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Estate Litigation: A Tale from the Seventies

Cadillac of Justice.jpg

I still remember the smooth ride, the original 8-track player, and the tall, distinguished and fully-bearded lawyer driving a brand-new yellow 1978 Cadillac Seville. My colleague had clearly made it. A Cadillac Seville at his age! Say no more.

I'd been retained to represent a Placerville small business corporation in an estate dispute. The business boasted a long local history, while its owners had endured a long and bitter estate dispute. I was sure that my clients had chosen the right young lawyer.

By autumn 1979, I'd been in practice for almost three years. The Cadillac's owner, fast-talking with eight years of experience under his belt, was clearly my senior. As he gunned the Caddie down Highway 50, he imparted wisdom gained from his additional five years of practice. He let me know that he had done virtually everything that a lawyer could do. He'd been in court, out of court, in meetings, depositions and negotiated in coffee shops throughout the Sacramento region - probably covered six or seven counties in his time. He knew the ropes, he declared, and he thought I didn't.

Though I'd only been practicing three years, they were a mighty fine three years. I shared my own feelings of prominence - he seemed skeptical. And despite my colleague's assertions, I wasn't convinced his eight years were equivalent to the professional legend he had crafted.

We went to court that day and returned many times. The case had all the elements of a great estate dispute. Uncertainties as to the validity of will and trust documents, allegations of missing money, accusations of fiduciary violations, as well as lawyers ranting and raving accompanied by many courtroom episodes possessing all the attributes of "Whack-A-Mole." Each time a legal adversary was "whacked" (so to speak), he was sure to pop up somewhere else.

The exact results of the case weren't particularly memorable. I just recall that it ultimately was resolved, likely through sheer fatigue. Despite not remembering the exact outcome, I look back on this occasion fondly and with some humor.

Sometimes cases are only resolved when people are absolutely exhausted. Should that make sense? No. Does it happen with regularity? Yes. Is there a solution? Well - only somewhat. It is important to caution our clients that litigation can take a toll. It can be a tortuous process, and the cookie jar may come up empty. What seems like a matter of principle today might look like misguided pride later. That said, sometimes a fight to the finish is necessary. There are Adolphs and Osamas in civil litigation seemingly as vengeful as their more notorious namesakes.

In the trenches of litigation, experience counts. So do the factors of hard work, creativity, emotional intelligence, and effective team building. Looking back, I can't forget my colleague's bright yellow Cadillac - we arrived for battle in high style.

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