Beware the Salesman

J. Graves Theus, Jr., J.D., LL.M. (tax)

An attorney is supposed to act as an advocate, counselor and advisor.  There are many facets to these roles.  An attorney may act as: (i) an advocate by litigating or mediating disputes, (ii) an advisor by offering solutions based on the application of law to a particular situation, and (iii) a counselor by listening to  problems (which may or may not be legal) and encouraging (or discouraging) a particular course or action. 

An attorney should not be in the business of sales.  In fact, “selling” services or products to clients may involve a conflict of interest where the attorney, while acting as a lawyer, has a personal interest in a client’s decision.  Accordingly, beware the salesman. 

Selling legal services or products often surfaces in the context of seminars or group presentations.  This is not to say that all seminars hosted by attorneys are sales jobs.  Many are legitimately for educational purposes.  However, there is a fine line between a presentation of legal information, and a presentation designed to set “hooks” with the goal of encouraging a phone call or a visit with the attorney, at which time a product may be “sold” as a magic elixir.   

In fact, there has been a Federal crackdown in recent years over the sales of revocable living trusts.  These products were sold for a number of years on a door to door basis (and also through seminars).  After the sales job, the trusts were often left unfunded and, otherwise, were not in compliance with Louisiana law, thereby defeating the purpose, despite a price tag between $2,500 and $5,000. Unbeknownst to the purchaser/client, an ulterior motive existed to gain access to financial information, at which time an annuity or some other financial product would be sold.  Because this became so prevalent, the Federal government eventually stepped in and put a stop to this practice.

Misperceptions still remain today about the utility of a revocable trust.  Revocable trusts and other types of trusts are still being sold through seminars.  If you attend such a seminar, just keep in mind there is a fine line between an educational seminar and one which is geared toward selling a product.  Where scare tactics are used to target a general issue you may be facing, the seminar likely has some underlying sales motive.  

Remember, a person who is “selling” may not have your best interest in mind.  While the issue you face may be real, it is always best to seek a second opinion from an attorney acting as an “advisor.”  Often a second opinion won’t cost you a dime and is well worth your time.

For more information on issues of business, estate  and tax planning, please contact the author, J. Graves Theus, Jr.

The contents of this article are not intended to serve as legal advice relating to individual situations or as legal opinions concerning any such situation.  Counsel should be consulted for legal planning and advice.