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Author: Patzer Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: of 4306  
Subject: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/5/2012 10:19 AM
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The situation: I am divorced, with one daughter. I have no close family in the immediate area other than my daughter, who is now a not quite self-supporting adult.

My current net worth falls under the $1 Million estate tax exemption. It is possible that it might be subject to estate taxes at my death, depending on how my investments perform and how tax law changes.

I have made my daughter the beneficiary on every account I have that can have a beneficiary. What's left is a house, a car, personal property, and some checking and savings accounts that could not be set up for a beneficiary. The amounts fluctuate, but for planning purposes let's say between $50K and $100K of accounts without a beneficiary.

I need a will. My current will is badly outdated, and I have dithered for years due to the difficulty of finding a lawyer who fits my needs and the greater difficulty of deciding precisely what I'd like to happen when I die. I think I can resolve the decision as to what I'd like to happen, but I still need practical advice on how to make it happen.

How do I find a professional to prepare a will and/or offer advice on how to set things up to minimize the administrative burden on my primary heir when I pass? Concerns include getting everything transferred to daughter when I die, without giving her a window into my finances while I'm still active and capable of managing them myself; and managing my ongoing financial affairs to maintain whatever solution I end up with. My daughter and I are residents of New York state, and I'm pretty sure I'll need to consult expertise that is familiar with the quirks of this jurisdiction.

I've talked to a few people whose judgment I trust, and none of them have come up with referrals that they were comfortable with.

Patzer
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Author: Dwdonhoff Big gold star, 5000 posts Top Favorite Fools Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4068 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/5/2012 12:48 PM
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Hi Patzer,

My daughter and I are residents of New York state, and I'm pretty sure I'll need to consult expertise that is familiar with the quirks of this jurisdiction.
I believe NY owns the hive-queen for all attorneys... you can't randomly toss a tennis ball (let alone a hand grenade) without it ricocheting off at least 3 lawyers of one specialty or another.

As with all service professionals, choosing by trust and respect trumps out over personal like or rapport. Hiring someone you respect but do not like is far preferrable to the reverse. You already know all the details of *YOUR* situation, and what's missing... what you need to do is put together an interview set of questions to vet lawyers with.

As you build your interview questions (it could be as small as 3-4 questions, to a dozen,) rather than asking more yes/no type of Qs, instead ask open-ended questions that force the respondant attorney to simultaneously disclose how they think *AND* their style of conversation.

Examples;
Why did you choose to focus on estate planning?
Why did you decide to get into law?
What did you do before you became a lawyer?
What did your parents do when you were growing up?
How has estate law come into effect in your own personal life, if at all?
If you were ever to leave the law business, what else would you do?
How does your current family life relate with your law practice?

Do these sound overly personal? Non-professional? GOOD.. that's entirely the point! Professional Q&A is what everyone focuses on and polishes... and tell you *nothing* about character. If you get resistance or pushback when you are asking these probes, that is the greatest warning flag you can hope for! Never trust a dog that will not trust you!

Remember... you are trying to smoke out whether you TRUST and RESPECT them... not what they will do in your particular situation, what they charge, what they know, etc... that can and will all come later *AFTER* you have determined if they are even worthy of proceeding.

THEN... all you need is a list of lawyers (roughly qualified... meaning they are NY-based estate planning attorneys.) For that, there are various & obvious resources; Google/Bing/Yahoo search etc., the NY Bar Association, the local Chamber, etc. etc. etc. Building a list of lawyers to interview should be the EASIEST thing to do.

When you find the attorney you trust and respect, you'll know it, and there will be absolutely no reason to waste any time hunting further.

Luck!
Dave Donhoff
Leverage Planner

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Author: Patzer Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4069 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/5/2012 2:47 PM
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what you need to do is put together an interview set of questions to vet lawyers with.

. . .

you are trying to smoke out whether you TRUST and RESPECT them... not what they will do in your particular situation, what they charge, what they know, etc... that can and will all come later *AFTER* you have determined if they are even worthy of proceeding.

. . .

When you find the attorney you trust and respect, you'll know it, and there will be absolutely no reason to waste any time hunting further.


Thank you! This doesn't sound easy, but it does sound possible. At least, I now have something of an idea where to start.

