As a freshman at the University of Michigan, Bill Pittler didn’t think he had much to worry about. He’d had great grades in high school; why should college be different? Then a professor assigned him to write a paper. Bill had no idea what his instructor was talking about: “I thought he meant something like a newspaper,” he recalls.
His first year of college came as a rude awakening, but it taught Bill the importance of writing. Years later, Bill still remembered his own initial difficulty with it, and how many of his attorney colleagues seemed to struggle with writing, too. So when he and his wife, Helene, made their first major gift to University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, they directed it to an important area: improving the quality of student writing.
After graduating from Michigan, Bill moved to Baltimore to start law school. He met Helene, then a student at Goucher College, during his first year, and they married the following summer. After law school, his practice specialized in business law, particularly transactional issues. Helene had an extensive career as well, beginning as a fashion copywriter for the Hecht Company before becoming a professional artist with a specialty in painting. Helene moved on to several other endeavors, including owning and operating a chain of tennis apparel shops with her sister and working as a real estate agent.
After practicing law for more than two decades, Bill decided that he wanted a change, and so he bought a company that had belonged to one of his former clients: Friendly Finance Corporation, which purchases and services automobile retail installment sales contracts throughout the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and Southeast.
Bill didn’t find the career transition difficult: from law school and his legal practice, “I was well prepared,” he says, adding that “a law degree is invaluable when it comes to business. I use it every day.” As CEO and house counsel, he continues to negotiate and draft contracts for Friendly Finance, and the corporation’s multistate span has made familiarity with and understanding of federal and state laws essential.
Life in the commercial world gave Bill a new concern for the rights of creditors. Frivolous lawsuits and unequal remedies cost the company “many, many dollars in unnecessary legal fees,” he says. Though consumer protection is often emphasized in law school curricula, Bill says, “I felt that there’s a need to put some emphasis on creditor’s rights as well.” Thus when he and Helene decided to make another major gift, they again directed it to another area of particular interest to them: an annual symposium, lecture, or roundtable discussion at UM Carey Law focusing on topics related to creditors’ rights and allowing for collaboration among experts, practitioners, business leaders, alumni, and current students. The initiative will support faculty research and scholarship as well as create opportunities for students in the Business Law Program.
Bill believes that UM Carey Law gave him “the ability to reason and to be creative.” And he advises current students not to give up, no matter how difficult the work may seem. He recalls his first law school exam: Criminal Law with Professor John Brumbaugh (the late husband of Professor Alice Brumbaugh). “It was impossible,” Bill remembers. “I walked out of there saying, ‘This is going to be a short-lived career.’” He met Helene for lunch and told her, “We need to find another business or profession.” He got an A on the exam.
The Pittlers now live in Palm Beach Gardens, where Bill is semiretired and Helene, with characteristic aplomb and dedication, has taken up golf and bridge, developing a 15 handicap in the former and becoming a Bronze Life Master in the latter. Bill and Helene have two children and four grandchildren, with a fifth on the way; Bill’s son now runs Friendly Finance as its president and chief operating officer.
Bill sees giving as “an opportunity” and the Pittlers place UM Carey Law among their philanthropic priorities because, as Bill says, “I felt a loyalty and a responsibility to the school. I credit my experiences in law school and the relationships I formed there for whatever successes I’ve had.”