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PERFECT CHOICE FOR PROBATE PROBLEMS

As San Diego’s Only Probate Specialist Working as a Mediator and Arbitrator, attorneys come to Judith Copeland for Quick Resolutions When it Matters Most

SPEAKING WITH JUDITH COPELAND, probate attorney and neutral with West Coast Resolution Group, I realized that she is, frankly, a hoot. Down to earth, with a dry, often self-deprecating sense of humor she admits that “people who don’t have a sense of humor, don’t get me. I love to joke around.”
Her humor shines through when describing in a delightfully matter-of-fact manner, just what makes her tick. “I worked one year after college, mostly as a driver for Senator Alan Cranston. I admired him. He liked me, in part because I had an old Porsche speedster that he really liked. He said I should go to law school, so I did,” she says. After earning her J.D. from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 1974, Copeland is equally candid when she says “I didn’t choose probate. It chose me. County counsel, where I worked, assigned me to probate. They tried putting me in the litigation department and I didn’t like it. I like being assigned cases, and being able to check them off as they are done. I like getting things done and being  finished with them. Cases that can drag on for 10-12 years, would not be for me.”

NEED FOR SPEED

The fact that probate cases need to be done quickly definitely appealed to Copeland, who also happened to be highly skilled in the field. All told, she would wind up spending more than 37 years practicing law in the fields of probate, estate planning and elder law. She is certified by the State Bar of California, Board of Legal Specialization as a specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate law. And just for good measure, along the way she received awards and recognitions ranging from an AV Rating from Martindale-Hubbell and multiple inclusions in Super Lawyers to Lifetime Membership in the National Registry of Who’s Who. She was also the recipient of awards including the Service to the Profession Award by the SDCBA and the President’s Award from the National Association of Women Lawyers. The list of awards goes on and on.

But in 1999, she began to see the demand for those with probate expertise in alternative dispute resolution. “Probate has become an adversarial practice to which the rules of civil procedure are applied. The delays attached to motions and conferences substantially slow down the administration process. People need to be able to move on. They can’t have their cases hung up for 3 years. Estates need to be administered,” Copeland says. Moreover, she says with a chuckle, “Mediation offered the opportunity to be involved in cases without having a client and with minimal accounts receivable.” To that end, Copeland, in typical pragmatic form, sought out mediation and arbitration training and certification. Since the mid 2000’s it has become a larger and larger portion of her workload, and though she still maintains a small legal practice, alternative dispute resolution is now her full time occupation.

NEED FOR CLOSURE

It’s not just the fact that it makes sense to put her vast experience to use helping parties to solve problems quickly; mediation also gives Copeland a great deal of satisfaction. “It is rewarding to see a family in crisis achieve some resolution and relief from their fighting,” she says. Whether the family is fighting over inheritances, via trusts or probate proceedings; disputes over management of trusts and estates (including accountings, removal of fiduciary); surcharge requests (mismanagement, breach of duty); petitions to compel an action; need for conservatorship proceedings; selection of conservator and management of the estates; trusts and will contests, or elder abuse claims, Copeland is there for one reason and one reason only.
“I’m very focus on getting cases resolved. I would rather have the parties not like me and reach resolution than like me and not reach resolution. I’m known for my probate experience and expertise and though I hate admit it, I’m known for being a bit pushy. It would be disingenuous to say otherwise. Lawyers who have a stubborn client often select me for that reason. However, with fragile clients, I try to be empathetic and protective,” she says.
Continuing she explains, “Probate mediations are uniquely personal in that they usually involve family members. I infuse a lot of psychology into my mediations, trying to clean out the emotional interference that blocks resolution of the underlying dispute. Sometimes I’m forceful and sometimes I guide more gently depending on the circumstances and personalities involved. I am particularly good at coming up with creative solutions, because I know probate, and I know tax law.”

By way of example Copeland says, “In one case both attorneys had worked hard at trying to resolve the case but had hit a wall. I took their settlement approach and by applying tax consequences that no one had thought of, I was able to create a much better settlement for everyone,” she says. Furthermore, with all cases, she is willing to provide a full explanation of what the probate court will do if the parties don’t settle, so they might as well save the time and money. “The fact that I’ve spent over 35 years in the probate court gives me a good ability to predict what a court would be likely to do in any given case,” Copeland says.

GROWING NEED: SENSIBLE SOLUTIONS FOR THE FUTURE

“Probate lawyers are rarely appointed to the bench, so judges rarely have a probate background,” Copeland says. That’s why it makes perfect sense for West Coast Resolution Group, and specifically Copeland, to move towards including arbitration services as well. “For many years it was fairly quick to get an issue resolved by the probate court. The process has slowed down considerably, making the ease, efficiency and flexibility of arbitration very attractive, so we are now making arbitration available for probate cases,” she says.
Whereas Copeland’s professional life tends toward the more serious, in her personal time, she’s all about laughing and having fun. “I have so many passions and hobbies. I love spending time with my son Austin and his fiancée. I love pug dogs and spending time with my friends. I love golfing, gardening, traveling, tiling and mosaic work, reading, movies, shopping, sewing, television and eating out. I like cooking but I’m not very good at it. I have Padres season tickets, so I go to a lot of games. I sometimes wonder how I ever find time to work,” she laughs but then admits, “I wouldn’t be happy just having fun, I need to work. Mediations and arbitrations are perfect for me.”


Contact:
West Coast Resolution Group
Kathy Purcell, mediation administrator
(619) 238-7282
www.westcoastresolution.com
625 Broadway, Suite 1221
San Diego, CA 92101

Karen Gorden

Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.

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About the Author: Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.

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