Patzer

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Author: pauleckler Big funky green star, 20000 posts Top Favorite Fools Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4070 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/5/2012 3:00 PM
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I put high value on personal recommendations. So I would ask friends, relatives, and business associates who they use or recommend.

1. They do know how to charge. So ask about fees.

2. Personally, choose a lawyer who is young enough to still be in business when you pass. The old guy with lots of experience may be wise and a great story teller, but your heirs could well end up dealing with his partners or children if his firm is still around when the time comes.

3. In most states, house and car can be set up to transfer on death (TOD) without going through probate. A lawyer can take care of the paperwork. Brokerage accounts, and bank and savings accounts can also be set to TOD in most states. But keep in mind, your executor will need some assets to function while your estate is being settled. So plan for that. Prepaid funerals can reduce those costs.

4. And by the way, the $1MM Federal estate tax exemption assumes the Bush tax cuts will be allowed to expire on Dec 31. The current number is more like $3MM. And we hope that Congress will reach some compromise to keep parts of those cuts. Stay tuned.

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Author: Dwdonhoff Big gold star, 5000 posts Top Favorite Fools Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4071 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/5/2012 3:21 PM
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2. Personally, choose a lawyer who is young enough to still be in business when you pass. The old guy with lots of experience may be wise and a great story teller, but your heirs could well end up dealing with his partners or children if his firm is still around when the time comes.

Actually, I'd suggest that any estate planning attorney without a succession plan in place of his/her own surprise demise is tantamount to a chain-smoking cardiac physician... avoid at all costs.

Instead, you want your plan so well documented that you could drop your file on the desk of any attorney, and even if they weren't well versed in estate planning they'd easily understand what had been done, why it was done that way, and what direction to look for legal help if they needed specialized expertise to manage what was set up for you.

As with financial planning, you want a completely portable plan... never get trapped in relying on a specific lawyer (or even their own firm or expanded network.) Always insist on leaving the office upon each visit (or via follow up email within 2-3 days) with a current plan complete-to-date in case of provider disappearance.

If this isn't something a particular professional agrees to provide (and actually follows through on without persistent browbeating,) then you need a different professional.

Dave Donhoff
Leverage Planner

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Author: Trini209 Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4072 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/5/2012 4:06 PM
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The OP lives in New York State, which has its own Estate Tax (as do many others.) New York's exception is $1,000,000, and it's rate after the first million is 16%. Something else to worry about.

Trini

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Author: hockeypop Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4073 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/5/2012 5:01 PM
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Two other options:

1. My 401k provider (TIAA-CREF) offers investment advice and also has a list of potential lawyers [and TRUST services]. I chose my lawyer from that list.

2. When my professional friends don't work I often ask at an active Senior Center. MIL has lived with us for 25+ years and if I ask her to come back with recommendations at the Senior Center I get names that are both recommended AND to be avoided. Due diligence is still necessary, but I usually get the advice without filters.

I very much agree about discussing price up-front. Good reading and preparation can keep the cost down, especially preparing advance directives in your state. But if you're spending $40-50k per year plus SS plus a home and even modest estate, IMO a couple thousand dollars isn't unreasonable for something that should last a long time. Not sure how much others think one should pay.

Hockeypop

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Author: JAFO31 Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4074 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/5/2012 5:05 PM
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Dwdonhoff: "Examples;

1. Why did you choose to focus on estate planning?
2. Why did you decide to get into law?
3. What did you do before you became a lawyer?
4. What did your parents do when you were growing up?
5. How has estate law come into effect in your own personal life, if at all?
6. If you were ever to leave the law business, what else would you do?
7. How does your current family life relate with your law practice?

Do these sound overly personal? Non-professional? GOOD.. that's entirely the point! Professional Q&A is what everyone focuses on and polishes... and tell you *nothing* about character. If you get resistance or pushback when you are asking these probes, that is the greatest warning flag you can hope for! Never trust a dog that will not trust you!"


Not sure whether I would answer them, but fail to see how how those other than 1 and 5 have much relevance.

My parents' occupation(s) reflect on my character? Wow?

Regards, JAFO

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Author: Dwdonhoff Big gold star, 5000 posts Top Favorite Fools Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4075 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/5/2012 6:51 PM
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Hi JAFO,

Not sure whether I would answer them, but fail to see how how those other than 1 and 5 have much relevance.
Relevance to character? ALL of them (and more importantly, *HOW* the person responds, even more than what they say) disclose character.

