“Alright. I’m an attorney. I’m here waiting for a court hearing that’s going to start this afternoon. I live in Simi Valley. I’m married, have one son that’s 25. I moved here from Michigan in 1973 after I graduated from Michigan State University. I had a bachelor’s in science. I moved out here and went to law school. Graduated in 1977 and passed the Bar in 1978. I’m a sole practitioner. I specialize in trusts, estate planning, probate work. And my only vice is I like to play golf as much as I can – not as much as I want to. I’m pretty good. I’m a 3 handicap and have had some success as an amateur. Other hobbies that I have are reading and gardening. And do a little exercise, a little yoga. My wife and I cruise for a little bit. We just got back from a week cruise from Boston to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
After undergraduate, I worked in a factory as a manager back in Michigan. It just came to me that I needed to leave Michigan because it was a small town, and people gossip a lot. So that got kind of tiring. But then while I was on my travels in Europe, I got a revelation that kind of came to me that I should leave Michigan, and go to California, and go to law school. And I remembered at the time, my dad had told me – he was self-employed, an entrepreneur – ‘If you really want to enjoy working for the rest of your life, or as long as you must, you should try working for yourself.’ And that made a lot of sense.
I wasn’t smart enough to be a doctor or an accountant, and I had no great invention ideas. I really thought I could go to law school because it was an educational process, and that would be my best bet. That’s really worked out. Coming from a small town, kind of always wanted to be more independent than working for a big office building with a lot of people telling me what to do.
When I started working, I did work for a guy who was going to retire. I was his junior partner. And he had a very mixed business. I did family law, bankruptcy, corporate, wills, trusts; wills and trusts people are usually happy when you finish the job. Whereas a lot of other types of lawsuits or law are arguments, fighting, and strife. Also the idea of being a small town kid, I thought I could help families’ families. That’s worked out. I see a lot of children of clients.
As I said, I was going to be the junior partner. He’s already in his mid-50s. And then after a few years after that, he married a younger woman. And he says, ‘Jeff? Remember when I was going to retire? Well, I can’t now.’ So, that was a bummer. But then I met my future wife at the time, and she kind of put it in my mind: Well, I’m not going to go very far with this partnership, so I gotta make the move. So I just went out on my own and started working. You could call it struggling, or looking for the next client. You never know where the next client is going to come from.
There were many years where it was pretty tight. But slowly, you hang in there, keep your expenses down. Slowly, but surely, your income takes over your expenses. Ultimately, I bought a house, then another house, got married, had a family. Just persistence and proper management. It would’ve been nice if it started a little faster, but it didn’t. I was probably 15 years in the practice before I really started to make meaningful income where I was able to start planning for retirement or spending money that I didn’t have to watch over moment by moment. So it took a while, and that’s probably because of being a new kid and not a lot of contact. You have to build your own referrals. I don’t know if I would’ve been good material for a big firm anyway. Who knows? Never even looked.
There’s all kinds of little successes in law. There is litigation involved, so you do get bigger successes, but to me, it’s just the client saying thank you for a job well done. Probably the joy that I did get from helping people was the motivation. Seeing the progress and knowing that staying with it would still bring on growth. A good wife was a very big factor. She was always very supportive even though it could’ve been, ‘You’re not doing enough. You’re not making enough.’ She was always very supportive, and didn’t overspend, and didn’t make it uncomfortable.”
Excerpt may be edited for clarity.