An attorney here in Ashland, Oregon, Robert W. Good has practiced law for over 20 years and specializes in serving the legal needs of our community. His firm’s focus is on legal issues that arise in peoples’ lives, from family law matters such as divorce, custody, child and spousal support and parenting time to wills and trusts. He also assists small businesses in setting up corporations and LLCs and handling an array of legal issues that arise for existing businesses. I spoke with Robert about his firm here in Ashland.
Robert thanks for speaking with me today. Can you tell us about your philosophy for practicing law and your track record of success here in the valley?
Listening to my clients, hearing what they need and want in all the circumstances in their lives is the most important piece in understanding how to proceed. Many times, lawyers are evaluated for success by whether they “win” or “lose” the case. While the winner in court appears to have won the day, in reality, the financial and emotional strain of litigation is enormous. Twenty years of experience has taught me that there is no single right or wrong way to resolve a dispute. I want to explore with each client an approach that works for them. When the opposing side takes unreasonable positions, I am a strong advocate and willing to litigate in order to arrive at a proper result. Other times, disputes can be resolved with active communication or mediation.
What originally inspired you to begin practicing law?
I am an idealist. I see the best in people and truly enjoy helping people through the difficult times of their lives. I am the youngest of seven children and grew up in rural Pennsylvania among the Amish and Mennonites. My community inspired me to seek methods of dispute resolution which keep people moving through and beyond the dispute rather than getting bogged down in the fight. I continue to be a passionate advocate for people, seeking remedies that keep people whole and focused on the entirety of life, not just the dispute at hand.
Robert you are a strong advocate for resolution over litigation. Please share with us your experiences in helping your clients achieve the results they desire.
The key to resolving any dispute is information and planning. My clients rely on my experience to make an educated choice about how best to proceed. If possible, the parties to a dispute are the best people to find a resolution to that dispute. I encourage clients to look at every angle of resolution and attempt to work with the other side to fashion an agreement that works for everyone. As soon as you put your dispute in the hands of a third person, such as a judge or arbitrator, you hand over control, stress levels go up and so do the financial costs. Sometimes that is necessary, but not always.
You are also a very experienced litigator. What can you say about this part of your business?
At times, the opposition is not reasonable and litigation is necessary. My experience helps people move through the litigation process with proper preparation and careful planning. I assist my clients in understanding what will happen in court and how best to resolve their dispute out of court if possible. Some people fear the courtroom without really knowing what goes on there. Others are determined to beat up the other side because they are angry. My job is to plan and prepare my client for their day in court. Being familiar with the lawyer on the other side and the judge in the case can be a significant asset in the courtroom. Preparing witnesses and the proper preparation of legal documents are also essential elements of courtroom success.
What do you see as key qualities in being a great communicator?
True communication begins with listening. If I have not accurately heard my client, my ability to assist and communicate a means of resolution is nearly impossible. The same goes for dealing with the attorney or the party on the other side of the dispute. Both in mediation and litigation a lawyer must clearly understand the other side’s point of view and what they hope to achieve in resolution. Rarely is there only one way to proceed. Through good listening I am able to provide multiple approaches to a particular client’s needs. Only after proper listening am I able to effectively communicate a proposed course of action and assist my client toward resolution.
Robert, you have established a great reputation for helping your clients maintain a clear direction and for staying focused. How do you go about achieving this?
Paying attention to the details is paramount. When a client calls or sends an email, I try to respond quickly. Family disputes are often highly charged. By responding quickly to the client’s need, I help them continue to see the big picture and how all the pieces fit together toward the final resolution that they seek.
Working through disputes can be tricky for people. What percentage of your clients come with the experience needed to navigate these situations?
I mostly work with people in family disputes. They may be in a divorce, custody dispute or may be children trying to navigate through the challenges associated with caring for an elderly parent. These family-related problems are often emotionally charged and clients who may be very capable of resolving disputes in the workplace or in other groups they are associated with find themselves at a loss within their own family dynamic. Many families are stuck in financial and communication quagmires which they are unable to overcome without my assistance or the assistance of the court. Thus, the majority of my clients are at their wit’s end; at a total loss as to how to proceed because their efforts have failed to resolve the problem. It is important for them to know that they are not alone and that there is a way through the problem.
