Danny Sullivan took the long way home. The 27-year-old estate planning and tax attorney from the San Gabriel Valley of California grew up in La Verne and now practices in nearby Pasadena at Anglin Flewelling Rasmussen Campbell & Trytten LLP, one of the leading West Coast full-service business law firms.
In between, he came clear across the country to Miami Law’s Heckerling Graduate LLM Program in Estate Planning, just to meet a fellow San Gabrielian, attorney and adjunct professor Steven Trytten, who offered him a job back from where he had come.
Wheels of Dreams
La Verne was an idyllic suburb to raise kids. There were 20 houses around his, and 15 of them had kids about the same age. They'd block off the road on summer nights to play street hockey.
"But we were just a 20-minute drive to the Staples Center in Los Angeles to watch the Kings," says Sullivan. "We could even go on school nights."
Besides hockey, Sullivan loved mini-dragsters. For six years, Danny and his sister would travel all over the state at racetracks competing in the junior racer circuit. "Our entire lives revolved around drag racing," says Sullivan. "It was great fun; I especially loved spending all that time with my sister. I still see her at least once a week."
Racing cars notwithstanding, Sullivan had his sights set on being a surgeon or anesthesiologist, even well into high school.
The Path to Law School
"I had a weird realization late in the game," Sullivan says. "I didn't want to look at blood every day for the rest of my life. I really wanted to help people, but in a less grotesque way, I guess."
He opted for law school at Pepperdine University, in Malibu, where he had also gotten his Bachelor of Arts in international studies. While there, he became interested in estate planning through a favorite professor. Knowing he wanted an LL.M., Sullivan was looking at Georgetown or New York University's tax programs. But the Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning got in the way.
"As I learned more about the field, I could see that it fit with my desire to help people," Sullivan says. "My professor had an invite to Heckerling. At check-in and in the introductory remarks, I thought, 'Good God! This is incredible.' Going from event to event, everyone seemed so happy, which isn't the impression I've gotten around groups of practicing professionals before.”
“That is when I knew; I had to go to UM. It was set in stone."
From the Heckerling Institute, Sullivan came to Miami Law to the Heckerling Graduate Program in Estate Planning.
There he found a group of young lawyers taught by a team of storied estate planning practitioners. One of the things that surprised Sullivan most was how tight-knit the program was.
“Almost a year after leaving the program I still feel connected. Not a week goes by where I am not seeking advice from a classmate or reaching out to a professor,” Sullivan says. “I think that is what really sets the program apart – even after you leave the program you have a built-in network of like-minded individuals on whom you know you can count on for advice, and even support.”
One of Sullivan's spring professors was Trytten, named Trusts & Estates Lawyer of the Year by Best Lawyers, and the two Californians hit it off. By the end of the semester, Sullivan was heading home, and into the future he imagined.
"Of all the fields of law, I feel that estate planning is the one most associated with being a true counselor-at-law," Sullivan says. "So much of what we do involves listening, then counseling as to what is best. It is a very sensitive relationship – they are looking to us for advice.
“It is very rewarding to know that people leave with the confidence that their family will be intact financially."