An Interview With “The Lawyer’s Lawyer”
Curtis Shirley represents people in inheritance disputes. Known for writing wills and trusts for those with high net worth wanting to reduce taxes and for administering complex estates, Mr. Shirley is often hired by Indiana’s foremost attorneys and law firms to resolve complex matters. As a trial lawyer, he has a national reputation for his ability to handle difficult will contests, trust contests, and complex business litigation. Mr. Shirley lectures at seminars directed to attorneys and has published numerous articles. His many accolades include being named to Martindale Hubbell’s Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. After graduating from Indiana University at the top of his class, he clerked for two federal judges, and he now manages his own firm.
Publisher: After talking with attorneys and judges around the state, your name gets mentioned frequently as the attorney they hire for their wills and trusts. Why is that?
Curtis: Lawyers don’t want their firms knowing more than necessary about their personal and financial matters. Even firms that offer estate planning hire me to draft sophisticated documents for clients that I may never meet.
Publisher: How many wills and trusts do you do for people outside of Indianapolis?
Curtis: The majority of my practice involves attorneys and their clients in smaller communities. Clients seem to feel better about disclosing information to an out-of-town attorney, although I never replace a client’s current attorney. I also get many repeat referrals from attorneys.
Publisher: How are inheritance disputes different from any other litigation?
Curtis: When I get involved in a will or trust contest, there is usually an average of six lawyers on the other side. In some cases, I’ve faced as many as 30. The pressure is always there to not make a single mistake. Estate litigation is also complicated because of the number of areas you need to know: the probate code, trust code, estate tax, inheritance tax, gift tax, income tax, evidence code, the trial rules, plus trial experience.
Publisher: How do you stay on top of all this?
Curtis: I have a comprehensive law library, including BNA, CCH, everything that Westlaw has to offer, and two rooms of books. I try to have every resource available to help a client or an attorney that needs a quick answer. I also read all Indiana, 7th Circuit, and Supreme Court decisions the day they are published on the internet.
Publisher: You mentioned that after 24 years you have handled a case or represented a client in nearly every county in Indiana. Has your reputation for estate litigation spread outside the state?
Curtis: Yes, so far I’ve been asked to assist in cases in Florida, California, Texas, Ohio, Illinois, New York, Kentucky, Michigan, Colorado and Nevada. I’ve also testified frequently as an expert witness.
Publisher: What are your goals now?
Curtis: To continue to provide excellent legal service. I feel very fortunate that my fellow attorneys call on me to try the case that would not settle, to represent them in the face of an emergency, or where the stakes are so high they cannot afford to lose. My goal is to help people resolve their differences by being fully engaged on my client’s behalf. In addition to sound judgment and a successful strategy, I try to think of new ways to resolve disputes.