As one of the country’s most influential trusts and estates lawyers, Dennis Belcher, L’76, counsels his clients on the importance of one generation carefully planning for the success of the next. This philosophy extends to Belcher’s role as chairman of the law school’s 1870 Society, which recognizes leadership donors to the law school’s annual fund.
“It is extremely important to give back and reinvest what you took out,” he says. “Every student takes something out of the law school that is not covered by tuition. The law school showed me that there was a world out there much beyond what I was thinking about. My plan was to go back to my hometown of Harrisonburg, Va., and become a family lawyer.”
Instead, Belcher stayed in Richmond, joined McGuireWoods LLP, and today is a partner with the firm’s Trust and Estates practice. In March, the National Law Journal named Belcher as one of the nation’s “Most Influential Lawyers, calling him, “a leader in his field.”
Belcher credits J. Rodney Johnson, professor emeritus of law, with developing his interest in trust and estate law. “A quality professor will get you really interested in the subject matter,” he says. “The interesting thing about the class of 1976 is the number of lawyers who do what I do. For example, my friend Lou Mezzullo and I were in the same class and Lou is a nationally recognized lawyer in this area.”
At McGuireWoods, Belcher represents high net worth individuals, families and family offices on a variety of sensitive and complex estate and business planning matters. He also focuses his practice on estate and trust administration, charitable planning, and sensitive fiduciary litigation and dispute resolution. Last summer, he and McGuireWoods chairman Richard Cullen, L’77, made news when they led the six-attorney legal team that represented Elin Nordegren in her divorce from golf superstar Tiger Woods.
Belcher has authored numerous articles on wealth management, is a frequent speaker at estate-planning seminars across the country, and has testified before Congress on the estate tax. He is also a past president of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and was previously Chair of the American Bar Association's Real Property, Trust & Estate Law Section.
His work is never dull. “One day I will represent a client who is buying an aircraft,” he says. “The next day I will represent an individual who’s making an investment in real estate in the United Kingdom. The next day I may represent a trustee who is being chased by a beneficiary. I love the diversity of the practice and the quality of the clients. They are always very appreciative of what you do for them.”
Likewise, Belcher is appreciative for all his law school education has done for him. He says he nearly transferred after his first year to attend a less expensive school. He then visited that school and found, “it was like a factory instead of a family.” He decided he was happy at Richmond. “Sometimes the best decisions you make are those you don’t make,” he says.
Today Belcher gives back in any way he can, be it writing a letter of recommendation on behalf of a prospective Richmond Law student, or leading the 1870 Society, which recognizes leadership donors gifting $1,870 or more to the Law School’s Annual Fund in a given year. It is named for the year the law school was founded. Members of the giving society will be recognized and honored at the 1870 Society Brunch during Law Weekend in the fall.
As he marks his 35th year of law practice Belcher encourages law alumni to support the school. “Law school was a wonderful experience,” he says. “One that opened the eyes of a boy right off the farm.”