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Trusts and Estates Litigation
Eric W. Penzer, a Partner at Farrell Fritz, P.C., concentrating in trust and estate litigation discusses his practice which includes probate contests, accounting proceedings, discovery and turnover proceedings, and other litigation related to estates and trusts. He is a frequent author and lecturer on topics related to his practice area, and sits on the New York City Bar Trusts, Estates, and Surrogate’s Court Committee.
Interview with Eric W. Penzer, Esq., a Partner at Farrell Fritz, P.C., concentrating in trust and estate litigation. His practice includes probate contests, accounting proceedings, discovery and turnover proceedings, and other litigation related to estates and trusts. He is a frequent author and lecturer on topics related to his practice area, and sits on the Trusts, Estates, and Surrogate’s Court Committee.
How did you become involved in the field of trust and estate litigation?
Although I began my career as a commercial litigator, several of my mentors advised me of the benefits of having a more specialized practice. Farrell Fritz has a renowned Trusts and Estates practice group, including several full-time litigators. When I was in my seventh or eighth year of practice, my firm’s management approached me with the opportunity to join the trust and estate litigation group. Although I was initially apprehensive – changing one’s practice area as a senior associate is a daunting proposition – I followed the advice of those I trusted and took a chance that it would work out. It did. I learned (and continue to learn) from the best.
What do you like most about being a trust and estate litigator?
Estate litigation is not just about the money. My practice involves relationships -- families -- that are often central to the issue in dispute. Money is always an issue, but it’s seldom the only issue. Plus, the estate litigation bar is very close-knit and congenial; I have great respect for the attorneys with, and against whom, I litigate. I also appreciate being able to practice in the specialized Surrogate’s Courts, before Judges who are quite knowledgeable in matters concerning estates and trusts.
What do you like least about being a trust and estate litigator?
The same thing I like the most. Because my cases are almost never only about the money, I often become involved in family relationships and feuds; which require more of a personal investment. This makes my days more fulfilling, but can definitely be emotionally exhausting. It can also make cases more difficult to resolve – it’s not just dollars and cents, it’s sometimes about “mom always gave him the bigger slice of meatloaf.”
What skills are important for being successful in your position?
Most people don’t appreciate the variety and complexity of matters litigated in the Surrogate’s Courts -- including “commercial” disputes that somehow affect a decedent’s estate. So all the basic litigation skills -- reading, writing, negotiating, and analyzing documents, statutes, and cases – are crucial. Most important, though, are listening skills. To be successful in this type of work you need to understand a client’s story (but, at the same time, keep in mind that the story may be biased) and objectives.
Has City Bar impacted your career?
Yes, being a member of the Trusts, Estates and Surrogate’s Court Committee is intellectually stimulating; I am surrounded by some of the “best and the brightest” in my field. We discuss the most cutting-edge issues in trusts and estates, swap stories, and bounce ideas off one another. I always look forward to the next meeting.
Do you have any advice for recent law school grads aspiring for a career in trusts and estates?
Do whatever you have to do to get your foot in the door somewhere. Then make yourself invaluable. Network. I know everyone says to network, but it’s not just an empty phrase. Look to build relationships. You just never know who you are going to meet and how those relationships may impact your career. As an example, during college and then law school I was a legal intern for a federal judge. I befriended one of his law clerks, who ultimately brought me into Farrell Fritz as a junior associate. Now we sit across the table from each other at partners meetings.
Does social networking play any role in your career?
Although I try, I know I don’t use social networking to its full potential. I enjoy contributing to Farrell Fritz’s New York Trusts & Estates Litigation Blog (www.nyestatelitigationblog.com) and moderating my Linked In “Group” – New York Estate Litigation.
What do you like to do when you are not in the office?
I know it’s a “standard” answer, but I enjoy spending time with my family, especially my two girls, Rachel (13) and Maia (8). I enjoy cooking; I’m a Mario Batali wannabe. I also like playing guitar (during law school I fancied myself a singer/songwriter – good thing I stuck with the law).
Interview conducted by Theresa Fortin, New York Law School ‘13, member of New York City Bar Trusts, Estates, and Surrogate’s Court Committee, May 2013