San Diego attorney Rodney J. (“Rod”) Hatley’s path to becoming an asset protection and estate planning attorney began with a seven-figure estate tax bill.
His father had been ill for a while before he died. Though Rod knew that his father needed to set up a trust and undertake additional advanced planning to prepare for the eventual passing of his accumulated wealth, by this point his father could not bear with the idea of parting with legal title to the assets he had spent his life amassing. As a result of this lack of preparation, it took Rod and his sister fifteen years of installments to pay off the taxes owed on the money the family spent a lifetime working and sacrificing for.
It was his father’s influence that initially led Rod to practice law. Rod was the first person in his family to attend college and his father wanted him to either go to law school or medical school. His path was chosen by default, since he wasn’t scientifically-inclined and, after getting a BA in Political Science from Rhodes College (formerly Southwestern at Memphis), he got his Juris Doctor at the University of Memphis (formerly Memphis State University) Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
He began his law career working in personal injury litigation and then for the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, first as a Criminal Defense Counsel and Legal Assistance Attorney and then as a Staff Judge Advocate and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney. In the early 90s, based on his experience with his father, he decided he wanted to know more about tax law and, just as important, to find out the best way to ensure family wealth wouldn’t be devastated by confiscatory estate taxes and the delays and costs of probate. He pursued a Master of Laws from the University of San Diego School of Law’s acclaimed graduate tax program and shifted into asset protection and estate planning.
As for being an asset protection attorney in light of the economic downturn, Rod observes “The Great Recession has been an emotional rollercoaster for our clients. As asset protection attorneys, the Chhokar Law Group, P.C. represents a great many people facing financial adversity. Our clients often come to us in a very depressed and disturbed state of mind; many have been sued on personal guarantees for real estate projects that have gone south. People argue that our clients deserve what is coming to them; that anyone who invests in risky real estate projects should know better; that there is always a direct correlation between risk and return; and those high profiits they were anticipating come at a price. It can be further argued that it would be immoral or unethical to protect assets at such a late stage and the attorney should turn down the engagement. Making such arguments as part of an abstract conversation about investing or morals is quite different from facing one of these unfortunate investors across the table and watching their lives tumble around them. Do you tell prospective clients that they were fools and that they should suffer the repercussions of taking risks or do you help them? We choose to help because we simply cannot turn down a human being who looks us in the eyes and asks for help. When we are able to help, we literally manage to salvage a client’s life. They walk into our office in tears and walk out with renewed hope. They climb off the emotional rollercoaster.”
When he isn’t busy with his practice, Rod enjoys scuba diving (he is open water certified) and surfing in San Diego. He is a fan of Mid-Century Modern architecture and volunteers his time to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of San Diego, Inc. and the Rotary Club, where Rod is a Paul Harris Fellow.