"Send lawyers, guns and money"
Every year since 1991, the Gallup Organization has polled Americans on which profession they consider the most honest and ethical. When nurses are on the list they always come out on top, except in 2001 when firefighters, understandably, took the distinction.
Lawyers always run near the bottom, ahead of lobbyists, car salespeople, and members of Congress but behind reporters, bankers, and auto mechanics.
Love them or hate them, if you plan to make money, and keep it in the family after you die (or if you want to make sure your favorite charities get some cash), you need to develop a relationship with an attorney. It will save you a lot of grief in the long run.
Lawyers can help you with business disputes and tax questions. They can make sure your business and real estate purchases are set up correctly. Lawyers can help you plan what happens to you or your family if you should suddenly die or become disabled. And they can make sure those plans are carried out. Lawyers can help if you are in an accident. They can help if you are being sued or jerked around by creditors. Lawyers can help if someone owes you money and won't pay.
I've watched people make serious life decisions without using lawyers. That usually doesn't work well. I've seen people pay unnecessarily large chunks in taxes (usually along with penalties and interest) because they didn't ask a lawyer about a transaction. I've seen property disputes arise that didn't need to happen, simply because people didn't use attorneys to draw up proper deeds, leases, and agreements.
One such dispute stirred up so much acrimony between neighbors that one shot and killed the other. (The shooter then hired a lawyer to represent him in the murder trial.) I've watched people negotiate accident settlements with insurance companies and get far less than a good trial attorney would have gotten for them.
I've seen people get burned because they drew up employment contracts or business agreements without an attorney to help them. I've watched people, sometimes extremely wealthy people, lose everything because they co-signed or guaranteed loans and didn't ask an attorney to guide them through the pitfalls.
Often when a person avoids using an attorney, he winds up hiring one later to straighten out the mess. It's like the last time I tried to fix my car without a mechanic. I turned a $50 problem into a $500 one.
I encourage people to use an attorney when they start their own business. I hope the same people become so successful that they eventually need tax and estate planning attorneys to set up trusts to protect their assets and fund worthwhile charities.
When it comes to finding a good lawyer, I have a strong bias toward Main Street lawyers over Wall Street lawyers. (If you are totally stumped and can't find the kind of attorney you need, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will refer you to some.)
Main Street lawyers deal with common problems and common people. They tend to charge Main Street fees instead of Wall Street fees. I'm tired of subsidizing Wall Street lawyers who go to Washington and "regulate" the people they used to work for. A blog by Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone magazine about the practice was titled: "The SEC's (Securities and Exchange Commission) Revolving Door: From Wall Street Lawyers to Wall Street Watchdogs." Taibbi said that one Wall Street firm, Wilmer Hale, had so many employees leaving the firm to join the SEC or leaving the SEC to join the firm that the firm was nicknamed "SEC West."
The dynamics of a small town are perfect for developing skills that make someone a top-notch lawyer. Small-town juries won't allow the stunts pulled in the O.J. Simpson trial. The juries won't tolerate a lot of flash and showboating.
In a small town, everyone knows everything about everybody. It's like a scaled-down version of Facebook, except you don't get to choose the news that is posted.
It's the type of continuous oversight that would greatly benefit Wall Street.
Most of us need someone to double check decisions and keep us from making serious mistakes.
That is the thing that lawyers do well.
Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC of Richmond Kentucky is an award-winning financial columnist. He is the author of the book, Wealth Without Wall Street: A Main Street Guide to Making Money, which is currently available on the Kindle. The hardback copy will be released on September 20.