Not everyone has the good fortune to say they have their dream job that allows them to follow their passion. But not everyone is willing to change their life to pursue their passion, either. Max Barger is one whose life changes have allowed him to pursue his passion and enjoy the life he wanted.
Barger, an estate-planning attorney who focuses on the LGBT community, moved to the D.C. area in 2005 from Norfolk, Va. The transition was part of his coming out, both personally and professionally. ”In the Hampton Roads area, I really couldn’t work with the gay community, because it is a very conservative area.”
His first work with a gay couple was in 1998.
”It was a novel concept. I had to do original research because there were no articles or treatises on best practices for planning for unmarried couples.”
Barger used his research to begin teaching other professionals about the challenges and obstacles faced by gay couples.
Barger’s law firm was initially supportive of his focus on LGBT clients, but he later realized that to do the kind of work he wanted to do, ”I needed to be with a firm that was active in the LGBT community. That was made clear when a senior partner said, ‘We don’t want to be known as the firm for gays.”’
That’s when Barger moved to Ackerman Legal, a D.C.-area law firm, where he is chair of the Estate Planning, Probate, and Trust Administration Practice Groups. The firm encouraged his involvement in the LGBT community.
By then he was already on the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce’s board. He credits the Chamber with helping grow his practice. ”With the Chamber,” Barger says, ”you get out what you put in and I jumped in with both feet. It’s helped bring me a lot of clients — and I’ve made some wonderful friendships.”
Barger, who lives in Arlington with his partner and their dog, has published articles and served as an adjunct professor at two Virginia universities.
”When we learn about estate planning in law school,” Barger notes, ”it is about a husband and wife with children. Nobody teaches you what to do with a gay couple whose relationship is not recognized.”
Barger says his biggest hurdle often is getting clients into the office. ”Some people don’t believe their situation warrants seeing an attorney, so they get a will off the Internet. But once someone has a life experience, such as the death of a friend or family member, they realize they may be less prepared than is necessary.”
Barger’s approach is to develop customized documents to meet a client’s needs.
”Nearly everyone I meet with wants their situation to be kept simple and to receive documents they can understand – without legalese. I empathize with that, but not everyone in a gay relationship has a simple situation.”
The biggest challenges for Barger exist because so much of the law is not written in a gay-friendly way — even if you live in the District where marriage equality is recognized, he notes. ”Federal law does not recognize gay marriage and that influences everything we do.” Clients who are parents and business owners face additional challenges, but those who are single also need help.
Barger’s business success is directly tied, he believes, to his volunteer work. That includes pro bono work at his church and at Whitman-Walker Health.
”I love working with clients at Whitman-Walker,” Barger says. ”Many have no control over so much of their lives. Putting essential documents in place gives them control and peace of mind they didn’t have. It often gets very emotional. In the end, I’ve made a friend and helped a client.”
And he’s got the life he always wanted.
For more information about CAGLCC, visit the Chamber online at caglcc.org.