My parents' occupation(s) reflect on my character? Wow?
Again, not particularly the title or field... but how *YOU* represent your meaning of what they did, and how you disclose its effects on your personal discretion would be *VERY* relevant.

The end message of character may be exactly the same between 2 professionals who had a brain surgeon and a plumber respectively as fathers... and very differently between professionals who's fathers were both accountants at the same firm shoulder to shoulder. Its more important to listen to *HOW* the respondants answer than the text of their reponse.

*ASSUMING* character matters to you. To me, it does... both in those who represent me, and those who I choose as clients. Since I've taken this position, my life has been exponentially easier and more productive/profitable.

Cheers,
Dave Donhoff
Leverage Planner

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Author: JAFO31 Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4076 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/5/2012 7:39 PM
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Dwdonhoff:

<<<My parents' occupation(s) reflect on my character? Wow?>>>

"Again, not particularly the title or field... but how *YOU* represent your meaning of what they did, and how you disclose its effects on your personal discretion would be *VERY* relevant."

How would you measure?

"The end message of character may be exactly the same between 2 professionals who had a brain surgeon and a plumber respectively as fathers... and very differently between professionals who's fathers were both accountants at the same firm shoulder to shoulder. Its more important to listen to *HOW* the respondants answer than the text of their reponse."

How does the response measure character?

It feels like reading tea leaves to me

"*ASSUMING* character matters to you. To me, it does... both in those who represent me, and those who I choose as clients. Since I've taken this position, my life has been exponentially easier and more productive/profitable."

I agree that character matters, but I still fail to see how most of the questions you originally posed necessarily reveal much about the character of the potential lawyer?

Why not ask him/her:

Why manhole covers are round?

If he/she have ever had an affair?

If he/shee files income tax returns timely and whether their returns are well within the bounds of the law or whether they are super agressive, playing audit roulette, and are perfectlyw illing to pay more taxes and interest if caught by the IRS?

Whether he/she has ever had any complaints filed against them with the relevant bar association(s) or any malpractice claims in a court?

Seems to me that there are better questions that reveal more about character of the potential lawyer than some of the questions you sugggested.

Regards, JAFO

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Author: bookie71 Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4079 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/5/2012 10:44 PM
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Be sure and get someone who spends a lot of time keeping current and will keep you in mind when the law changes which it will, probably many times before you pass. What is a great plan today could be a bomb in just a couple of years.

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Author: Dwdonhoff Big gold star, 5000 posts Top Favorite Fools Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4080 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/6/2012 1:23 AM
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Seems to me that there are better questions that reveal more about character of the potential lawyer than some of the questions you sugggested.
Why are you providing nothing substantive then? You spent a whole lot of time & effort complaining, and brought nothing. You could have spent 1/4 the effort if you actually had something positive to offer.

How would you get someone to reveal their core personal character faster & more directly than I do?

Dave Donhoff
Leverage Planner

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Author: JAFO31 Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4081 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/6/2012 9:40 AM
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Dwdonhoff: "Why are you providing nothing substantive then?"

I thought I was. My apologies. EOM.

JAFO

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Author: Dwdonhoff Big gold star, 5000 posts Top Favorite Fools Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4082 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/6/2012 12:46 PM
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JAFO,
I thought I was. My apologies. EOM.
You said;
Seems to me that there are better questions that reveal more about character of the potential lawyer than some of the questions you sugggested.

You've still provided none. Will you?

Dave

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Author: pauleckler Big funky green star, 20000 posts Top Favorite Fools Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4083 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/6/2012 2:42 PM
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Be sure and get someone who spends a lot of time keeping current

An attorney I know advertizes his estate planning services and holds hotel seminars occasionally.

I have heard him mention the Federal Estate Tax Exemption as $600K, which is probably what it was when he took the bar exam. His number is woefully out of date.

I think this serves as a reminder that your lawyer is best at writing a will, power of attorney, and trust documents, etc. But as a financial adviser, unless he has special training, he may not be a good adviser.

The books on trusts and estate planning you will find in your local library often recommend that you begin by assembling a team you can work with. That probably includes a financial expert of some sort (CPA, financial planner, etc) and an attorney. In certain age groups an attorney with elder care expertise can be useful too.

