Westchester and Fairfield County Business Journals | By Bridget McCusker
Smith Legacy Law opened its doors at 2 Greenwich Office Park earlier this summer, a development that was a natural progression for founding partner and chief legal strategist Jason Smith.
Smith previously practiced and developed trusts and estates experience at several nationally recognized firms and independently, under the Law Offices of Jason J. Smith in Greenwich.
Before launching his own firm three years ago, Smith was a partner at Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone LLP in Long Island, where he successfully built up a trust and legal estates litigation practice. Before that, he was an attorney at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP in Manhattan.
A resident of Greenwich, Smith hopes that the new firm and office will help reach new and existing clients and refocus his offerings.
“It seemed like a good time to really rethink our brand and our business model, and really address every aspect of our firm, to basically reinvent ourselves,” he said. “So that led to the launch of Smith Legacy Law. It’s intended to be something that is going to live for generations to come, and to be more than just me. The idea is that the solo model has now evolved into more of a boutique firm.”
At the firm, Smith and the team provide estate planning, administration and litigation services. According to Smith, his usual clientele is made up of individuals and families of medium to ultra-high net worths. Typically they may also have a family business, shared assets or real estate holdings.
Along with Smith are three counselors, two of whom are trust and estates litigators. Katherine Hynes, associate, has experience as a prosecutor at the local, state and federal levels, and worked previously in the Westchester County and Bronx County District Attorney offices. Amanda Ell, associate, comes from a civil litigation and matrimonial law background.
Nicole Hurley, estate planning associate, has been in Smith’s firm for the past few years and heads the estate planning side of the firm, utilizing her more than 10 years’ experience in the specialty.
“I straddle both worlds (of litigation and planning), which is actually one of the things that makes us and our practice unique,” Smith said. “There are not a lot of trust and estate litigators that have deep planning experience, or vice versa, and not a lot of law firms that do both, so we are unique in that regard. We have a familiar, excellent bench of very seasoned professionals who contribute a lot to both sides of the house.”
According to Smith, this kind of legal service is always in high demand, but changes in tax law and tax cuts — such as those that have been both implemented and proposed with the recent changes in the federal government and executive branch — make it more complex.
“I would say this is sort of unprecedented in a lot of ways because we just have so much change happening with tax legislation, both proposed and implemented,” Smith said. “When Donald Trump was the president, we had the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which really changed things dramatically in terms of income taxation, and the state and local income tax deduction limitation that came out of that. We also had lower tax rates generally, as well as a very preferential corporate tax rate. We also had a sky-high federal estate tax and gift tax and generation-skipping transfer tax exemption models.
“Now we have Biden, and with his administration and new legislation on the horizon, it’s very likely we’re going to be looking at changes in the tax rates. Generally speaking, I would say we should all expect that tax rates are going to go up. Tax bills will probably go up, for the fairly wealthy that is, and it’s going to really dramatically change what planning techniques would be recommended or advised.”
Smith Legacy Law’s mission is to be each client’s “lawyer for life,” and Smith hopes that he can use his and his team’s expertise to help clients with anything that comes their way, whether they need insight, guidance, a friendly ear or even a referral for additional, specialized help.
“It’s very much a situation where, as a trusted advisor, I’m very closely connected with them,” he said. “We have personal relationships. That’s why I really love this practice, because I feel like I’m almost part of the family. They trust me, they rely on me and I get to really know them and to know how they think and what’s going on with them and stay in touch. Whether or not that actually translates to billable work and legal work is almost beside the point — that seems to kind of take care of itself.”
Another aspect that Smith believes makes the firm unique is the team’s embrace of technology, with an almost entirely digital base of files, the use of digital systems, online client portals to comment on drafts and video, and remote conferencing when needed.
In the near future, the practice hopes to expand by adding a senior-level planning attorney and a fiduciary accountant to the team. Geographically the firm is also looking to add more attorneys who are licensed in other jurisdictions in order to develop a presence where existing clients spend time and where new clients may be interested in services, in states like California.