Tawana Edwards, 2018 Grauman Award honoree, reflects on law school experience
Although Tawana Edwards has decades of experience in fiduciary law and now is co-CEO of a wealth management firm, she didn't enter law school with the intention to practice in this sector.
In fact, Edwards (Class of 1982) thought she would be a litigator. She worked in juvenile court as a law student and participated in moot court, but it was in her tax law and decedents' estates classes that she found her passion.
She credits two professors in particular — Bob Stenger and Norvie Lay — for recognizing and encouraging her interests. And she also is thankful for the career services office (now the Office of Professional Development) for leading her to a clerkship in the trust department at Citizens Fidelity Bank. She was later offered a full-time position with the bank's tax department and has remained a fiduciary lawyer since.
In 2001, she helped establish The Glenview Trust Company, where she is now co-CEO and chief fiduciary officer.
“Law school basically helped me identify what was going to be my lifelong career," Edwards says. “It has been a career that has served me well. I love what I do.”
Here, she answers some questions about what she loves about tax law and why she believes a great city needs a great law school.
What has driven your interest in tax law and estate planning?
"The reason I like the tax piece is because — unlike some other areas of the law — there are rules. I liked all my code classes. I liked that there was a place where I could go see what somebody said the rule was and then figure out if there were any ways around that. I liked that somebody had drawn a line in the sand and then I could say, ‘OK, well what about this and what about this?’
“The decedents' estates piece, the estate planning piece, for me they were all these stories about families. All these people connections. I’ve never really looked at it as a bunch of laws to be applied. My family was very poor, so I’d certainly never heard of a trust or anything like that. But when I started reading the decedents' estate cases and the will contests, they were just these wonderful family relationships. You’d see all the dysfunction that people deal with. It was like reading a soap opera. One of my favorite things is watching people, so that was like seeing people in their lives. It just fascinated me.
“I still have clients, even though I’m the CEO of Glenview. That is the thing: being able to apply all these rules and laws and investment expertise. When you do it, you’re doing it because it’s going to have an impact on this family.”
What opportunities has your legal education brought you?
“My law degree opened doors for me: leadership opportunities in the community, things that would never have been available to me. In addition to giving me an education, it allowed me to choose I career that I love, it gave me some opportunities that I don’t think would have been available to me but for my law degree.
"A law degree from UofL in this community opened doors for me.”
Why is a vibrant law school important for Louisville?
“I’ve learned so much by serving on nonprofits in this community. I think that they benefit greatly from having the University of Louisville, not only through the pro bono services they do but in developing attorneys who are going to live and work in their community and give back.
“It’s clear that having a law school in this community where people graduate and stay and develop their careers, regardless whether it’s a legal practice or in business … is so important to the economic viability of Louisville. I dread to think what it would be without the law school.”
What advice do you have for today's law students?
“I think regardless of whether you want to practice law, I think law school is a great step to developing skills that will allow you to be successful in life.
“Law school opened doors for me. You have to have the courage to go through them. I had to change my plan. I did fight it for a while. I thought, ‘Tax is boring. I’m not going to work in tax.’ But it just kept pulling me back in. I just had to be open to that.
“As you go through life and you think you have a plan, you really don’t know. When a window opens or a door opens, you need to step through it. Starting Glenview was very risky, but it’s been the most rewarding thing in my career so far. Don’t be afraid to take risks and keep an open mind about what the possibilities might be. Have courage.”