Obviously this becomes more practical and more necessary with larger estates with assets to protect and transfer etc.

One size does not fit all, but it is something to think about.

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Author: Wradical Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4084 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/6/2012 3:16 PM
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I have heard him mention the Federal Estate Tax Exemption as $600K, which is probably what it was when he took the bar exam. His number is woefully out of date.
================================
Reminds me of a lawyer I know who isn't all that old (in his 60's, I suppose.) But his word processor keeps spitting out wills and trust documents that contain terms like "Section 671 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, as amended."

But it's been the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 since.....1986!
I'm guessing the "as amended" makes it legal, if it wasn't otherwise.

Bill

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Author: PSUEngineer Big funky green star, 20000 posts Top Favorite Fools Top Recommended Fools Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4085 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/6/2012 3:56 PM
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You've still provided none. Will you?

I saw three relevant questions. I'm still unsure about the round manhole one.

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Author: Dwdonhoff Big gold star, 5000 posts Top Favorite Fools Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4086 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/6/2012 4:17 PM
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Hi PSUE,

I saw three relevant questions.
Did you see 3 relevant questions better at discovering an individual's core personal character? Which questions?

Look, I do this day in, day out... I'm not playing cat & mouse. If you want to gripe & play coy in avoidance of hard introspection, knock yourselves out....

But if you have any serious substantively better questions to quickly dig to the intimate depths of a person's character, bring 'em!

Dave Donhoff
Leverage Planner

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Author: PSUEngineer Big funky green star, 20000 posts Top Favorite Fools Top Recommended Fools Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4087 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/6/2012 5:00 PM
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Did you see 3 relevant questions better at discovering an individual's core personal character? Which questions?

1. If he/she have ever had an affair?

2. If he/she files income tax returns timely and whether their returns are well within the bounds of the law or whether they are super agressive, playing audit roulette, and are perfectly willing to pay more taxes and interest if caught by the IRS?

3. Whether he/she has ever had any complaints filed against them with the relevant bar association(s) or any malpractice claims in a court?

Sure, #1 is a personal question that may offend the person. Maybe his/her reaction to the question will reveal more about his/her character than answering a question about his/her parents' occupation.

For question #2, would you want an estate lawyer designing your estate plan if he/she plays audit roulette with the IRS every year? I'd want a plan that stands up in court if challenged.

What's your problem with question #3?

PSU
not my questions since 1902

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Author: Dwdonhoff Big gold star, 5000 posts Top Favorite Fools Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4090 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/6/2012 5:56 PM
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Hi PSU,

Sure, #1 is a personal question that may offend the person. Maybe his/her reaction to the question will reveal more about his/her character than answering a question about his/her parents' occupation.
Perhaps... my experience is that a family background question is less confrontational than asking about their sexual loyalty. You & JAFO may have different magic, I suppose.

For question #2, would you want an estate lawyer designing your estate plan if he/she plays audit roulette with the IRS every year? I'd want a plan that stands up in court if challenged.
The problem with this question, as written, is that its not neutral... its jammed with all kinds of prejudgmental spin & positioning. Its exponentially more difficult to read someone's core character while they are responding to yours.

What's your problem with question #3?
Its closed. A one word burp terminates the conversation, and discloses nothing about their character.

not my questions since 1902
I know... but you do a yeoman's job as JAFO's surrogate.

I still wonder if he actually has anything of substance... or was this just a seagull posting?
Dave

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Author: JAFO31 Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4091 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/6/2012 6:11 PM
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Dwdonhoff:

<<<I saw three relevant questions.>>>

"Did you see 3 relevant questions better at discovering an individual's core personal character? Which questions?

Look, I do this day in, day out... I'm not playing cat & mouse. If you want to gripe & play coy in avoidance of hard introspection, knock yourselves out....

But if you have any serious substantively better questions to quickly dig to the intimate depths of a person's character, bring 'em!"


Except you have never explained why you believe that many of your questions reveal core character. You just continue to assert that they do.

