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Profit vs. Prudence - It's an Endless Balancing Act

In today's world of running a law practice, there is a menu full of outside specialists that can be brought in to assist. They can provide help working nearly any open file. Nearly all come with a cost.

A law firm can unwittingly turn an engagement into a financial loser by depending too heavily on paid outsiders. Their involvement must make business sense. They might have need for a skill that requires licensing or governmental certification.

WHY NOT JUST USE The Internet?

Professionalism in the practice of law is all that attorneys have to set them apart from on-line, internet-based form fillers. Professional services are at the core of how a good and proper a law firm (or lawyer) create value for their clients.

Today, we are witness to cut-rate everything where quality is wantonly sacrificed. There are: Wal-Marts, goods and parts that harm us, discount airfares where we get charged for carry-on luggage and seat assignments, and web based "law firms" that trick the public into thinking they are really advisors and counselors at law.

Do you want to be known as the "cheapest in town?" or the best value? Imagine going to a closing on your new home. The real estate lawyer you've retained announces at the table that in order to save a few bucks, he skipped using a title search firm and instead, had his secretary do the work using the internet. Feeling all warm and comfortable now? I didn't think so.

YOU CAN'T TELL THE PLAYERS WITHOUT A SCORECARD.

If you specialize in settling estates, you know that it is a unique specialty. A forensic genealogical research company can prove invaluable when it comes to accounting for all of the heirs and claimants.

What is forensic genealogy? Think of it this way: it is akin to performing a title search on a family tree. Its goal is to find all of the relatives be they full blood, half blood, illegitimate, adopted, etc. If there is a familial connection to a specific decendent, a forensic genealogical researcher is charged with finding that person(s).

An experienced, qualified specialist is needed whenever you suspect that there may be heirs to an estate who have not yet been located or identified.

OOPS…

Problems to avoid: The Court approves the plan and assets are distributed. Some time later, another legitimate heir to a portion of the estate makes a demand for his/her rightful share of the proceeds. That is always bad news.

There is the mistaken belief that the internet is an accurate source of all the world's knowledge and information. It just isn't so. The internet only contains information that some human being, somewhere has taken the time to put there, with the inherent errors that often accompany data transfer.

Some attorneys believe that their staff can do the research, "in their spare time." (Ahem) Most of the staff is now doing the work that was done by multiple people no too long ago. "Spare time" has become an unknown commodity these days.

Poison the Well: Your staff may start making phone calls. Their lack of experience could well scare away the people from whom you most need information. Think of it as a bull in a china shop. By the time the novices are finished, your research pool has turned into a cesspool and there is a mess to clean up.

HOW DO I RECOGNIZE THE GOOD FIRMS?

OK, now you understand when an outside researcher may be appropriate and why your own staff may do more harm than good. How to you recognize a good heir finding research firm?

  • They have been around for a while. Longevity shows sustainability and implies that the firm's work has been satisfactory to their clients.
  • They have a broad and deep "network." No research firm can have an office in every country in the world. Instead, they depend on established networks to find family members in Slovania or some other far-flung location.).
  • Proven track record: ask them to show you their successes and their not-so-successful outcomes.
  • Can the firm's principals credibly testify in court? Have they been deemed as "experts"? Are their background unimpeachable? Can they handle themselves well under cross examination? Are their explanations clear? If for example, one of the firm's principals or researchers has a prior conviction for perjury or allegations of impropriety, you should count that one out.
  • Do they have any professional insurance to underwrite their work?

Your prospective clients may be naïve when it comes to selecting a law firm. After all, YOU are the professional in that arena. It is your job to maintain a distinction between your professional services and those offered by bulk-rate form-fillers that can be found all over the internet.

Harvey E. Morse President of Harvey E. Morse, P.A., a family owned forensic genealogical firm since 1939 now in its fourth generation says, "Avoid any company who makes unrealistic promises such as that they can always find every heir, because it just isn't so. Look for companies with an established track record who have been tested locally, nationally and world-wide, then inquire about their fees and research methodology". Morse says, "We even give our clients an option to select an hourly fee, per diem fee or a contingent fee customized for the circumstances of a particular case, and there is never a charge or fee for a consultation. I guess that's why we have a rare A+ rating with the BBB".

A good forensic genealogical firm whose sole existence is based upon locating missing heirs with years of experience behind it, used when appropriate, will improve the lawyer's image with clientele, the court and with other members of the legal community. It will improve overall client satisfaction and equally important: it gets files closed more quickly with fewer hassles in the process.

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