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William McGinly recites a litany of compliments for his lawyer and friend Patrick Vaughan. But the one virtue McGinly repeatedly refers to is Vaughan’s listening skills. “He really gets inside you to learn what you’re after,” says McGinly, president and CEO of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy in Falls Church, Va. Vaughan advises McGinly and his family on estate planning issues. The two have known each other for about 18 years. Robert Buchanan, another client, agrees. “[Vaughan] does spend a lot of time,” Buchanan says, “understanding what the issues are before trying to prescribe a solution.” Vaughan formed the Vienna, Va., firm Vaughan, Fincher & Sotelo less than two years ago, but he has been practicing in trusts and estates for more than 30 years. After graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law, Vaughan served as a legal officer in the U.S. Army at Fort Belvoir, Va., and then in Vietnam. When he returned stateside, he joined Adams, Porter & Radigan in Arlington, Va., and stayed there until January 2003, when he left with the entire trusts and estates group to form his five-lawyer firm. Vaughan says his work was very different from the firm’s other groups, which included litigation, commercial real estate, and banking. “We had different philosophies,” Vaughan says. Vaughan, 61, has made his practice a family affair. One of his sons, Dan, has been practicing with him for nearly five years, including his time at Adams, Porter & Radigan. The law governing estate planning is very technical, Vaughan says, but “there’s a human, counseling side of this business that makes it really enjoyable.” He counsels affluent families, many of whom own businesses, on transferring their businesses to the next generation. He also advises clients on ways to reduce their estate taxes and assists others in setting up and administering trusts. The really challenging situations in the trusts and estates practice don’t have anything to do with legal principles, Vaughan says. “It’s the one where we have contentious family relationships, and [we're] just trying to preserve family harmony in a lot of cases.” Vaughan’s average client has a net worth of at least $1 million. But potential clients do not need a “minimum net worth” to walk into his office, Vaughan says. His clients appreciate that “we can take some very complex rules and make these rules understandable,” he says. Vaughan, a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, is also a certified public accountant and financial consultant. His background in accounting has definitely enhanced his knowledge, especially in the tax area. Yet while the accounting and legal principles serve as his strengths, they are not the icing on the cake. “The fun part of it is working with the families,” Vaughan says.

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