“A lot of people use lawyers for different things during their lifetime, so they have some experience with lawyers,” says Buhrman, who started his own Chattanooga firm, now known as Buhrman, Maddux & Buhrman, in 1972. “However, when it comes to getting your affairs in order and appropriate documents for your family, a lot of people won’t talk about it, much less do it. This is a way to be able to help clients who need help, who had never thought about it before.”
An active member of the Duke Estate Planning Council since 1982, and its chair since 1995, Buhrman gathered with 170 other estate practitioners at the Law School on October 16 and 17 for the 30th Annual Duke Estate Planning Conference, an event that he says helps him keep up with trends and share best practices in his field.
“The Estate Planning Council was formed in the beginning to gather a sort of loose network of people in the estate planning area, primarily lawyers, but also maybe a CPA or a trust officer who had a tie to Duke University or Duke Law School,” he says noting that materials from the conference are routinely donated to the Duke Law Library. “We decided to carry that a step further and bring everybody in once a year to get your batteries recharged and hear presentations in the estate planning field by nationally known experts.”
“The practice of law is about knowing how things have gone in the past, and applying the law and those past results to the facts and circumstances of your client, and then predicting what’s going to happen. That’s what we do.”
Duke Law graduates Mark Edwards ’63 and Jerry J. McCoy ’66 are among the nearly 40 members of the Council. Buhrman notes that both men are nationally recognized speakers who have served as presenters at the annual conferences.
In addition to its annual conference, the Estate Planning Council sponsors five scholarships at the Law School. The 2008-2009 Estate Planning Conference Scholarship recipients are Aaron Harmon ’09, Jess Cheney ’10, Dan Leslie ’11, Jared Lee ’11, and Nicholas Simon ’11.
Buhrman attended Duke Law School in part because it allowed him to be near his high school sweetheart who was an undergraduate at the University. He was the first member of his family to attend college and never anticipated becoming a lawyer, but the option to be closer to his girlfriend made the decision to attend Duke a “no-brainer.” The couple married after Buhrman’s first year of law school and developed an affection for the School and the community that is now reflected in their family.
The couple’s oldest son, Tom, attended Duke as an undergraduate, married a Duke coed, and lives in Durham. Their daughter, Audrey, also lives in Durham and works as a psychologist. Their youngest son, John, followed in his father’s footsteps to become a lawyer. John recently joined his father’s practice, which according to his dad’s telling, he was immediately prepared to re-name “Buhrman & Father.” The only outlier in the family is Audrey’s husband, Craig, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of North Carolina.
“That’s my little cross I have to bear,” Buhrman jokes.