empathy as possible.”
What are the keys to being an effective lawyer?
“There are a number of talented and smart lawyers in all parts of the country, and nowhere more so than the D.C. area and Virginia. So there is more to it than that. One thing that comes to mind is responsiveness. I remember in 1984 when I started with Odin it was preached to new attorneys that you return all phone calls the day you receive them. That still holds, but the concept is now broader. The idea of receiving an email on a Saturday and responding Monday is unacceptable. Another key is communication. I think often of Denzel Washington, in ‘Philadelphia,’ when he said “Now, explain it to me like I’m a 4-year-old.” Clients are not interested in academic discussions. They have real life problems and want practical solutions, and they want to understand them in lay terms, not in a law review stylistic answer.”
Are many clients trying to take an advantage of current estate and gift tax exemptions before the end of the year?
“Absolutely. This is a unique opportunity to protect substantial wealth for generations to come. For business owners trying to preserve illiquid assets, often with children working in the business, the opportunity may never be better. My own experience is that the public realizes that the combination of the $10,240,000 exemption amount for a married couple, low gift tax rates and planning strategies that are in Treasury’s sights, such as two-year GRATS and dynasty trusts, make this a great time to act.”