Transformation of lives of clients and their families is part of my calling in law practice. While money is the quantitative measure of success, whenever possible I also try to guide outcomes in a way that will redirect the trajectory of life for clients and their families. A recent case is a good example.
Recently we handled a case for a 30-year-old single mom from a less than privileged background. She had struggled to put herself through a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program. When injured, she was working as a CNA and living paycheck-to-paycheck with her daughter in a modest apartment. Then, in a catastrophic crash she lost a leg at the knee. After three years of litigation, our team recovered roughly $6.5 million for her.
Many lawyers would just cut a check for the net proceeds after deduction of fees, expenses and liens, and say, “good luck.” Too often we hear stories of people who come into a large amount of money and in a couple of years are broke. That is not our approach.
When people come into an unaccustomed amount of money, friends, relatives and new lovers often appear on the scene with “great ideas” for use of the money. Without careful management, the funds that were intended to take care of a victim for life soon evaporate.
This young woman’s settlement is illustrative of what we try to do when possible. The bulk of her money was placed in a trust to protect her from creditors and predators.
A portion of the funds were used to buy this “forever home” which will be held in her trust. It is a lovely house in a safe neighborhood, built in 1937 but completely updated. Renovations include an open floor plan, handicapped accessibility, and new plumbing, electric, HVAC, roof, siding, windows and floors. It is a good place to raise her child.
She will also use a portion of her recovery to return to school with a goal of becoming a Registered Nurse (R.N.). I expect that with a great heart and her life experience with catastrophic injury, she will be a blessing in the lives of many of her future patients.
Her increased financial capacity will also, I expect, improve the life prospects of her daughter.
I hope that she finds love again. If so, the trust will be a buffer against the temptation to let a future love to mismanage and erode her funds.
We have had many cases over the years in which lives were transformed for the better. Examples include:
- A bright 13-year-old girl had a case for the death of her father. She was about to enter eighth grade at an inner city school. With her mother, she chose a structured settlement that would fund her education first at an elite prep school, and then through college and graduate school. After completing her education she would also get a lump sum sufficient for a down payment on her own home. That set a new trajectory at a critical point in her life.
- When the oldest child in a family with several children was killed in a tractor trailer crash, we recovered for the parents the funds to pay for college of the younger children.
- When another single mom who worked all day at a keyboard had an injury that made that impracticable, we got enough money to fund the business she had always dreamed of starting.
We don’t always get this satisfying an outcome. Some financially unsophisticated clients resist efforts to help in ways other than purely monetary. Some of them run through their money and are broke again within a few years. If that happens, at least we warned them in writing about that potential and tried to counsel them.
There are other clients who clearly have enough experience and sophistication that I don’t worry about their ability to handle money. Examples include:
- A small business owner who has demonstrated ability to manage his business and finances. He used his injury settlement to expand his going business.
- A couple who were already working with a financial adviser. They used their confidential settlement to advance their retirement by a couple of years and become more active in charitable work in their community.
- An 18-year-old who took the initiative before settlement of his case to set up a meeting with a wealth management officer at a financial institution. He authorized the broker to send me copies of monthly statements until he finished college, then began his own career in the financial services industry.
This is not just a job. It is a calling to transform lives.
Mr. Shigley is the first Georgia lawyer to earn three national board certifications in his practice area from the National Board of Trial Advocacy – in Civil Trial Law, Civil Practice Law and Truck Accident Law. He is a board member of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, and former chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section, which includes the Trucking Litigation Group.
He is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice, now in its tenth annual edition with Thomson Reuters West. His law practice is focused on catastrophic injury and wrongful death including those arising from commercial trucking accidents and those involving brain, neck, back, spinal cord, amputation and burn injuries.
In 2011-12, Mr. Shigley was president of the State Bar of Georgia, which includes all the lawyers and judges in Georgia. He also is a former chair of the Institute for Legal Education in Georgia (board member 2008-2019, chair 2012-13), State Bar of Georgia Tort & Insurance Practice Section (1994-95), and the Georgia Insurance Law Institute (1994).
A former prosecutor and former insurance defense lawyer, Mr. Shigley is a graduate of Furman University and Emory University Law School. He is a widower, father of two adult children, and an elder in his church.
Effective January 2, 2020, he moved his existing law practice to the Atlanta law firm of Johnson & Ward. He may be contacted at 404-253-7862.