Attorney at Law Magazine sat down with Chris Heinrichs of Clark Hill Strasburger to discuss his career as an estate planning attorney, and how it has evolved over the years.
AALM: Tell us about your philosophy when it comes to your practice.
Heinrichs: Of all the law joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine. That is how I have felt many times over the years when new clients have entered my office. What for and why me? How can I be of service? How can I make her feel important?
I believe that all persons have various “worlds” or “spheres” in which they reside at different times. For example, a person might have his family world, his religious world, his professional world, his recreational world, his privacy world, his social world, and so forth. Each of these worlds has importance to that person in varying degrees depending upon the time period of his or her life.
When that person has a legal need, he or she will need an attorney. And that legal issue becomes an important “world” until it is addressed. An attorney should realize that importance to the person, and not just consider that person anther file. Work hard for your client. Do your best. Be fair and be honest. “Walk a mile in his shoes….”
AALM: How would you describe the culture of your firm?
Heinrichs: I would describe the culture of my firm as great. It is friendly, helpful and congenial and it is enjoyable to enter the doors in the morning (or, in my case, the late morning). The firm has good attorneys working hard for the clients and sharing information, advice, and experience as needed. The supporting staff is likewise friendly and supportive. And I have a very cold office, close to the restroom, just as I like it.
AALM: Tell us about a single case that has impacted your practice.
Heinrichs: A good friend and I once tried a will contest in Corpus Christi, Texas as solo practitioners. We were opposed by two large, politically connected Corpus Christi firms. The deceased left her entire estate to two of her siblings and excluded our two siblings/ clients. We had a two-week jury trial and we were successful in setting aside the tainted will on grounds of undue influence and fraud. We caught an attorney in a lie, and we caught the two “bad” siblings in multiple duplicitous acts. Our clients didn’t live in Corpus Christi and had nothing to do with the preparation or execution of the will.
Then, the judge set aside our verdict on the grounds that we had not presented a scintilla of evidence to support the jury findings – two weeks of evidence, a fraud finding from the jury and, yet, not a scintilla of evidence? That decision rocked my confidence in the integrity of the system and the impartiality of the judiciary. I have kept my eyes wide open since that experience. And it further convinced me that judges should not be elected but appointed in some unpartisan manner.
We settled the case at post-trial mediation but did not get as much as we would have without the court’s poor judgment.
AALM: What are you most proud of achieving?
Heinrichs: I have been fortunate to have made many wonderful friends and acquaintances, whether in law, sports, taverns or otherwise. These people have stood beside me in good times and bad, and have meant the world to me.
Most special, however, is my family – my beautiful wife, Jan; my daughter, Mo and her husband, Barrett; my son, Garrett and his wife, Kathy; my stepson, Alex, and his wife, Laura; and my stepdaughter, Andrea. Also running ragged around my ever-creaking knees are my grandchildren – Foster, Sophia, Bonnie, Hattie Jane, Max, Gage and Luke. I love them all very much.