Attorney Eileen Finucane Announces Retirement and Reflects on 43-Year Legal Career
Attorney Eileen Finucane announced her retirement from Salzmann Hughes, P.C. and the practice of law on May 31, 2022. This Franklin County attorney recently shared memories of her career as a lawyer.
Growing up as the only girl with four older brothers, Eileen Finucane never let gender roles define her path. “I was always a jock, a tomboy. Whatever my brothers could do, I would try to do too”. Like two of her brothers, and after completing her undergraduate degree from Swarthmore College, Eileen pursued a legal education, earning her JD from Villanova University School of Law in 1979.
Upon graduation and pregnant with her first child, Eileen began her career in Savannah, Georgia. “I moved to Savannah and passed the Georgia Bar. When I started practicing, I was the third woman, and first northern woman attorney to practice law in Savannah. I had a great opportunity, working for a small business law firm, located on one of the beautiful downtown squares.” However, “…back then, as a professional woman in the South, it was really challenging to feel that it could ever be home. So, I was happy to return to my childhood home of Chambersburg, where I had family and felt I could build my career. When I returned, I passed the Pennsylvania Bar, then pregnant with my second child.”
When Eileen returned to Chambersburg, she joined the firm of Wingerd and Long, a long-established local firm with two senior attorneys (Dan Long and Ted Wingerd) and her brothers, Tom and Mike Finucane. Eileen and her brothers continued the practice after the senior attorneys retired, then later renamed the firm Finucane Law Office. Tom and Eileen merged the practice with Salzmann Hughes, P.C. in 2008. Tom retired eight years ago, and Mike Finucane continues to practice as a sole practitioner.
The family firm dynamic worked for the Finucanes, but Eileen shared that moving to a larger firm provided much-needed support. “Having other attorneys to refer matters to was a great benefit. Also, I no longer had to handle management duties, which was a big plus.” Joining a larger firm also allowed Eileen to specialize her general civil practice. “I started out as a general civil practice attorney, and the only areas I did not handle were medical malpractice and criminal (except for court appointments). I eliminated the domestic caseload fairly early in my career, as I never enjoyed that part of the practice, and found it stressful and emotionally draining. When I was able to limit my practice to litigation, business, estate planning and real estate, I was delighted. I think most attorneys in our area who are in a small general practice have to handle so many types of cases, which is very challenging. The ability to continue to limit and focus my practice after the merger with Salzmann Hughes was a big benefit of the merger.”
When asked about the highlights of her days practicing law, Eileen described litigation to be some of the most rewarding, although also the most demanding. “With litigation, you inevitably invest so much time into it, months, possibly years preparing. When all that effort results in a win- that was always a great day! Eventually, I stopped doing litigation, as it is extremely demanding. I then focused on transactional business and real estate matters, and estate planning and administration for the balance of my career.”
Although Eileen restricted the scope of her practice, she found that it was impractical to limit her practice to just one area. She explained, “You handle estate planning for someone, and then that client buys real estate, or they have family members with legal needs. A successful law practice really has a ripple effect; if you assist a client and they are satisfied, you will continue to deal with that client as they go through different phases of life. It is part of why I have enjoyed this career. It’s something new every day, and I developed long-term working relationships with many clients.”
Constant evolution may be what kept Eileen engaged in the legal field for over 40 years, but that reality presented its own challenges as her career evolved. “Part of the reason I got out of litigation is that area of law evolved a lot. The rules changed, the laws and procedures changed, and that made it challenging to stay current, especially if you were not focused solely on litigation.”
Eileen described the evolution of communication methods that dramatically affected the practice of law during her career. “It’s amazing to remember that fax and email became the norm in my time. And there was some resistance to the new reality that transactions were able to proceed so much faster. Before you’d get a letter, you’d compose a response, enclose a draft of a document, and drop it in the mail. A response would arrive with revised document, in a week or two, and so it would proceed. Today’s communications, with emails and document exchanges multiple times a day as a transaction progresses, represents a huge evolution.”
Another aspect of the evolution of technology and legal processes has been increased isolation among attorneys. “Participating in real estate, attorneys used to do their own title searches. You’d go to the Recorder of Deeds office, which had these massive tomes, they probably weighed 20 lbs. each. Some of the records were handwritten indexes, deeds and mortgages, and the search process was sometimes a labyrinth. You might spend a whole day just doing one title search. But there were other attorneys there doing the same thing and you’d chat and compare notes. Now if you go into the Recorder’s Office, there are maybe one or two people, sitting at computers. There are virtually no books…. and it is very quiet.”
