November 25, 2020 Member Spotlight

Member Spotlight: Michael A. Kirtland

By Michael A. Kirtland

Tell us a little bit about your career.

I had a non-traditional path. I went to law school while still on active duty in the Air Force, graduated and passed the Alabama bar. A year later I retired on a Friday and started practicing law on Monday. My first client, while still on active duty, was my office mate, who unfortunately was stricken with cancer.  My military career took me from missile operations, including both intercontinental ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, to teaching at the Air Force Academy and then ten years as a political-military affairs officer. So, reading and writing came naturally to me. As a lawyer, I’ve always practiced estate planning, and later elder law, plus doing some criminal defense work in the first part of my legal career.

Is it what you had planned when you started law school?

Yes, absolutely. I started as a solo practitioner, doing estate planning and criminal defense law, and whatever else presented itself. Because I had wanted to do estate planning from before I entered law school, as my practice grew, I stopped doing the things I didn’t like to do, in the order I didn’t like doing them, until all I did was estate planning. 

As I practiced estate planning, I began getting inquiries about elder law issues. I didn’t know much about elder law, but when I looked for good referrals, there were none in my geographic area, so I started learning elder law out of self-defense, and found I enjoyed it. The probate judge in our county appreciated having a lawyer who knew elder law issues to call upon in difficult cases.

What has been the highlight of your career?

Tough one. I like helping people. Estate planning and elder law have allowed me to have my clients better off when they leave my office than when the come in. So, I have gotten a great deal of personal satisfaction. I think getting two resolutions through the ABA House of Delegates stands out. One that helped lead to revisions of federal law for military Survivor Benefit Programs recipients, to permit SBP payments into trusts for special needs children of military decedents, and the other changing the way in-hospital stays are calculated for Medicare payment purposes. Perhaps chairing the effort to change the Living Will statutes in Colorado, then writing a book on living wills in all 50 states was the biggest highlight. But, then again, maybe it was meeting my now wife at a legal conference. Now we’re law partners in addition to being husband and wife.

If you could go back to the beginning of your legal career, would you have done anything differently?

Nope. I got the legal career I wanted.

What advice would you give to someone considering law school today?

Run! No, seriously, two pieces of advice. First, treat law school like a job. Study 9 – 5. Then, make sure to take care of the rest of your life. If you treat it as a job, with the appropriate dedication, you won’t have to stay up all night cramming for exams. The second, practice the area of law that interests you, not the one your first law firm assigns you to. My experience is happy lawyers are the ones who practice what they enjoy instead of worrying about how to get paid.

What were the biggest changes you saw in the legal profession over the course of your career?

Elder law has grown from a new area of practice into the fastest growing area of the law, bar none.   Now, it’s an important area of practice, and we’re beginning to see not just lawyers who worked in related areas before becoming attorneys, such as nurses, social workers etc., but lawyers fresh out of law school, wanting to become elder law attorneys.

When did you first become a member of the ABA and why did you decide to join?

I first became a member of the ABA when I passed the bar in 1994. I felt it was important to become a member of the profession’s premier organization.

What has been the highlight of your work with the ABA?

I’ve enjoyed working in the Senior Lawyers’ Division, including serving on the SLD council. I’m always amazed at the generosity of SLD members, many of whom are well-known, successful attorneys and important members of the ABA, yet they’re willing to give their time and expertise to others in the profession. In addition, I’ve been active in the RPTE Section, including chairing the Elder Law, Long-Term Care and Medicaid Group. We gave a Spring RPTE conference a few years ago in which our little Group gave ¾ of the CLE seminars for the whole Section.

If you had not become a lawyer, what do you think you would have done?

I cannot remember a time in my life, no matter how young I was, that I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I got side-tracked for 21 years in the Air Force. When I approached the end of my military career, I looked at becoming a psychologist or going to law school. Fortunately, there was a law school in the town where I was stationed that allowed me to go to law school while still on active duty. My wife said to me, “you’d better become a lawyer. Otherwise you’re liable to tell your patient “get over yourself.” She was right, of course. And I’m glad I followed this path.

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Author

Michael A. Kirtland is a partner in the law firm of Kirtland & Seal LLC, in Colorado Springs, CO.  He concentrates his practice in elder law, trust and estates, probate and ethics and mediation. He is a former Council member of the Senior Lawyers Division, and currently is chair of the SLD Ethics Committee. He previously served as chair of the ABA Real Property, Trust and Estates Section’s Elder Law and Special Needs Planning Group. He is a past-chair of the Colorado Bar Association’s Elder Law Section.  He is a Certified Elder Law Attorney and a registered mediator with the Alabama State Bar.  He holds a J.D. from Faulkner University and an LL.M. in tax from the University of Alabama.