If you want to be a professional fiduciary, you will spend a lot of time with lawyers. Lawyers are a much maligned profession as seen by the popularity of lawyer jokes and other jibes by comedians and others who make points at their expense. But if you work in a field where lawyers play a multitude of important roles, you will come to view them as your allies and friends, even when you don’t always agree with what they are doing.
The lawyers who practice probate law in each county are usual a fairly small group, most of whom know one another well, have worked together and in opposition to one another, usually with minimal rancor or trouble. Even in the larger counties like Los Angeles, the lawyers who show up in probate court day after day form a small community with many of the attributes you would expect in any small, tightly knit community.
When you are interacting with lawyers, keep in mind that not all is wonderful in their world. May I suggest you read the article that appeared in the New York Times on May 12, 2015, with the headline “Lawyers With Lowest Pay Report More Happiness.” You can read the article at http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/05/12/lawyers-with-lowest-pay-report-more-happiness/?_r=0. The article notes that “Struggles with mental health have long plagued the legal profession.” Lawyers are significantly more prone to depressions, substance abuse problems, and suicide than the general public and many other professions. Their lives are filled with the stress and strife, deadlines, demanding judges, objecting and critical colleagues and opponents, and stressed out clients. In many ways, when viewed from that perspective, it is no wonder that lawyers are particularly susceptible to stress-related problems. So next time you meet a lawyer making your life miserable, keep in mind that his or hers may be even more miserable than he or she is making yours now.
Many of the stress-inducing aspects of the practice of law are also prevalent in being a professional fiduciary, so watch those lawyers and remember to monitor yourself for those same issues.
As a fiduciary, you can’t do the job without a lawyer. Your own lawyer is there to protect you and he or she will likely become your friend as well. The lawyers for other parties to probate proceedings will also be your friends in many circumstances. When everyone is misbehaving and acting irrationally, the only people who can bring some semblance of order to the situation are the lawyers. You may not always agree with them, but generally they are at least rational and pragmatic, both extremely useful attributes when embroiled in a contested or contentious probate matter.
So who are the lawyers you will encounter in a probate setting? There is your lawyer. In guardianships and conservatorships, the court will most likely appoint a lawyer to represent the ward (the minor in the guardianship proceeding) or the conservatee. If you act as a trustee, you will often interact with the lawyers who represent various beneficiaries of the trust and third parties with an interest in the administration of the trust, such as creditors of the individual who established the trust or creditors of the beneficiaries. In a probate case where a person has died leaving an estate to be probated, the heirs may hire lawyers to represent them. Creditors of the deceased person may also hire lawyers to represent their interests in the estate. Finally, there may be other, outside, lawyers who represent individuals or entities bringing legal actions against the various types of estates you may be handling. In those circumstances, you may then need to hire litigation counsel (lawyers) to defend or settle legal actions against the estate for which you are responsible as a fiduciary. First, and most important, is your lawyer. The lawyer who represents you is there to guide you in the law applicable to the tasks you undertake and to protect you in your fiduciary role.
Look for later posts that discuss in more detail the roles each of these lawyers play and suggest ways to view what they do. They are often exasperating and infuriating. But before you allow them to raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels, take a moment to understand their viewpoint and it will help you work productively with them to resolve matters to the benefit of the estates for which you are responsible.