While the last 18 months have been tough financially and emotionally for businesses of all types, the changes in how financial professionals manage their businesses has been even more dramatic. At no time in my 30 year career have I seen greater turmoil in how settlement professionals are forced to market, manage and service their clients, be they attorney's or injury victims. We have seen key life insurance markets abandon our profession, equity markets collapse and then rebound and settlement premium nationally drop by 25% or more.
At Wahlstrom & Associates we are redoubling our commitment and have decided to focus our efforts and resources into a few key areas that highlight our expertise and extensive experience that has been developed over decades serving trial lawyers and injury victims. It has become impractical to maintain a presence in certain areas where the service requirements are extensive, the liability and compliance costs are high and growing, and where the economics of offering these to our clients internally no longer makes sense. Quite simply we no longer feel it is wise or beneficial to us or our clients to maintain certain areas of business, while at the same time there are areas where our acknowledged excellence puts us above our competitors and we are not concentrating enough resources to those areas of our company.
Toward that end we will be making the following changes at Wahlstrom & Associates effective January 1, 2010:
1. Introduction of our Attorney Retirement Planning division, concentrating on the use of guaranteed investment products, structured legal fee annuities and life insurance to fund defined benefit retirement plans and 412(e)(3) retirement plans. The collapse of real estate and equity markets, combined with a historic slump in legal business and the contraction of lending options has caused stunning losses in the value of retirement programs for both solo lawyers and law firm partnerships. It is our belief that the only way lawyers can "catch up" on their retirement plan losses is to utilize very basic, fundamental and guaranteed methods to build up plan assets and lock in guaranteed retirement benefits. Our Attorney Retirement Planning program will be unique to the settlement industry and early indications are that there will be substantial interest by trial lawyers nationally in these guaranteed, tax advantaged programs.
2. Further development of our mass tort and multi-claimant case expertise. Over the last 10 years Wahlstrom & Associates has acquired a unique expertise and national recognition in the development, management and administration of mass tort and multi-claimant cases. In particular our innovative use of 468b trusts and qualified settlement funds, QSF's, has revolutionized how many types of cases are negotiated, settled and administered. This expertise and experience has led us to establish several partnerships with other planning firms from around the United States to work cooperatively with us in providing one on one counseling and assistance in settlement planning to the wide range of people who might be part of a large multi-claimant case. We plan in 2010 and beyond to expand these partnerships with settlement professionals nationally so that we can leverage this unique expertise.
3. Expansion of the Wahlstrom & Associates guaranteed products and life insurance division. As each year passes it is clearer than ever to our firm that some companies should be all about guarantees, while others are better suited for variable or risk assets invested in stocks, bonds and managed funds. We will therefore be expanding our offerings of annuity and insurance products and out sourcing our equity, stock and variable annuity business to experts who work exclusively in those disciplines. Transfer of our investment clients to either trust company partners or RIA/registered representatives will occur in the first three to four weeks of January 2010. Our firm will at that point focus exclusively on guaranteed or insured products, particularly structured settlement annuities, single premium deferred annuities, flexible premium annuities and life insurance.
4. Further development of our non-qualified annuity settlement expertise into a national program that expands the use of structured settlements in the areas of structured legal fees, taxable damage cases and environmental mass torts or claims. It is my long held and often stated belief that the single greatest area of growth in the settlement profession will be in taxable damage structures. We are already one of the nations leading experts on these cases and we plan on expanding dramatically our development of this market and training trial lawyers and mediators nationally on the use of these programs to settle difficult taxable damage cases.
5. Expanded use of our channels and resources on The Legal Broadcast Network to educate, inform and train lawyers, clients and settlement professionals on how to use the powerful tools and techniques of settlement planning to improve the process of case settlement, reduce trial lawyer liability for funds wasted through unwise planning and improve service to our existing and future clients.
As I get older I realize that no matter how good the idea or positive the intentions, that it is unwise personally and unfair professionally to try "know how to do everything." Wahlstrom & Associates renewed focus on mass torts, structured legal fees/attorney retirement planning, guaranteed product settlement planning, life insurance and annuities, all while partnering with experts in financial, investment and trust management, should give our clients the best of all worlds. It is our belief that these steps will further expand our reputation as the leading plaintiff oriented structured settlement and mass tort planning firm in the nation.