Guest Blogger, Cory R. Wessman (’04)
Attorney and Shareholder, Erickson & Wessman, P.A.
During my time as a student at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, we considered what it would mean, as attorneys, to provide “holistic” representation to our clients. As a faith-based law school, we thought about how to represent the client as a person, and not merely working towards their financial gain. Now, as a practicing attorney, I can attest to how that faith-based, holistic approach to client representation has impacted me in my law practice. Since joining the bar in 2004, I have practiced exclusively in the area of estate planning, where I attempt to implement that holistic approach.
In 2009, my son, Micah, died under tragic and unexpected circumstances at just 9 months of age. Unbeknownst to us, he aspirated a pea while eating. A few days later, he attempted to cough up the pea, but because of the small size of his windpipe, the pea became lodged in his windpipe. Despite the efforts of my wife and other medical personnel to administer CPR, the pea was not removed until such time as he had suffered irreparable brain damage. The next day, on July 27th, 2009, we made the painful decision of removing life support, and he immediately died in my arms.
In working with family members following the death of a loved one, I can now, by reason of my own son’s death, more easily relate to my clients who at various stages in their own grief. I have learned that, in most every instance, my clients appreciate the opportunity to share about their deceased loved one. I know from personal experience that many people are afraid to mention anything about the death of the loved one out of fear of saying the wrong thing. I believe that even saying the wrong thing is better than saying nothing. I always try to ask about the deceased loved one—favorite memories, job, interests, and personality.
For an attorney taking a holistic approach to client representation, I believe it is crucial to take this “gutsy grief” approach to representing grieving clients. Otherwise, we may not be adequately understand their personal situation and achieve their objectives. Many of my clients who are grieving the death of the family member simply don’t have the capacity to deal with some of the legal or tax decisions soon after a death. It is therefore in their best interests to take time to grieve before making decisions. Also, in addressing clients where they are, holistically, I am also able to address where they are in their faith, if anywhere, and to encourage them along that path. Having endured great grief myself, I welcomed these encouragements in faith, even from professionals with whom I interact professionally. As an alumnus of the School of Law, I am very grateful for the faith-based, holistic focus on client representation, and hope to continue to implement that approach with my clients for many years into the future.