The Advocate

A battle with cancer brings Judith Todd closer to her clients        

Published in 2008 Alabama Super Lawyers — May 2008

A cancer diagnosis is devastating for any family. It's even worse when a husband and wife receive the news only months apart. For Judith Todd, that scenario played out in 1994 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer just four months after her husband's colon cancer had returned.

"It really taught me what I could and couldn't do in terms of being strong," says the Birmingham-based Sirote & Permutt attorney. "You get to know your limits; you begin to understand the importance of family."

When her husband passed away in 1996, Todd discovered something else: "I learned firsthand what my clients go through."

As an estate planning attorney, Todd works with people who often are at an emotional rock bottom. Preparing estates and wills, she says, is a delicate practice. "You are working with people who are dealing with some incredibly tough issues," Todd says.

Fortunately, Todd has a knack for understanding human behavior. As a student at Vassar in the 1960s, she decided she wanted to go into psychology, but her parents warned that she would probably get "too attached to her patients." So, with the encouragement of a political science professor, she chose law and graduated from the University of Miami School of Law in 1972. Estate law, with its inherent human drama, was a natural fit.

She tries to soften the blows for clients when she can. For example, she will warn children that many grieving spouses lose their short-term memory. "The last thing someone who just lost a parent needs is to think their surviving parent is developing Alzheimer's," she says. Bradley Sklar, a Sirote shareholder, says Todd's "dedication to the important issues in her clients' lives," and not solely the legal aspects, is a "testament to the kind of lawyer she is."

Todd's struggle with cancer has inspired her to work with groups that empower women and children, including the YWCA and the Women's Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, because, as she says, "when the mother falls apart, the family falls apart." Todd also served as president of Oasis, a nonprofit that provides mental health treatment to those who can't afford it. She earned a Life Inspiration Award—given to cancer survivors who have overcome particularly difficult odds—from the American Cancer Society in 1998.

Last year, Todd discovered that her cancer had returned—it is now stage 4—and she cut her workload. After 10 years as head of Sirote's 12-person estate planning group, she passed the mantle to two younger members and joined the firm's seven-member executive committee. She continues to work with long-term clients, including families she has represented for decades.

"I don't know what the future holds," Todd says. "I will deal with my health and go from there."

 

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