Women's Leadership InitiativeQ&A with Marve Ann Alaimo

Marve Ann is a partner based in the Naples, Florida office who focuses her practice in estate planning and wealth preservation. She has nearly 20 years of experience in estate and charitable gift planning, probate and trust administration as well as estate and trust litigation and guardianship.

Describe a pivotal moment that influenced your career path.

When I graduated from college, I had no real intention to become a lawyer. I had applied to law school because my boyfriend at the time applied to law school. After I had committed to Boston University for law school, our relationship ended. So, before classes started, I decided to leave BU and return home. I took a year off and worked in retail, which quickly convinced me that I needed to go back to graduate school. Since I had already taken the LSAT, I decided I would reapply for law school admission at the University of Florida. Even as a 1-L, I still wasn’t certain about a career as a lawyer. But that changed in the fall of my 2-L year when I took my first tax class. Because I was always good with numbers, the tax law was so easy for me to grasp. The course material was much more intuitive for me in comparison to my other courses. I enjoyed that class and that professor so much that I continued to enroll in every tax law class available. It was fortunate because at the time UF had the top-rated tax law program in the nation. I credit a lot of my success in my career to the intense tax training I was able to receive while at UF. The decision to leave BU and to re-enroll at UF wound up being my most fortuitous and life changing event.

What was the single most important thing that made you want to focus on estate planning/wealth preservation law?

I had a wonderful professor in law school, Dennis Calfee, who taught a course on estate and gift taxation. He was an amazing professor and really enthusiastic about tax law, which might sound hard to imagine. But he made the study of tax law fun. His enthusiasm became my enthusiasm. And while I had known before then that I wanted to focus on tax law, Prof. Calfee is the reason why I chose to focus on transfer taxes.

What advice would you give to women just starting out at a law firm? What are some important first steps they can take to lay the groundwork for a successful career?

Own the fact that you are a woman and recognize that being a woman can be empowering. For a long time, I tried not to draw attention to the fact that I am a woman (and on top of that a woman of color) practicing in a male dominated field. I tried to manage my practice similar to my male counterparts. But after a long while I came to recognize that my feminine character traits are advantageous to my practice. In estate planning, I often have to ask clients to disclose very sensitive information about their families. Often they need to disclose closely held family secrets. I’ve discovered that tapping into my motherly instincts, my empathy and my grace when dealing with clients has helped me to gain their trust and their loyalty. Embracing the qualities that differentiate me from the men in my field has helped me to form strong bonds with my clients. And that in turn has replicated into client referrals. My womanly qualities have also encouraged to change the way I look at my work. Over the last few years, I’ve focused not only on achieving objective goals (tax savings) but also achieving intangible goals for my clients (family harmony, values conditioning, etc.). This has helped me to differentiate my practice from others and to draw clients to me.

If you had a theme song, what would it be?

It’s hard to pick one theme song because my mood and my circumstances are always changing. But if I were to pick one today, I’d pick something empowering. My daughter often listens to the song, “Invincible” by Kelly Clarkson. And today, I think that song describes how I’m feeling. I have had some challenges in my life recently. Before I came to Porter Wright, I spent 18 years at a firm that, in the end, was not a place that shared my vision for my practice. But I made the very big decision to leave that firm and to join Porter Wright. Since I have been here, I’ve been well-received and supported. Ideas and initiatives that would have fizzled at my old firm are now flourishing and taking shape. I’ve come through a tough period to find myself growing and because of it I feel stronger. The song reminds me that I am a strong and motivated person and that I am capable of accomplishing whatever I set out to do.

Complete the sentence: "If I wasn’t an attorney, I would be a…"

I would have probably become a doctor or had a career in medicine. I come from a medical family and was always more proficient at math and science than any other subject in school. I worked for a number of years in our family’s internal medicine practice as a medical secretary and, to this day, still use medical shorthand. I grew up with a virtual pharmacy in my home and never had traditional “health care” until I moved out of my home town. I’d always been treated by various physician or nurse relatives in my bedroom, my parents’ kitchen table, my uncle’s couch, my aunt’s living room, whatever worked. If I was sick, my mom would run to the bathroom, come out with a box of antibiotics and send me to school. Because my mom and aunt worked together, they were constantly talking shop. When I came to work there, I did the same. I would have loved to have studied medicine but for the fact that my mother was always fearful of being sued. She denies it, but I swear she forbade me from studying medicine because of the significant liability and told me she would never pay for it. So, instead I took up economics and then the law. But, even until now, I think of medicine as my hobby. I still know a lot about different medications and medical conditions. I still talk shop with my mom and the many relatives I have in the profession. It’s made me a great advocate for my son who was born with a chronic illness and incidentally just received his life-saving kidney transplant this past Christmas.