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Saturday, July 30, 2011

A future in wills and estates

I've received an interesting question from a reader that is more about the practice of law than about estate planning. Here is the question:

"I'm planning to take the LSAT this December with the express purpose of going to law school for estate and asset planning. Which schools should I consider for this speciality?"

I'm pleased to see your interest in wills and estates. Given the age of the baby boomers, this area of law is growing wildly and will continue to do so for some time.

You haven't said which country you live in, but I'll assume it's Canada. Look for a school that offers more than just "wills" as a course. You should ideally take succession, trusts and taxation, with advanced electives in those courses in your third year if possible. If I were you, I'd supplement the core wills courses with real estate and family law.

I attended UBC law school and in my third year participated in a student legal clinic. I was excited about this because it was full-time client work. Much as I value the experience, I don't recall drafting a single will during that time.

I feel very strongly that getting into an estate planning practice is going to have a lot more to do with the firm where you article than it does with the law school you attend. As you might know, law school gives us the theory but articles give us the hands-on practical knowledge. If you want to do wills and estates, you should article in a firm that is strong in that area.

Target the firms that have someone on board who is a leader in the wills area. If you're not sure who those people are, do some research. Websites help of course (tip: look for someone who lists "wills and estates" as either their sole area of practice or their main area of concentration, not someone who has it 5th or 6th on their list).

Join groups such as LinkedIn's "Canadian Wills and Estates Professionals" to see who is there and find out about their practice. If you can, join groups like local estate planning councils to get to know people. Definitely join your local bar association wills and estates sub-groups. Take note of who these groups bring in as speakers and who they elect to their executive. When you attend continuing education seminars, take note of who is delivering papers in your subject matter. This way, you'll soon find out who you want to practice with.

When you attend your interviews for articles, specifically ask if you will have the chance to work on actual client files that have to do with wills. You will likely get to draft a will or two, as most students do, but ideally you would also be involved in an estate freeze or farm probate application with your principal's supervision.

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