Go Your Own Way
Estate-planning attorney John B. Whalen Jr. has attained a high level success in the legal field by staying true to himself
by Jenny Graham

Lawyer John B. Whalen Jr. decided to go his own way nearly a decade ago, when he decided to put his clients’ comfort first. To exemplify: He offers free initial consultations of unlimited time and makes himself available to clients “24-7.” Also, although he works out of his home office, it is rare he meets his clients there. Rather, he meets clients at their homes or a location of their choice. Whalen, who grew up in “a big Irish family” that included one brother and four sisters, decided to follow this protocol because he noticed that people feel more comfortable around their families at home.

Whalen specializes in estate law, such as estate planning, litigation, settlement and taxation. Unlike many lawyers who work on such matters, he does not bill by the hour. Instead, he charges clients a flat-fixed fee (agreed upon by the clients at the beginning and then billed monthly) so there are no surprises in cost. This is important because the time involved with estate law changes from client to client and situation to situation (i.e., estate planning clients may have either many questions and revisions or few questions and revisions; estate litigation clients may involve extensive litigation or not; and estate settlement clients may have estates which can often take as long as two years to complete naturally), and often have many issues arise that were not initially foreseen at the beginning.  Rather than have clients experience any increase in the fee if and when any of these situation occur, “I am able to grasp the time and circumstances where these changes can occur and inform them client at the beginning because this is the sole area of law that I practice,” he says.

Whalen earned two undergraduate degrees (an associate’s and a bachelor’s) in criminology, having planned initially on pursuing a career in law enforcement. He even spent the years from 1981 to 1987 “busting shoplifters at the King of Prussia mall.” Yet he felt his calling to be law and went on to earn a law degree from Widener University in 1990, then a second, a Master of Laws (LL.M.), at Villanova University in 1994, all in all spending 14 years as a graduate and undergraduate student. He earned certification to practice in 1990 and has now been practicing law for 23 years.

He started off in a “boutique firm,” spending nearly a decade traveling and litigating and doing work outside of estate law he describes as “a mind numbing, nightmare of tedium.” He also had clients at the time with whom he worked on estate issues, and eventually he decided he wanted to focus on those issues solely instead of any other courtroom litigation.

Though offered a raise in salary, Whalen resigned from this position, noting, “It’s not about money; it’s about doing what I want to do.” Lamb McErlane P.C. provided Whalen his next job opportunity, specifically drafting him for a spot at the firm, yet this proved to not be his final destination either. Whalen says he promised his father that, upon receiving an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell—an objective indicator of a lawyer’s achievement of the highest ethical standards and professional ability—he would venture out by founding his own firm, which he did in 2006.

Since then Whalen has had a great deal of success, having received accolades from clients and colleagues alike. One such client, retiree Joe Reifsnyder, says he’s had a very positive experience working with Whalen and, in fact, has hired him for a number of additional duties since first discovering him.

Reifsnyder says that by good fortune he and his wife, Mary, found Whalen’s information on the Internet when searching for a professional to help them with their wills.

“John got a lot of really good write-ups so I called him,” he says. “The good thing about when I talked to him was he [came] over to my house. I’m always comfortable in my own house. It was a very positive experience for us.”

Reifsnyder explains that he and his wife initially sought Whalen’s assistance in establishing “the three basic things”—specifically, a power of attorney, a will and a living will.

“He was very down to earth, there was no elitism; I thought that was a real positive,” Reifsnyder says, adding, “He got our wills over to us at the agreed-upon price.”

Having established a business relationship based upon positive experiences, Reifsnyder enlisted Whalen’s help for subsequent matters such as reworking the wills when Reifsnyder’s daughter got married and helping settle estate matters after Reifsnyder’s father-in-law passed away. Reifsnyder says of Whalen, “He’s very down to earth, and he keeps things in simple terms. Being able to translate from [esoteric terms] down to the average Joe is important.”

Christina Rahm, court supervisor and dear friend of Whalen’s since 1981, describes Whalen as a great, family-oriented person she can call anytime. She has also referred family members, including her mother, to Whalen for legal matters and says, “He’s very thorough.”

She notes Whalen is special for “his gentleness, his kindness, just the accuracy and the lengths of time that he will go to and spend with you to explain something to you if you don’t understand it.

“He’s like a brother to me,” she continues. “You can call him night or day and he will be there for you. He’s funny, down to earth, he loves music; [he] and my husband can talk hours on music—it’s crazy.”

Whalen too notes his love of music, especially the Psychedelic Furs, a band with whom he made friends as a teenager. Since then he has seen the band in concert “easily more than 60 times in a dozen cities.” His interests also include philosophy, astrophysics and astronomy, films, blogging and music. Although his professional, buttoned-down exterior may not indicate it, he also has two tattoos (one around each ankle, which started as a crucifix on his right ankle when his father died and then added to every year on his birthday), played the drums professionally for a number of years and can juggle. He can also say the alphabet backwards in 20 seconds and can name all the American presidents, in order, in less than a minute.

With such a unique combination of education, talent and expertise, going his own way clearly has been the best possible path for Whalen to take.

John B. Whalen Jr., Esquire
Phone:  610-407-0220
E-mail:  jw60297@me.com
Website:   www.whalenwillslaw.com

Photograph by Jody Robinson