The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys (the “Academy”) held its annual Spring Summit in the Windy City. When I deplaned in Chicago, it was impossible to miss the connection between the vibrancy of the Windy City and our 30-year celebration. Upon my arrival at our hotel, in typical fashion, Members rushed over to welcome me to Summit. Of course, they were also hugging one another and comparing plans for the week. It felt like coming home. I heard many times throughout the conference the shared feeling by the Academy Team and Members alike of being “home” despite the many miles most of us traveled to be there.
Academy founders, Robert Armstrong and Sandford M. Fisch, opened the conference with an inspirational talk about the future of the Academy and its Members. Our visionary leaders remain committed to keeping the Academy indispensable to its Members as the landscape of Estate Planning evolves.
Our keynote speaker, Jim Ferrell, ended the day with his high-energy talk on Relational Leadership: The Key to Success in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (“AI”). He reminded us that as AI expands its reach into our profession, we can maintain, build, and foster relationships. While AI succeeds at many things, it fails at relationships. The Academy, however, focuses on relationships and building not just a team, but an “A Team.” Our Members underscore this point. Time and again, we heard Members talk about being part of something bigger than themselves, a national “team” with everyone supporting one another and helping when asked. It’s hard to put to paper the feelings and words shared by those who attended. One Member described being at Summit as the “Kool-Aid” that she needed with the various Members and Academy Team providing the ingredients for that drink. Maybe you needed to be there to get it. Night one ended with a black-tie optional gala as the Academy recognized various Member contributions to the Academy and one another. We talked until well past closing time.
After the first day, the Academy Summit focused on learning. The Academy requires its Members to earn 36 hours of continuing legal education (“CLE”) in Estate Planning, Tax, Elder Law, and Ethics. The Academy’s rigorous continuing education requirement ensures its Members know and understand the latest developments in these fields. Many Members earn significant hours at the two semi-annual Summit conferences each year at which they can create their ideal schedule by choosing sessions on marketing, practice management, technology, or education.
Day two began with Kristen Lewis presenting on special needs planning. It was obvious that Kristen tailored her talk for the Academy because she drew parallels between Academy Membership and special needs planning. Kristen gave Members her top thirty tips for special needs planning. She impressed us with her comprehension and compassion for planning for individuals with special needs and provided many practical pointers. Our Membership enjoyed her talk, especially when Kristen encouraged us to consider her a resource. She made clear her goal of making every estate planning attorney an expert in special needs planning. The remainder of day two focused on practice management and marketing and ended with an architectural tour on the Chicago River.
Energy remained high on day three when Professor Sam Donaldson of Georgia State University took the floor and talked about your favorite “Uncle Sam.” The presentation provided pragmatic advice on entity planning. As usual, Professor Donaldson’s delivery was wildly entertaining while being incredibly informative. Academy Members had the good fortune to hear him give the Federal Tax Update that afternoon, continuing where we left off with him the prior year at our Summit in Austin, TX.
The Academy’s Director of Education, Steve Hartnett, began Sunday morning with his ever-popular “Quiz Show.” He sets up several real-life scenarios and asks Members to choose which of several options represents the answer or best plan for the fact pattern presented. I ended the conference with a Trust Administration presentation that focused on Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”). Members can access these presentations and much more on the newly launched Members Only Site.
Spring Summit 2023 was a smashing success. It was more than just the phenomenal programming and attention to detail that made the conference successful. It is the Members, themselves, who make the Academy what it is. It is the conversations in the hallways and the feeling that everyone there wants everyone else there to succeed and is willing to go above and beyond to make it happen. It’s the culture of inclusivity, a place where no one gets left behind, and every Member knows that every member of the Academy Team has their back. The Academy encourages Members to employ this mentality in their own offices and practices and it’s obvious that our Members take that lesson to heart. The Academy provides the tools necessary to achieve this goal by delivering programming on developing Estate Planning techniques and coaching on practice management designed to put client needs first. Be sure that you have the resources to adapt to changes in Estate Planning while maintaining excellent client relations. Academy Members do.
Tereina Stidd, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128
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