Some baby boomers change jobs to jump-start their life. Others go on a diet. Still, others find a new place to live. And then there are the footloose and fancy-free ones who decide it’s time to settle down with a woman.
But any one of those mid-life course corrections wasn’t enough for longtime Ahwatukee resident Brian Foster.
So, he did them all.
At age 57, the high-powered lawyer bid goodbye to the only law firm he’s worked at since he graduated with distinction from the University of Iowa School of Law. He’s radically changed his eating habits, working out over an hour a day at the Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA he helped found. He’s taking up regular prayer and meditation along the way. He’s put his Tapestry Canyon home on the market and looking for a place closer to his new Phoenix office after 28 years in Ahwatukee. And he got engaged to his girlfriend, Alina Chu.
Simultaneously, he’s chairing the Phoenix Sister Cities program and scouring the globe for two new international partners to add to the 10 cities it now has, serving on the Phoenix Aviation Advisory Board and fundraising for Mayor Kate Gallego’s election campaign.
Perhaps the most startling decision is his departure from the 450-attorney Phoenix law firm of Snell and Wilmer, where, as a senior litigation partner, he spent just over three decades winning multi-million-dollar verdicts in commercial litigation, trying often complex cases in real estate, partner and shareholder disputes, merger and acquisition fights, disagreements over contracts and other business matters.
Now, he has set up a firm with Dennis Wilenchik, a onetime courtroom adversary at times who also has a reputation for big civil verdicts.
Foster’s path to a radical makeover of his life and career started last August from a combination of a kind of personal ennui and a personal tragedy.
His dad was confronting serious health issues and he decided to take a 30-day leave of absence to care for him and take personal stock of himself.
Things snowballed from there, he said.
“I decided I’d use this time as an opportunity to get myself in the best physical, mental, emotional state I’d ever been in,” Foster recalled. “So, I originally took a leave thinking I’d be out for 30 days. Well, 30 turned into 60, turned into 90, turned into four months. I developed a daily meditation practice.
He started paying attention to his eating habits, swearing off all sugars, alcohol “and a bunch of other things from my diet.”
By the end of last year, he said, “I was hitting on all cylinders like I hadn’t for years.”
“I don’t know which one of those things or all of them combined was responsible, but the whole package was so great I was be afraid to stop any one of them because it might be the one thing that got me there,” he explained.
His dad passed away and as the new year began, Foster returned to the firm with a surprise for top management.
“They kind of expected me to say, well, you’re refreshed, rejuvenated, ready to go,” he said.
Instead, he gave them his notice.
Though they weren’t thrilled with the news, Foster said, “They were very supportive of my decision.”
In a relatively short amount of time, Wilenchik and he became partners and soon hired 10 associates – and between him and his partner, there are no shortage of clients.
Now, Wilenchik and Foster are “churning and burning in downtown Phoenix,” he said.
Less than two months after incorporating, “We’re already at capacity in terms of our office size and need to hire more attorneys because of all the work I’m bringing,” he said.
When he’s not helping to run his firm, Foster also has been busy with Sister Cities, many of which have had formal relationships with Phoenix for decades.
Right now, he and the other board members, along with Gallego, are literally scanning the globe to identify potential additions.
“We’re looking at different cities in different countries right now, ranging from Chile to South Africa, to India,” Foster explained. “We’re doing an analysis of a bunch of the cities within those countries trying to figure out what makes the most sense from Phoenix.”
While there is considerable background research and phone interviews involved in the process, the final selections won’t come until he and others personally visit the contenders, possibly more than once.
But jet-setting around the globe is nothing unusual for Foster in connection with Sister Cities.
In October, for example, he co-led a delegation to Taipei in Taiwan.
“The Sister Cities portion takes a lot more of my time than the Aviation Board,” he said, partly because “they’ve got a lot of extremely competent staff members in the Aviation Department.”
Despite his many outside interests – which include being president of the Tapestry Canyon HOA board – Foster hasn’t given up on his courtroom practice.
As it was at his previous firm, he said, “when somebody hires me, they know I’ve got a team of people doing the work but they know I’m the guy if the case goes to trial.
“They’re hiring me because I’m the one who comes out and wins jury trials,” he said. “So it’s my role. I might be in the background as the case kind of progresses. But when the buck stops, it always stops on my desk.”
He also likes the stream-lined nature of his firm’s operation.
Whereas his previous employer had hundreds of lawyers in offices across the country and decisions to take on clients often depended on committees, he and Wilenchik each “have the authority to make every single decision without consulting the other.”
There is also the more personal side to Foster’s life – the part where he got engaged. While Alina, a native of Taiwan, has been his longtime traveling companion – as well as a kind of spiritual leader who led him into meditation and prayer – Foster decided to finally pop the question
“We don’t have a date in mind yet,” he said. “We’re just kind of happy and living together happily.”
So happy they even added a dog – a female Goldendoodle to the mix.
“I haven’t had a dog in 18 years,” he said, adding this change is part of his rebirth.
Admitting he’s at an age where many people start thinking about retirement, Foster said “it’s not something I’m even contemplating now. I’m so, I’m so motivated and driven right now.”
“I just am really blessed right now,” he said. “Making those positive lifestyle changes and getting my focus really got me started. And then literally just taking a leap of faith and kind of stepping off the cliff, I’m just really amazed with what’s happening so far.”