Eileen served as President of the Franklin County Bar Association and in other bar association positions during her career, and suggests that participating in bar association leadership positions and activities is a great way to develop friendships and connections with other area attorneys.
In fact, one thing Eileen will miss the most from earlier days in her career are gathering with other lawyers and professionals. “The Franklin County Bar Association used to arrange great parties with many memorable moments. Sometimes it was just attorneys, and we would have an afternoon of golf or tennis, with dinner and a program afterward (often including hilarious attorney contributions). Overnight trips to Annapolis with outings on attorney Dave Cleaver’s yacht were a great time. The nature of the legal practice then was such that many of us knew one another, maybe spent time in the courthouse together or became acquainted through these social events. At times the bar association gatherings included spouses, sometimes children, and we came to know one another’s families as well, which was wonderful.”
“The events weren’t limited to social gatherings. We had some great sporting events over the years. The Bar Association would arrange football and volleyball matchups, often it was Chambersburg vs. Waynesboro attorneys (and ringers!). I remember at least once we had a football game between area doctors and lawyers, and another time the bar association competed against the state police in a softball game. The connections we made with other colleagues and professionals brought our communities together in a real way.”
The collaborations were not limited to social or athletic gatherings. “There was a point some years ago when the then standard terms contained in medical directives became an issue. The existing formats were causing problems for the medical community, which dealt with the legal provisions when they needed to be implemented. Leadership of the bar association worked with leadership in the medical community, and a committee of lawyers and doctors collaborated to develop a new format, which I believe is essentially the format commonly used now. I believe our preexisting relationships and friendships made that process relatively seamless.”
The value of these contacts and partnerships is highlighted by Eileen’s advice to new attorneys. “It’s not new advice, but for me, it always comes back to treating people with respect. Respect for opposing counsel, respect for other attorneys, for your clients, for opposing counsel’s client, you treat people with respect. That approach actually goes a long way on every front in life. You live and die on your reputation, and the respect piece applies to your community and your colleagues, and is important to keep foremost in your mind.”
Those building a career in law today may face different obstacles than generations before, but the biggest challenge for attorneys may always be finding the sweet spot of satisfaction and balance. “Finding satisfaction in their career will be the biggest challenge for new lawyers. What we do takes a lot of our time, and you’re going to work hard at it to do it well. When you put in that amount of time and effort, you want to make sure it is a satisfying career.”
It's a double-edged sword however, for those called to law often are high-achieving personality types, which can lead to stress and burnout. Eileen elaborated, “Wrapped up in the satisfaction is finding the balance. It’s always been a challenge, in a profession that can take as much as you’re willing to give. If you don’t set boundaries, you can get overwhelmed and drained. There’s an old adage I now much appreciate: “the perfect is the enemy of the good”. If you want to achieve the good, you sometimes have to let go of the perfect. We want to craft the perfect brief or the perfect motion, and we can write and rewrite endlessly to achieve that end. But that is when the perfect can become the enemy of the good, as the ‘good’ is that you get it done and get it out the door. Recognizing and accepting the good becomes that balance point to achieve, even when it may be hard to let it go and get the task done. Competitive perfectionists are often the types attracted to the legal field, and they want to achieve and that drive has to be managed to a reasonable level, not always demanding the ‘perfect’, and accepting the ‘good’.”
During her career, Eileen was a member and served as President of the Rotary Club of Chambersburg, was Chair of the Chambersburg Rotary Foundation, served on the board of the Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce, the board of Franklin County United Way, and was a board member and volunteer for Women In Need, the Chambersburg Youth Soccer Association, and Chambersburg Meals-On-Wheels.
Eileen encourages local attorneys to support community organizations by donating time as board members, as well as volunteers. “So many non-profits sorely need the knowledge and insights professionals in various fields can offer, and legal expertise is often a key contribution."
Eileen’s two children and two step-children are successes in their own rights; Emily Sharp, a neuropsychologist at Yale, Megan Insley, a child speech therapist in Salisbury, Maryland, and two local business owners, sons Leo Schoenhofen and Brandon Stouffer, who both live in Chambersburg. These four children have produced ten grandchildren, ages 6-21. In the coming years, Eileen and her spouse, local businessman Dale Stouffer, plan to enjoy plenty of time with their extensive family, gather with friends, explore international and domestic destinations, and simply cherish their home and free time. Eileen noted with a smile she also anticipates enjoying occasional Friday afternoon happy hours with her colleagues and friends at Salzmann Hughes.
Read more about Eileen here or contact her for more details at firstname.lastname@example.org.