We recently sat down with Elizabeth Kearns, Director and Co-Head of Planning Group, to learn more about her background and who and what inspired her career in finance.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your background?
A: I grew up in Chevy Chase as one of four children, and went to high school here. I then attended college at Notre Dame and, after graduation, I moved to France for four years where I taught English to French students of varying ages – from high school students to business professionals. After four years, I moved to North Carolina to attend Duke University School of Law. After graduation I was lucky enough to join Furey Doolan & Abell’s estate planning and probate practice, where I practiced for seven years until moving to Chevy Chase Trust.
Q: What led you from teaching English in France to a career in estate planning?
A: Law school was something I had always planned on, but I did not want to go right away. Both of my parents are lawyers, so it’s something I grew up considering.
I enjoyed living in France and after four years of teaching, decided I was ready to go to law school. In terms of estate planning, it was a stroke of luck. After my second year of law school, I was a summer associate at Furey Doolan & Abell, which has an excellent estates and trusts practice. I had thought I would pursue litigation, but it turned out I loved estate planning. It’s very personal and allows me to help people directly with private matters.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your career?
A: I’d say the problem-solving aspect of it. Estate planning is like a puzzle; you not only have to follow the law but you also have to find a way to accomplish your client’s goals. Certain strategies I may be inclined to recommend might not match a client’s lifestyle, so it’s a bit of a puzzle putting together the right pieces to get a client where they want to be.
Q: What is the most important lesson you have learned?
A: I would say to listen and ask questions. I think that applies to every type of job. You can’t learn and grow in your career without listening to others. In estate planning, particularly, you have to listen to the client and to be willing to ask questions – not only of the client but of your colleagues for ideas and advice.
Q: What would you be doing if this were not your career?
A: I would probably be a French teacher. I really enjoyed my years teaching and helping students learn to communicate in an entirely new language. And I just love the French language.
Q: What do you like to do outside of the office?
A: I spend my free time with my husband, son, and dog. My son is two so he’s at that really fun age where he’s learning to talk and express himself. We spend our weekends going to the park, the zoo, the pool, or other places he might enjoy. We’re also preparing for the arrival a baby girl in a few months.
Q: What is your favorite place to visit?
A: France. It’s kind of like a second home to me. Paris is one of my favorite cities to visit, but the other regions of France are so beautiful as well.
Q: What advice would you give to someone considering a career path similar to yours?
A: First, make sure you want to be a lawyer before you go to law school. Law school is a huge commitment Second, I’d say, try your hand at a couple of different things. I was so set on being a litigator that I had no idea what else was out there. I feel lucky to have found estate planning because it is what I love. In terms of leaving private practice for the financial world, I’d suggest talking to people who have made the move already. Find out what they like about it and what they miss, and see if that corresponds with your own goals. I have found that my move to Chevy Chase Trust has allowed me to pursue the aspects of estate planning I love the most, while leaving behind some of the realities of private practice that were less glamorous.