Estate Planning Legal Topics Profiles

Profile in Practice: Peter S. Myers

As part of CEB’s commitment to bringing together California’s legal community, our blog will post a short interview with one of your fellow attorneys.

This week, we profile attorney and CEB author Peter S. Myers:

CEB: What is your practice area and how did you choose it?

Peter: I specialize in estate planning, trust and probate law.  It is a fairly broad area, with many subspecialties.  I tend to like cases that are difficult and challenging, which can involve a number of different situations in the context of this practice area, including: moving control and ownership of a closely-held business (or a large estate) from one generation to the next; trust and estate disputes (a very interesting area of law, with interpersonal dynamics that nearly always read like a good novel); and elder law, in which clients often have limited means and you have to be very efficient in reaching solutions or the economics of lawyering will just destroy the family’s wealth.

I got into this area in the late 1990’s.  Having practiced in a number of areas foundationally (including civil litigation and securities law), estate planning, trust and probate law is an area where you can apply much of what you learned in the prior decades of your career.

CEB: What do you like best and least about practicing law?

Peter: Best:  This is ultimately a people business.  I loved psychology in college.  A firm grasp of psychology and philosophy is far more important in this practice area than just about any other.  The other part is that you get paid for being a good listener.  Most of the other areas of law don’t reward good listeners.  I love to listen and to observe people, take it all in, and then begin to problem-solve after I feel I have a grasp of the psychological dynamics of the situation. Least:  I hate keeping timesheets.  I have considered just hiring someone to follow me around and write down what I am doing and who I am working for just so my time is kept accurately.

CEB: What CEB book or program have you found most helpful in your practice and why?

Peter: I have both CEB’s estate planning library and business library online.  I don’t always agree with some of my colleagues who have authored chapters, but the short chapters and sections, the organization of the books, and the ability to hypertext from the treatise to the cases and then back make these the best resources by far for my practice areas.  I sometimes pick up the phone and ask an author why they said something in a particular chapter that I disagree with.  I can sometimes get them to agree to change it on the next edit.

CEB: Why do you choose to write for CEB?

Peter: Bernie Witkin’s books are great, but sometimes the writing tends to be too theoretical and historical.  CEB now represents the premier authority in California and the writing limits the historical and theoretical information only to that which is necessary for a practitioner to make an argument or to solve an actual problem.  If I am writing for more newsy-type publications or some sort of philosophical piece for my own blog, I occasionally use historical and theoretical treatises.  But even then, I often start with CEB.

CEB: What is the best legal tip you ever received?

Peter: John Bartko, a great San Francisco business litigator, once told me in the first year of my career “Peter, there is no one right way to be a good lawyer.  Good lawyers come in all flavors.”  Truer words have never been spoken.  I have seen vicious advocates be rotten attorneys, and I have seen kitty-cats get great results.  Don’t assume anything about anyone simply because they have a certain pedigree or work at a certain firm.  I had a postal service lawyer once kick my butt in a federal trial; and I have gotten seven-figure settlements fighting Jim Brosnahan and Jim Bennett.  Anything is possible.

CEB: How do you think the practice of law will change in the next 15 years?

Peter: Changes in the economy will reward flexibility, low overhead, efficiency and specialization.  Relationships will continue to be important, but gone are the days when a relationship alone between a general counsel and an outside law firm will guarantee referrals.  You have to be able to schmooze, sure – but you also have to be very very competent in a specific practice area.

CEB: What is the most interesting book you have read (lately)?

Peter: The Male Brain and The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine, M.D. They take the position that so much of our behavior is just hormones and science.  I don’t completely agree with that premise, but I like listening to points of view with which I disagree.

CEB: What is your contact information?

Peter: Myers Urbatsch P.C., 100 Spear Street, Suite 1430, San Francisco, CA 94105; (415) 896-1500;

CEB: Thank you, Peter!

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