From an early age, Dave Frisse knew what he wanted to do in life and after a career that has brought success, pioneered new approaches and gained notice by his peers, it is time to retire.
As Frisse remembers it, at the age of four he wanted to go to Notre Dame and become a lawyer. His grandfather may have had some subtle influence on the career choice.
“My grandfather was hooked on ‘Perry Mason,’” Frisse said, recalling as a child watching the TV show with his grandfather and being intrigued by how Mason used legal thinking to resolve complex cases.
With his law practice winding down, Frisse is looking forward to the next phase of life. He said now is the time to make the transition.
“When you turn 70 you are as close to 90 as you are 50,” said Frisse. “It is still fun and interesting, but I don’t have the energy to invest in keeping up with the law. I want more time with my grandkids. I’d like to show my wife some more of the planet.”
A native of Highland, his early-life bucket list was checked off with graduation from Notre Dame and earning a law degree from St. Louis University School of Law.
His first years as a lawyer were spent with the Illinois Attorney General from 1974-1979 and his final two years with that office were as head of the Revenue Litigation Division.
“Our client was the Department of Revenue and we handled litigation in the 95 counties outside of Cook and the Collar Counties,” he said.
Most of the work dealt with discrepancies between the user tax and the occupation tax that fell broadly under the category of a state sales tax.
According to Frisse, Illinois does not have a true sales tax. What exists is a much more complex system where people pay a use tax when buying merchandise from a vendor. The merchant in turn applies the tax collected on sold goods as a credit against the occupation tax that is the tax on the business.
Sales tax was the state’s most important source of revenue at that time.
“The Illinois income tax was new then,” Frisse said.
He enjoyed the work but after a period of time desired a change.
“I grew up in a small town, and I wanted to be a small town lawyer,” said Frisse.
The search for a new job included placing an ad in the Illinois Bar Association Journal that got the attention of Massey, Anderson and Gibson – a firm in small town Paris.
The response from the law firm was enigmatic.
“They said I wasn’t what they were looking for, but my background was interesting,” he said.
Anyway, Massey, Anderson and Gibson tendered an offer and Frisse moved to Paris June 14, 1979.
“That was my first day in Paris, and I spent my first night in the Pinnell Motel,” said Frisse.
Senior partner Raymond Massey was preparing to retire and the other attorneys in the firm were not quite sure where Frisse fit into the scheme. As a law firm in a small town, the work involved a broad approach without a lot of specialization and Frisse did various tasks, including serving as a public defender. Circumstances dictated his course.
“Congress passed a new bankruptcy law, and the other guys didn’t want to learn it,” said Frisse. “The economy went to hell in the ’80s and all of the builders in town and a lot of farmers went bankrupt. I was more of a bank lawyer than anything.”
Something else that happened opened his eyes to the need for looking deeper at issues instead of practicing formulaic law. His parents asked him to prepare their will.
“I didn’t know an estate plan from a banana,” said Frisse.
The first step was asking more experienced lawyers in the firm for advice and was told to use a form. That didn’t work out so well. Frisse recalls his father calling and talking through clenched teeth about the result. An accountant had reviewed the will and found weaknesses that could cause future problems for the estate.
That was about the time Massey, Anderson and Gibson was approaching a point it either had to grow or dissolve, and it made the most sense for an amicable dissolution with each attorney developing a new practice. The sting of failing his parents pointed Frisse in a new direction. He hired an expert to tutor him in probate law.
“I’d rather be one of those guys that knows a subject than a dilettante,” he said.
A variety of related business experiences and forming a partnership with attorney Rick Brewster, who was also a CPA, showed both men there had to be a better way to estate planning than expecting the client to come in knowing everything in advance and the lawyer just drawing up the documents.
“Everybody I know has seen a family fight (over estates),” said Frisse.
The goal of Frisse and Brewster was to avoid such situations by offering free seminars on estate planning and consultations before a client made a commitment to spend any money with the firm. The approach worked so well Frisse frequently traveled to Florida to teach law seminars, and he was tapped to contribute material for two books.
He explained the practice of estate law led to business and farm planning as well when people were looking for ways to protect assets in the transition to another generation.
“It’s not about how much, it’s about what it means to you,” he said.
He added people mistakenly assume estate planning is only for the wealthy to shelter assets against death taxes.
“That is not the biggest threat because most people will never get to that $11 million threshold,” said Frisse. “People need to plan for long-term care and nursing home costs and how to protect against that.”
The Frisse & Brewster approach required clients to confront hard questions about the practical aspects of planning such as who was best qualified to serve as an executor, how assets should be divided and if it was necessary to protect those assets against future threats or squandering.
He also brought some philosophy into the process and asked clients to think about if the things they did to develop material wealth improved the world and enhanced the family or was it simply about getting things. The answer to that frequently shaped how the estate worked.
Frisse will miss the relationships built with clients, many of which evolved over years, and he will also miss the intellectual challenge of the law.
“The job of the lawyer is to take rules that are often inconsistent and illogical and help clients navigate through them,” Frisse said.
Paris will remain his home in retirement because he anticipates exciting things on the horizon for the community.
“For a long time, I was bummed about Paris,” he said. “I watched as the entrepreneurial class passed on. People got more conservative and the community got more poor. There was an acceptance of mediocrity.”
With young people starting businesses and investing in the community, the hospital foundation looking to have more involvement and PEDCO’s continued efforts, it seems to Frisse things will continue getting better.
“We’ve got some really smart people running around here,” he said.