JAFO

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Author: JAFO31 Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4092 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/6/2012 6:22 PM
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Dwdonhoff:

<<<Sure, #1 is a personal question that may offend the person. Maybe his/her reaction to the question will reveal more about his/her character than answering a question about his/her parents' occupation.>>>

"Perhaps... my experience is that a family background question is less confrontational than asking about their sexual loyalty. You & JAFO may have different magic, I suppose."

Except you have yet to offer any explanation about how the parents' occupations reveals necessarily reveals anything about the personal core character of the child turned lawyer.

<<<For question #2, would you want an estate lawyer designing your estate plan if he/she plays audit roulette with the IRS every year? I'd want a plan that stands up in court if challenged.>>>

"The problem with this question, as written, is that its not neutral... its jammed with all kinds of prejudgmental spin & positioning. Its exponentially more difficult to read someone's core character while they are responding to yours."

Then rephrase it. There are plenty people who know they are playing audit roulette and not afraid to admit it; and there are those who they are well within documented lines and are also willing to admit it.

<<<What's your problem with question #3?>>>

"Its closed. A one word burp terminates the conversation, and discloses nothing about their character."

Only if the answer is no, which answer would in fact tell you something about the cpersonal core character of the lawyer.

If the answer is yes, there are immediate follow-up questions: when, how many, how were they/was it resolved, etc.

"I still wonder if he actually has anything of substance... or was this just a seagull posting?"

I will chalk this series of posts off to a bad week or forgetting some emoticons, but your tone in this thread has been bordering on insulting to someone with whom you have friendly bantered for years on TMF.

Still curious how most of your suggested questions reveal anything about the core character of the lawyer?

JAFO

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Author: Dwdonhoff Big gold star, 5000 posts Top Favorite Fools Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 4093 of 4306
Subject: Re: How to find Professional Advice Date: 9/6/2012 7:01 PM
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Hi JAFO,

Except you have never explained why you believe that many of your questions reveal core character. You just continue to assert that they do.
Fair enough... you did ask previously, and I passed it by as you had marched on to a different attack.

You previously asked;
How would you measure?
How does the response measure character?
It feels like reading tea leaves to me


Character is a *subjective* judgment... it doesn't yield well to scoring, accounting, or any other objective metrics. Further, the purpose of the character determination is not to weigh out against a scale, but to determine whether there sufficient mutual trust and respect for the principal asking the questions. In order for a principal to determine whether they can respect and trust the interviewee, some significant subjective insight must be uncovered.

Everyone's results will vary (and rightly so!) Yes... in that aspect it *IS* a bit like reading tea leaves.

Except you have yet to offer any explanation about how the parents' occupations reveals necessarily reveals anything about the personal core character of the child turned lawyer.
I already explained that the actual occupations are irrelevant. PSUE already expressed an understanding of it... the content of the answer is not the relevant consideration, but rather the rich context of how they answer is.

"The problem with this question, as written, is that its not neutral...
Then rephrase it.
I certainly would if I were to use it... and that's the point. My phrasing is better designed for the purpose of the interview.

Only if the answer is no, which answer would in fact tell you something about the cpersonal core character of the lawyer.
If the answer is yes, there are immediate follow-up questions: when, how many, how were they/was it resolved, etc.

Again, effectiveness & efficiency. Why use a question that forces a follow on question when a single question, properly designed to be open ended and neutral could have been more effective?

I will chalk this series of posts off to a bad week or forgetting some emoticons, but your tone in this thread has been bordering on insulting to someone with whom you have friendly bantered for years on TMF.
By *ALL* means friendly banter (and still is.) However... Really... *my* tone? I just re-read the long thread, and I thought everything was pretty neutral & positive until the manhole & affair comments (#4076,) which (at least to me) went beyond the boundaries of interviewing for trustworthy & respectworthy professionals of character.

I'll admit I'd lost traction of decor by #4086 after I'd twice sincerely asked for substantive alternatives to the options I offered which you rejected with derision, yet brought no serious alternatives (at least I didn't believe you really thought manhole covers and affairs were serious alternatives. I still don't.)

Still curious how most of your suggested questions reveal anything about the core character of the lawyer?
Hopefully you've read my explanations throughout this thread now, as I have broken it out in several posts.

If you sincerely don't understand how my process invites character disclosure, I still consider you my friend... and more importantly, I still trust and respect (and appreciate) you.

Cheers,
Dave Donhoff
Leverage Planner

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