Making concessions can often be viewed as a form of weakness. What can you say about this?
Successful people are the best at the art of concession and compromise. Without it, we spend enormous energy fighting unnecessary battles. Most people seek resolution of their disputes with family or neighbors. They do not want the dispute to go on and on, leaving scars. I help people see how the right compromise can lead to a brighter future.
Please talk about how you become an advocate and ally for your clients.
My clients often tell me that by listening to them and showing them that I truly understand the problem, this creates confidence and belief in me when I suggest how to resolve the issue. Most clients are not looking for a warrior to lead them into battle but rather someone who truly understands their situation, helps them plan and stands with them through the difficult times. Advocacy flows from listening and belief in the client’s cause so that proper planning can effectively carry out the client’s wishes.
Robert, please tell us about the estate planning, trusts and wills side of your business.
Creating trusts, wills and powers of attorney for people of all ages helps people avoid future disputes by planning in the present. Only about 40% of Americans have a will or trust when they die. They often leave chaos for the families they leave behind. This kind of planning is not just for money and assets but is planning that helps children navigate the difficult times following an early death of a parent. Placing assets in trust is good planning for the care of children and may be important for tax advantages as well.
What are some of the most overlooked aspects of trusts and wills that you often run across?
Possibly the most difficult will and trust planning is for older adults in second or third marriages. A couple is sitting in my office. Both parties have been married before and have children with previous partners. I tell these people that clear and concise communication is essential to the planning process. Many times, parents are unable to confront their adult children with the truth. They tell their children one thing but state something else in their will or trust. Upon their death, the result of this conflicting communication is harsh to those who are left behind and often results in litigation. Children are convinced that a parent was manipulated by the other spouse or the other spouse’s children because the will is inconsistent with what they have been told all of their lives. Confronting these inconsistencies in the planning process is difficult but necessary.
Over the course of the past 20 years what do you appreciate most about the clients who have come to work with you?
I have established some life-long friendships, but mostly have created connections with people when they were most vulnerable. Clients doing estate planning often lay out the details of their life, including their financial situations and their relationships with their families. Those in family disputes are forced to reveal to me the sides of them they are least proud of. I have great respect for this vulnerability and treat client confidences with the highest priority. I am proud to be a member of this community and to have assisted so many people in so many ways.
Do you have any recent anecdotes that shine a light on a unique aspect of your business?
A few years ago I represented a spouse in a divorce where the parties owned significant assets from a long-term marriage. Assets included real property, a highly successful business and there were investment and retirement accounts. It was the type of case that should have settled if all parties were reasonable and prepared. It quickly became apparent that the other side was not going to see the case as my client did and that settlement was not an option. Our trial preparation was excellent and the trial judge awarded my client with nearly everything we had asked for. It is unusual to obtain such an absolute “win” in a divorce trial.
The down side to winning the trial is that often that it will prompt an appeal. I prepared my client for that possibility. And they did appeal, hiring a lawyer from out of the area and making big demands. Here was another opportunity for my client to evaluate what she ultimately wanted and the impact the divorce was having on their adult children. Together we were able to fashion a settlement with the new lawyer that still worked for my client and ended the case without drawn-out litigation.
After the divorce I then helped my client prepare and execute a new estate plan with a living trust. She also formed a new business and I helped her create an LLC and assisted her in finding other professionals for investment advice and tax planning. Seeing my client through a difficult time after a long marriage so that she could find economic and personal security was very gratifying.
I highlight this case as an example of a couple of unique aspects of my business. First, I am both litigator and mediator, something that you won’t find with all attorneys. Often times a lawyer is one or the other – a fighter or a peacemaker. I play both roles and enjoy both. Secondly, I am able to help clients through not just one legal issue but several: my practice is unique in that clients can come here for not just one legal need but many. I can do their divorce, their will as well as set up their business. This makes it very convenient for clients who don’t have to find a new attorney every time they have a new legal issue arise.
Will you tell us more about working with small businesses in your practice?
Assisting small businesses is a unique opportunity. Almost all of these clients have high hopes for the future, eagerly pursuing whatever it is they do. Helping them create a better business entity, assisting with a contract, or guiding them toward proper tax advice is something I really enjoy. Proper business planning avoids disputes and keeps a business running smoothly.