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Graham McDougal’s B-School Skills Help Build a Successful Law Practice

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After graduating from law school, Graham McDougal accepted a position as a deputy district attorney, responsible for half of the office’s misdemeanor calendar and for assisting with felony cases. “Working as a DA was a lot of fun,” he says. “I had a really good group of co-workers, challenging work and a feeling that what I was doing actually made a difference.

“However, my family runs a small business, a CPA firm. This predisposition, combined with several visits with my brother (who was attending business school in Chicago) led me to enroll at the Graduate School of Management with the goal of building a business-focused civil litigation practice.”


During the course of his Sacramento MBA career, however, McDougal discovered he had little interest in civil litigation, but enjoyed planning. Since earning his MBA in 2003, he’s combined his legal and his business backgrounds to develop a practice that focuses on estates, trusts and probate. When he learned that a significant number of planning clients never put their plans to work, he obtained financial services licenses to help clients implement both business and estate plans—and today offers a “one-stop” practice.

Summer 2014 Update: Graham McDougal received the Graduate School of Management Alumni Association’s 2014 Outstanding Service award.

How does it feel to receive the Outstanding Service award?

I am honored to have been selected for this year’s award, especially because I don’t think I even really knew it existed and so it was a complete surprise. I have focused on the various iterations of the Business Professionals Networking Group (BPNG) over the years because the relationships it supports are not only critical to the value and experience of the GSM, but because I enjoy touching base with friends and a quarterly lunch is a good way to do so.

What drives you in your work?

Each client’s situation is unique. I enjoy putting the pieces of their puzzle together to create estate and business plans that hopefully help them achieve their goals.

Where is your career headed?

I intend to continue developing a combined estate planning and wealth management practice focused on family businesses and people who are looking for comprehensive solutions to complicated legal and financial questions. I’d like to be known as a capable and trusted advisor focused on helping clients achieve their goals.

How has your UC Davis MBA experience helped shape your success?

Helping my clients requires that I understand their situations, including personal and business.  Whether I’m negotiating contracts on their behalf, analyzing their business operations, or advising on protecting and transferring assets across generations, I apply the skills learned at the GSM on a daily basis.

What is the most significant thing that’s happened to you since graduating?

Convincing a probate court to issue an arrest warrant, helping a military widow keep her home of 33 years, and helping a client structure last-minute charitable transfers to avoid $15 million in tax liability are pretty high up there, but the reality is that my work focuses on pretty “quiet” things: basically, helping people protect what they care about. Outside of work, I’m amazed—both positively and negatively—with my kids and how they’re growing up.

Your favorite GSM memory?

Only one? Leading an intrepid group of Sacramento MBA students across the street from One Capitol Mall for a shot and a beer during class break. Ski Day. Completing our capstone group-consulting project (for a local start-up), getting a lower grade because the CEO told the professor that our conclusions weren’t of any value, and then reading an interview with the CEO in the Business Journal a month later listing all of our recommended action items as steps the company was taking to grow its business.

Anything else you’d to share?

I (still) like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. I’m still playing lacrosse; last season’s highlights included taking the ball away from a two-time NCAA All-American/current professional player and actually being able to walk the day after a game. The two children my wife and I had while I attended the GSM are now in fifth  and seventh grades (and are as tall as my wife).

How do you support and participate in the GSM now?

Perhaps the most important part of any education is the people you meet along the way, and one of the biggest challenges is to maintain these relationships after graduation. While the GSM provided the initial forum and basis for significant personal and professional relationships, it’s up to all alumni to determine how (or if) to continue these after graduation.

Unfortunately, Sacramento is a relatively small business market and the School has a correspondingly small alumni base. Thus, several years ago, I teamed up with Vinny Catalano, Gordon Gerwig, and a couple of other area alumni to form (what is now called) the Business Professionals Networking Group, or BPNG. The group provides a quarterly lunch forum for members of the GSM community to build and maintain the relationships that are not only critical to professional success but that make life more enjoyable. All—alumni, students, faculty, business partners—are welcome and encouraged to join us.

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