Lawyering Meant to Save You Money Is the Good Kind of Lawyering
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, file
Lawyering Meant to Save You Money Is the Good Kind of Lawyering
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, file
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I always think it is bad form to ask someone “what do you do” upon first meeting them. I usually make something up and tell them I am a toll booth operator or a Walmart greeter. However, when the inquirer is well mannered and well meaning, I have a difficult time answering this question.  I wish I had a snappy response. I wish I had a cool 60 second elevator speech, but I don’t.  The most accurate answer is I am a Holistic Advisor, but that sounds like I am some new age guru hippy encouraging people to eat organic food. Usually, I just give a quick response, and say I am a lawyer. But, I hate lawyers! Sorry Jesus, I didn’t mean to use the word “hate.” I detest and loathe lawyers. Wait, that’s an overstatement, most lawyers are detestable and loathsome, but there are a number, albeit small, who are really good guys, skilled in their art and honest. These are the guys we work with.

My firm, Chartwell Capital Advisors does “a lot of stuff.” Years ago, while doing investment banking deals for emerging growth companies, I referred clients to lawyers, accountants, money managers, benefit providers and other professionals.  I soon realized that a better model was to provide all of these services under one roof. Many professionals are very myopic, they are tree people and not forest people. People with assets and complicated lives are better served by having a grand strategist manage their affairs, someone who can see the forest and not get bogged down in the trees. That’s us. We handle people’s legal and financial affairs. In addition to practicing law, we provide investment services and products, accounting, we can sell your real estate, insure your assets and your health, provide you and your company with employee benefits and when you get to be an old geezer we can assist you with Medicare insurance. We can insure your home, your car, that Renoir painting of French people getting drunk in your living room and even that 50’ Hinkley you have moored in Martha’s Vineyard. By the way, we don’t know everything, far from it. We “co-broker” a lot of the services we provide. We have big picture knowledge of the law, accounting, investments, real estate, etc. and we team up with others who have detailed knowledge. We hold licenses to engage in a multitude of financial activities. Thus, we can get paid by sharing fees with our partners, but the client doesn’t pay more. We have decades of experience with many service providers we like who share our values.

One of my valued associates is Dan. He is a brilliant lawyer, Oxford scholar and coolest thing of all, played Division I basketball under Lefty Driesell! Dan is a values oriented, old school gent. Years ago, we had a discussion about how often big law firms screw things up and make mistakes. No one sees the big picture and important issues are overlooked. Clients’ needs then fall beneath the cracks. Dan said that years ago, lawyers were thought to be “counselors” and people need “trusted counselors” before they need lawyers. That struck a cord with me. I like to think of us as trusted counselors. I think it is an apt moniker.

We conduct estate and financial planning, tax analysis and a host of financial services, usually involving advanced planning techniques. We do estate administration. We team up with other talented lawyers to litigate on behalf of our clients when they have been the victim of a dishonest fiduciary. One day we are forming a dynasty trust for a wealthy family.  Another day we are helping clients sell a real estate portfolio and then providing them with the legal services to defer capital gains via a 1031 exchange. We help clients grow their money, as we work with numerous money managers. As far as investing is concerned, there’s no right or wrong way to do things. Most of our clients simply want someone they like who will take their calls and give competent advice. Others want something sexier, and we can connect them with hedge funds or private placement arrangements.  Everyone is different and everyone deserves to be treated as an individual. Often our clients leave everything up to us. Everyone and every family has their own peccadillos. Understanding personalities really matter.  I am reminded what Tolstoy said in the opening page of Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This is a nice way of saying there are crazy people in every family. We have “bushels of em” in the Smith family.  Sometimes, no matter how nice someone is, you have to protect them from themselves and their own bad habits.  Thus, the more you know about everything that goes on in that family, because you handle everything from their Medigap insurance to their $10 million investment account, the more you can help them and keep “things from falling through the cracks.”

There are a lot of very smart and successful people who have very little understanding of business and finance, much less legal issues. Often the most fun we have is within the first hour of meeting a new client and reviewing their assets and other financial information. There are often “wow” moments where immediately we see ways to save or make our clients $1 million, $5 million or more. Most of the time this results from simple estate and tax planning. The most bang for the buck a client will ever get is through “smart lawyering.” In most instances, we don’t charge our clients a nickel unless we can save them a pile of money.  When folks ask “what kind of law does your firm do?” I say “Save You Money Law,” because we want our fees to be a small percentage of the money you save by using us. I think the most fun we have is employing  advanced planning techniques using 7702 products. These products are incredibly well managed, safe and have special tax advantages. These products are named “7702” because that is the IRS Code provision that they fall under.  Oh yeah, another name for 7702 products is life insurance! How would you like to be sitting on your couch watching the big game, suddenly you feel something between the seat cushions, you reach down and find $900,000? We do complimentary life insurance appraisals where our team reviews existing life policies. Several times a month we essentially “re-finance” existing policies giving the owner an extra $ 1 million in benefits, plus long term care for no extra money. It’s like finding money between the seat cushions.  These situations are almost always with a much higher rated carrier as well. Large qualified retirement accounts are a ticking taxation time bomb. Life insurance can be used to transform these accounts to much larger amounts that escape future taxation. Charitable remainder trusts also keep these assets from being taxed, and thus the trust creator creates much more money for his beneficiaries, even while giving away a portion of his assets. It’s a win-win.  Another extremely sexy wealth strategy is premium financing, where the policy owners use the carrier’s money to buy a hell of a lot of life insurance. After 10 years, the loan is paid off but the cash value and death benefits have increased to substantial levels. This money can then be drawn out tax free or simply sit within the policy and “cook.” The 8th wonder of the world is compound interest, and if money can be socked away and grow year after year without paying taxes, it can become a tremendous transforming force to accomplish good things.

I tell everyone that I am a cheap bastard. I hate waste.  I think it has something to do with the Yankees burning and stealing everything and my family having to scrounge around and eat goober peas all  during Reconstruction. It is in my DNA. Why does anybody want to work their whole life amassing wealth and then p#ss it all away by having to write big checks to the government?  Why do you want your daughter’s no-count alcoholic husband to get a hold of your money? With the right legal  documents and investment strategy, a lifetime work of wealth creation can be protected and nurtured with a good steward to be used to provide financial security for future generations.  It can also be used to keep children and grandchildren on the straight and narrow by limiting access to funds based on their behavior. There are a whole lot of good things a man can do with money, including dictating  how it is to be used long after he passes through the pearly gates.

My favorite line about money is in the movie It’s A Wonderful Life when Clarence the angel tells George that they “don’t use money in heaven.” George responds, “well, it comes in pretty handy down here bub!” Indeed it does.

Robert C. Smith is Managing Partner of Chartwell Capital Advisors

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