Star Graduate Charles E. McWilliams, Jr., JD, CPA
By Wilhelmina Santiful
“I always knew that I would practice law of some type, but I didn’t know exactly what specialty I would enjoy until much later," said Charles E. McWilliams, Jr., Shenandoah County Public Schools' latest Star Graduate Charles "Chuck" McWilliams is a graduate of Central High School, Class of 1998. By 2004, the year he enrolled in law school, Chuck had determined that his niche in legal practice would be tax and estate planning.
....the best advice I can give anyone who wants to be an attorney today is to know exactly what you want to do (law specialty) when you start law school, and make sure you learn to do it better than anyone else.
Charles McWilliams, Jr.
Chuck grew up in Shenandoah County where he attended public school for Grades K-4, transferred to Wakefield for Grades 5-8 and then returned to public school for Grades 9-12 at Central High School.
Chuck is pictured at right with his parents Charles and Delores McWilliams and Buddy (lower left), a dog Chuck rescued from the Winchester SPCA. Photo was taken on Christmas Day 2013.
"At Central I was involved in track and cross country. We had an amazing cross country team in 1997, and we won the state championships, but I must admit I had little to do with that title, as I was always better at the short distances," McWilliams said.
From his senior year at Central, Chuck warmly remembers Bonnie Gochenour, his AP English teacher. He described her in a single word as "outstanding. She passed away about a year ago," he commented, and "it was amazing to see the outpouring of support from her former students; she touched a lot of people."
After high school, Chuck was off to Hampden-Sydney College located near Farmville, Virginia, to major in Political Science. At Hampden-Sydney he was quite active in Theta Chi Fraternity, and he served as president of the Philosophy Club. Although being a member of a philosophy club doesn’t sound too exciting, it was actually a large, very active club which hosted speakers from across the country and participated in debate programs with other Virginia colleges. During my spare time, of which there wasn’t much, I was usually mountain biking with the club or working with local politicians," stated McWilliams.
McWilliams had the experience of working on Capitol Hill shortly after leaving Central High. "I think it was during the summer of 2000 when I first worked on the Hill, and I am sure my pre-9/11 experience was very different from working there today. I spent the first half of my summer working for Congressman Frank Wolf (pictured at right) and the second half working with the Republican National Committee in the finance division,” he said.
As a congressional aide, he was able to network with an exceptional group of intelligent but underpaid people both in his office and in the offices of others. He found that he had far more connections on the Hill than he knew, mostly through other Hampden-Sydney College students who worked in staff positions in various congressional offices. In his office he was permitted to assist preparing letters, conducting research, and attending meetings with constituents. So, he was able to learn how legislation gets passed and the numerous factors that come into play, even on seemingly minor bills.
Chuck actually graduated from college several times. "I left Hampden-Sydney in the fall of 2001 since I had more than enough credits to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, but I did not "walk" until June of 2002 because HSC does not have a mid-year graduation ceremony.
I enrolled at George Mason University as an accounting major in January of 2002. While there I continued my activities in Theta Chi Fraternity, serving as vice president of the chapter. I was able to complete a second bachelor’s degree in December of 2003, this time in accounting," he said.
After graduating from GMU, Chuck began working for one of the big accounting firms in Northern Virginia. "My practice group focused on tax and accounting matters for many of the largest law firms in the country, so I was able to learn more about what those firms did, how they did it, and what different practices were available. Though I had always been interested in law, my accounting work with law firms helped me solidify my decision to pursue law school," Chuck stressed.
He enrolled in George Mason University School of Law in the Fall of 2004.
McWilliams says that many of his classmates started law school with an open mind as to what they wanted to study. "But that wasn’t me. I knew from the start that I wanted to study tax and estate planning law. Fortunately, George Mason University School of Law has what they call a "tax track" which permits students to take many of their electives in exciting topics, such as partnership tax, corporate tax, estate and gift tax, tax theory, and international taxation. I remember that I took every tax course offered, except international tax, and my course of study proved to be extraordinarily valuable in the long run," he said.
McWilliams worked for his present employer, Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh, P.C., all through law school. "Upon graduation, I accepted a position with a boutique tax, trust, and estate firm in Winchester to learn the ropes of running a trust and estate practice, and have to admit in hindsight that I enjoyed every minute of it. While the work can be stressful, it is fun and there are always new opportunities to learn," McWilliams noted.
For the past two years, he has been back with Walsh Colucci, having worked for the firm as a part-time law clerk all through law school. His work schedule varies dramatically from week to week. "An average work week is Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 6:30 p.m., with some occasional work on the weekend. During my busy seasons, which are typically April and May and October through December, I usually work a full day over the weekend and sometimes until late at night during the week from my home office," said McWilliams.
Another important time-consuming aspect of his job is the hours he invests in bringing new clients in the door. Many of these relationships are developed by meeting people multiple times at public events, like club meetings, fundraisers, sporting events, and festivals. This is time that doesn’t factor into the billable hours that end up on the time sheet.
Along with his busy schedule as a practicing attorney, McWilliams is still in law school, working on an LL.M in Taxation at Georgetown University Law Center. "While I like what I am doing now, I want to be the best at what I do. The LL.M (Master of Laws) program provides me with exposure to complex planning strategies that most attorneys rarely encounter in practice and the professors encourage us to use them as a resource in complex and unique planning situations."
He elaborated, "Practicing law isn’t for everyone, but when I speak with undergrads about law school--what they should major in and what type of law they want to practice--I find most of them don’t have an answer to these simple questions. I can tell them from personal experience that the people who were at the top of my law school class every year were not the liberal arts majors, but the accountants, engineers, and others who had developed career paths and often knew exactly what they wanted to study in law school and what they want to be doing after they graduate."
Although I don’t think their success was attributable to their being any smarter than the other students, I do believe that it was because they had a defined path that involved a subject matter they knew and enjoyed. The days of being a general practitioner are over. The law is too complex now, and I find that my clients nearly always prefer to work with multiple people within a law firm, each of whom knows his or her respective practice area extraordinarily well, rather than work with a general practitioner who only knows a little bit about a lot of subjects. In that light, the best advice I can give anyone who wants to be an attorney today is to know exactly what you want to do when you start law school, and make sure you learn to do it better than anyone else," McWilliams concluded.
McWilliams currently resides in Winchester and is a member of the Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville. Work commitments have forced him to leave his position on the Board of Directors of a local Rotary Club and give up his membership with the Theta Chi Fraternity.
Skiing, fishing, hunting, skeet shooting, and riding horses with his fiancée Charlotte Buracker consume his scant amount of leisure time.
A life-changing event for McWilliams is coming soon. He and Charlotte will be married on May 11, 2014.
Charlotte and Chuck enjoy the horse races
at Oatlands in Loudoun County.
|Charlotte and Chuck attended the Blue Ridge Fall Races at Woodley Farm in Berryville. This annual event benefits the Winchester community.
And what is next for this young man who has a B.A. in Political Science, B.S. in Accounting, J.D. in Law, and coming soon (2015) an LL.M in taxation from Georgetown University? Charles McWilliams may pursue a political office if Charlotte is supportive of that aspiration. "I have numerous friends in politics, and it is a commitment which requires dedication from both spouses and a tremendous amount of time in exchange for very little compensation," he said.
Congratulations and Best Wishes
Charles "Chuck" McWilliams