Monthly Feature: Get to know... Adam Kerlek
October 1, 2019
Everyone travels their own road to their ultimate career choice. Adam Kerlek’s path to the law was indirect, as his natural affinity for math and science first pulled him into engineering, but what he encountered along the way has served to distinguish him from his peers.
A product of the Cleveland suburbs, Adam’s first job was as a web designer in the early 1990s, when few people were using web pages or making them, for that matter. Armed with multiple AP classes and a significant scholarship, Adam completed the five year program at Ohio State in 3.5 years. Through the university’s cooperative program, Adam interned for a subsidiary of a Fortune 500 company in product management, bringing new consumer products from design to manufacture in Hong Kong for other companies such as Motorola, Maytag, and Georgia-Pacific. “It was important that we had people in Hong Kong that we could trust,” remembers Adam, “as there weren’t many rules or intellectual property protections in place at that time. I started to get involved in some of the legal issues—manufacturing contracts, and product and shipping disputes. It was interesting to me that you had to call lawyers in to help solve your problems. That’s when I first started to think about becoming a lawyer.”
“In my work as an engineer I learned how to make things more efficient with the least amount of waste/defects, from how to design a factory, to a manufacturing plan to achieve superior work flow. The desire to be efficient, reduce error and add value, which isn’t necessarily what lawyers are trained to do, was ingrained in me, and influences my practice to this day.”
Intellectual property law might have seemed like the obvious route for Adam, but at the University Of Miami School Of Law and his summer internship at Bond, Schoeneck & King, he become particularly interested in contracts and trusts & estates. “As a summer associate, you do work for all the departments, and Dennis Brown, senior counsel at Bond, became my mentor,” he recalls. “Dennis has an accounting background and at one time ran an environmental engineering firm. As another technical guy, Dennis took a liking to me and guided me to a trusts & estates practice.”
In his third year of law school, Adam studied tax law and business organizations, aiming for a high end trusts & estates practice with a privately held family business clientele.
Law school also shaped his people skills, particularly through a moot court competition during which he argued in front of the Second Circuit of the U. S. Court of Appeals in New York City. The experience gave him the confidence to go in front of any judge or board room. “In a trusts & estates practice, it’s particularly important to have a trusted personal relationship with clients. They are not only sharing personal information about their assets and overall financial picture; they are sharing the intimate details of their life. In many ways this trust and understanding is just as important as your technical abilities. Clients assume that I have the legal knowledge and skills, but it’s really the personal connection that makes them trust my advice.”
Adam works closely with high-net worth families to develop long-term strategies to minimize taxes, preserve and protect assets, and achieve philanthropic goals, in ways that are practical and comfortable for his clients and their families. He has counseled his clients in prudently transferring hundreds of millions of dollars of wealth to new generations.
“It’s not odd to me to be an engineer and a trusts & estates attorney. I’m assessing a situation and building a system to ensure assets are transferred smoothly, reducing conflict and taxes in an efficient way. Inputs and outputs, just like in engineering. I also try to leverage technology in document production and balances, to analyze documents and deliver information securely.”
“I take great pride in having learned from Dennis Brown, a master, the art of taking a very complicated situation and distilling it into something meaningful for the client. My job is to understand all the variables, give my clients the best advice and relay it into something understandable and actionable. Our clients in Naples include some of the wealthiest people in the country. They don’t want to hear a lawyer rambling about complex legal and tax issues. They want solutions. They want a competent technician that understands and accomplishes their goals, and ultimately makes their life simpler.”
A strong believer in giving back to the community, Adam is a former president and current member of the Greater Naples Area Planned Giving Council. He’s also been an active member of the advisors council for the Community Foundation of Collier County. Adam is particularly proud to have helped clients form and govern numerous not-for-profit (charitable) organizations, and assist donors with their planned giving programs and endowments.
“I believe in giving back to the community, providing expertise and helping charities both in operations and planned giving efforts. I feel very lucky and blessed to be an attorney and use my skills to better the Naples community.”