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A Matter of Trust

By Shane Nelson | Jan. 22, 2024

Jan. 22, 2024

A Matter of Trust

Lagerlof LLP lawyers in Pasadena have guided family legacies for more than a century.

Vanessa Terzian and William Kruse Photo: Justin L. Stewart / Special to the Daily Journal

Attorney William F. Kruse has worked at Lagerlof LLP for more than four decades, and during that time, he's helped the families his firm represents navigate all sorts of challenges.

"We've had some situations where I actually knew the grandparent and then the parent and the child and now the child's children," Kruse said. "You feel like a trusted family adviser. ... You're not a family member -- you're an outsider -- but you're somebody who is, in some cases, actually the adult supervision, allowing for controversies to be properly handled and explained. And I feel good about that."

Kruse joined Lagerlof LLP right after he received his degree from USC Gould School of Law in 1979, and his practice has focused over the last 44 years on advising clients with closely held family businesses.

"I like to have people understand what they're doing," Kruse said, noting that he often finds himself teaching when interacting with clients. "I like the idea that people come to me as a counselor -- not just as a gladiator. ... It's very fulfilling to be able to look people in the eye and have them know that I've got their best interest at heart and that I'm trying to make sure they get it."

Founded in 1908 and now headquartered in Pasadena, Lagerlof LLP has been assisting families for more than a century with everything from business, real estate and tax issues to estate planning, probate and even labor law difficulties. Kruse said the firm was home to 10 or 12 lawyers when he first joined in the late 1970s, but Lagerlof employs 53 attorneys now and has expanded its focus to also include intellectual property law and insolvency as well banking and financial services.

Lagerlof LLP underwent mergers in 2020 and 2022 and now also operates offices in Encino, El Segundo and Seattle, Wash. Estate planning and probate attorney Vanessa M. Terzian joined through one of those mergers four years ago, and said the firm's rich legacy of assisting families and its stellar reputation in estate planning were tremendously attractive.

"As attorneys, we're supposed to be good at drafting. We're supposed to be good at issue spotting, arguing," Terzian explained. "But building that client relationship is probably first and foremost, and the length of time Lagerlof has been around, earning trust and building relationships with families successfully -- that approach and legacy have been great takeaways."

Terzian said Kruse is a master of navigating the often intensely emotional family meetings the firm routinely engages in with clients.

"He's very calm under pressure and very good at laying out these concepts to multiple generations, which is a huge skill -- especially when there's tension," Terzian explained.

"We've been in family meetings where people don't get along and there's a lot of resentment built up over the years, involving things like, 'You stole my tricycle at 4 years old,'" Terzian mentioned with a chuckle. "We're that calming factor -- hopefully, a mediating factor -- bridging the gap between those different viewpoints to ensure, hopefully, a successful implementation of that estate plan. And I've really enjoyed working with Bill in that regard."

Kruse noted that Lagerlof LLP has also been involved in many water law cases since the 1940s, and as an example, he pointed to the firm's role in the Central Basin Water Adjudication dispute. The complex litigation lasted more than a decade and featured a host of municipal and private stakeholders. Central and West Basin Water Replenishment District v. Charles E. Adams, 786656 (L.A. Super. Ct., filed Dec. 23, 2013).

"That was one of those cases where the issue was whether or not people could store water underground in intelligent ways ... and many producers in the Central Basin were concerned about how that would be administered," Kruse recalled. "In the end, it was very gratifying to eventually have a situation where, from an environmental perspective, we now could make better use of local water resources and cut down on imports -- to the satisfaction, I think, of nearly all of the stakeholders in that Central Basin."

Kruse affirmed that the firm has its sights on continued growth, noting that the El Segundo office opened only recently.

"It's a large amount of space with some offices that are not quite furnished entirely yet, but we do have one or two lawyers who are in that office consistently and excited about the prospect of growing it," Kruse explained. "We think the South Bay is underserved to some extent and needs our level of dedication and expertise."

But it's measured growth -- based on how the long-running firm's established strong suits might best meet the community's needs -- that Lagerlof LLP has in mind, Kruse explained.

"We are well organized to be able to grow, and we'll see what the future holds," he said. "But we're not growing just for the sake of growing. We're growing to meet the perceived need."


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