I enjoy reading The Wall Street Journal’s book reviews. They’re thoughtful, well written and a potential source of inspiration. The Journal’s article titled “’Life Finds a Way’ and ‘Good Enough’ Review: The Drive to Thrive” is a ready source of inspiration.
The article’s essential point is that “Evolution is a process of solving real-world problems, not achieving abstract ideals. Some solutions are just good enough.” So, how could I be inspired by this?
For whatever reason I began to reflect upon my journey in leading a litigation firm focused on estate, trust and elder financial abuse. This might sound strange but the article’s point that we “are the products of an evolutionary path filled with twists and turns, chance events and accidents” struck me. We can think about our lives in this way – even for those of us grounded in faith.
We set goals – goals that change – goals with unclear paths and paths that emerge with time. The Wall Street Journal writer notes that the way to evolutionary fitness sometimes involves the “need to double back, or descend a bit, in order to attain the heights. Sometimes you find a new path, but one determined by where you started.”
So, where did I start my path? I graduated from law school in 1976. A gallon of gas cost 59 cents. The average price for a house was about $13,000. Apple Computer company was established. Jimmy Carter won the presidency; and the first commercial flights of the Concorde with a cruising speed of 1,350 miles per hour began between London and New York.
I didn’t know how to practice law. I had to choose between a number of opportunities. I initially chose wrong for both me and my employer. It wasn’t a fit.
I went on to a better fit – a fit that included the opportunity to litigate probate cases – in particular will contests cases. It was a probate firm and no one, except me, wanted to go to court to challenge wills. It sounded fun and it was fun – and profitable. It’s always nice to do what you like.
By the early 1980s, I’d moved away from will challenges to business and real estate law. It went well. Still, in the back of my mind, I thought that someday I would return to where I started.
The early 1990s brought a few surprises – a brain tumor for one. Surgery and recovery brought us to a new place. Complications from a drug introduced in 1993 and an FDA-recommended withdrawal in 1994 opened a new world for me. The admonition to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before judging someone had new meaning.
I’d walked a mile in my own shoes with very serious side effects from a prescribed drug. The FDA ordered withdrawal probably saved my life – it was too late to save the lives of several others who suffered acute liver failure and aplastic anemia. So, I’d walked the mile and now understood what it was like to be suffering from the side effects of a prescribed drug.
My complaints to my then doctor had been ignored. It was a nurse sitting next to me on an airplane who told me that the FDA was ordering the withdrawal of a drug. Sounds a bit like a twist and turn, a chance event, an accident or maybe destiny. Whatever it was, it changed me. I wanted to advocate for those who had been injured by pharmaceutical drugs, drugs that were dangerous and ordered off the market.
I was a lead plaintiff in litigation against the drug maker. Fen-phen came along and I became a lawyer for those who were injured. I understood. I’d been there myself – same feeling – similar danger – different drug. Other mishandled and later withdrawn drugs came along. I continued to fight for those who lost their lives or health from these bad drugs. This was satisfying.
There were other twists and turns. Short term retirement. Return to the practice of law. Issues from a deceased partner. Clean ups. Challenges. Changes. On to serving people shattered by the Great Recession.
New cases emerged. Cases about wills. Trusts. Elder financial abuse. I gradually steered the ship – our law firm – into these new waters. Of course, in one way I’d been there before. In an earlier time – the 1970s.
A lot had changed. We had new laws to protect beneficiaries. To protect seniors subjected to financial exploitation. In many ways, California was leading the way. I wanted to be a part of it. Entering back into the probate litigation arena was a little strange.
I was either not known at all, or if known, my reputation was as a plaintiff’s pharmaceutical litigator or going back a few more decades a land use lawyer. I remember a dismissive comment from a long-time probate attorney that he’d never changed careers like I had – he’d been in estate planning from the beginning. In some ways I was changing course – probate litigation was different and elder financial abuse litigation was – and still is – in its infant stages.
In other ways I hadn’t changed at all. I’d fought for thousands of victims of Big Pharma. I’d walked in the same shoes as my clients. I’d challenged orthodoxy before, and I knew in my heart that old time estate planners are the poster children for orthodoxy.
I approached estate and trust wrongdoing in a different way. The laws were changing. The understanding of undue influence in medicine and law was going through a transformation. California took new interest in protecting elders. New laws were implemented.
We applied the laws. We believed in a new mission. It is said that one in nine seniors report being abused, neglected, or exploited in the past twelve months. One in twenty elder adults reports some form of financial mistreatment. These people need help.
I don’t really care that the old guard doesn’t believe in the new laws. We’ve been told several times that we only file these cases to extort money from trustees. Not quite. We file these cases because there is a crisis and real cases need to be brought to address the crisis. These new laws and new cases should draw advocates – they’re needed. Seniors are being abused and the old ways of protecting seniors are not working.
I’ve written two books. Books to shed light on elder financial abuse as well as abused trust beneficiaries. My books are designed more for families than for lawyers. Still, lawyers can learn something from them as well.
The first book came about as part of a twist and turn. We’d opened a studio in our office to video short presentations on estate and trust law as well as community issues. A friend, an author, told me that after a hundred or so videos that there was enough content for a book. I thought about it. He was right. He would help.
We started to put the book together. My son, Mark Hackard, helped. J.P. Mark, my friend, helped. We hired an editor. Time and work went on.
In late September 2017 The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse was born (or published). The book energized me. It has received national attention. It – I am told – is an important book for understanding elder financial abuse.
It looks like we’ve found a new path. We represent abused trust beneficiaries and families damaged by elder financial abuse against themselves or a relative. Perfection eludes us. But we’re not near base camp – the place that we began. If we can’t achieve perfection, we can at least work to be more fit at what we do.
Estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigation is competitive. We who do mostly plaintiffs’ work are up against well financed defendants – defendants often funded by the trusts that we are challenging. We work hard. We have to solve real world problems. They don’t always look like a textbook example. We’re not perfect – neither are our competitors.
We litigate estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigation fights – at last count we’ve done this in some thirty California counties. We accept substantial cases where we think that we can make a significant difference and there is a wrongdoer who can be made financially accountable for their wrongdoing.
While we’ve never faced a Grizzly, we’ve faced some of the best defense lawyers in the estate, trust and elder financial abuse world. We’re not intimidated. We have a job to do. And, we’ve done it lots of times.
Our key venues include the probate and civil Superior Courts in Los Angeles, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa and Sacramento Counties. If you would like us to hear your story, then call us at Hackard Law – 916 313-3030. You can tell us about your own twists and turns as a beneficiary or advocate against elder financial abuse.