Trial lawyers: should you advise your injured clients to work with an investment advisor or financial planner as they prepare to receive their settlement? The short answer is no, and here’s why.
There is a specific kind of planning professional that has all the answers specific to the needs of a plaintiff who is about to receive a settlement. Will the client have money five, 10, or 20 years later? Do they have needs-based government benefits, and if so, how will the money work alongside those benefits without taking away that person’s eligibility?
But there’s more to it than that. It takes decades of experience working with victims of trauma to cultivate the compassion, empathy, and skills necessary to understand what plaintiffs need. The money they receive in a settlement can be fuel for growth, healing, and future success. Or, without the right planning, it has the potential to be destructive and lead to financial victimization.
Financial advisors, meaning those with CFP, CHFC, and CFA credentials and similar, have likely never sat in front of a client whose 17-year-old daughter is hooked on opiates. Rather, most financial advisors work with clients who have money to invest. And yes, knowing how to properly invest money over 30 years is a commodity. Warren Buffet has given us all the best lesson in life, which is to diversify your portfolio, and leave it alone.
Many financial advisors are chasing returns, and that’s not what it’s all about for plaintiffs who are dealing with a catastrophic injury that may require medical care, equipment, therapy, and more, as well as lifelong financial security. Therein lies the problem with having any kind of financial advisor — rather than a specialized settlement planner — help plaintiffs through their unique challenges. Rarely do they have the fine-tuned settlement planning skills to guide a client as successfully as possible.
A person who is rushed to the emergency room does not need to meet with a nutritionist. That particular professional may be valuable at another date, but the immediate needs of a patient in the ER have nothing to do with lifelong nutrition. The same goes for financial planning. It’s a delicate yet complex area of financial planning that requires the help of a professional who works exclusively in that area. A different kind of financial advisor may be helpful in the future, but today, someone else is needed.
The most important variable that plaintiffs need is life advice as they reach settlement. An experienced settlement planner understands and empathizes with the toll of a catastrophic injury and the knowledge to identify the many mistakes that thousands of other families have made. This cumulative experience alone is the hallmark of an expert settlement planner. It’s not just the solutions they bring to the table, but also the advice that is appropriately in context for the plaintiff’s unique challenges at the time of settlement.
Wrapping up this year’s AAJ Winter Convention, I am sure we’re all reinvigorated to provide our clients with the best service following what was likely the biggest tragedy of their lives. Engaging a settlement planner as they prepare to settle is imperative to this end.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).