Founder Of The Law Offices of Shane Smith
Is A Former U.S. Army JAG Corps Member
Who Practiced Criminal Defense Before Turning To Personal Injury Law
The Founding Attorney of The Law Offices of Shane Smith, Shane Smith is known throughout the region around his home base of Peachtree City, Georgia for his stellar work as a personal injury attorney over the past ten years.
But if Smith’s vision of how he wants the firm to expand is fulfilled, within five years, over half of their clientele will be those seeking Smith’s expertise in estate planning and wealth protection for doctors and other small business owners. The firm’s new array of services includes asset protection, tax planning and reworking business structures.
The heading on www.wealthprotectionfordoctors.com, a dedicated new website started by Smith’s firm, captures the essence of this new element that is becoming an important part of the practice: “You’ve Earned It – You Deserve to Keep It.”
In the services overview presentation on this landing page, Smith points out some crucial truths: 1) Whether you’ve just started building your practice or you’re about to retire, wealth protection planning is critically important; 2) Every business owner should have a wealth protection plan in place the moment they start building their legacy – including doctors and dentists; 3) Because of the strict federal and state laws for these types of professionals, lack of planning could have far more devastating consequences on the value of a practice than on the typical business owner.
The goal of the Law Offices of Shane Smith – whose current staff includes four other lawyers and over 20 staff members - is help ensure that the value of an existing practice or business is passed on to loved one of the doctor, dentist or proprietor.
Tip oriented topics that Smith covers in a series of short videos on the landing page include the following: Owning real property for your business in your name (instead of the business name) leaves you open to personal liabilities and threatens your wealth; The type of corporate structure you choose has a huge impact on the value of your practice and your personal wealth; All partnerships need a business transition plan – both for after you pass and in case you decide to end your partnership; Do you have a plan for your family that will maximize the full value of your practice ownership?; and Periodically re-evaluate whether you have outgrown your team.
“As I talk to more doctors and tell them about changes in my own firm, they open up about the frustrations they have with their existing accountants and lawyers,” says Smith. “They’re not getting advice on how to be proactive in these areas, they’re just being told here’s how much they have to pay. They’re not being advised on how to structure things and separate assets, or anything geared around wealth and asset protection. Most of these doctors aren’t running huge $10 million practices, they’re usually around $2-4 million and don’t have members on staff who looks out for these crucial elements. The majority still rely on the accountant and team they talked to when they were much smaller.”
A former member of the U.S. Army JAG (Judge Advocate General) Corps practicing criminal defense law throughout the military for four years throughout the Southeast, he launched his career as a civilian attorney at the renowned Atlanta firm of Montlick & Associates. During his time there, he handled over 500 cases to completion, ranging from minor injuries to a serious tractor trailer collision.
A complete 180 degree turn from his time representing military men accused of serious sexual assault crimes while serving at Fort Campbell, Kentucky (with the 101st Airborne Division and Fort Benning, Georgia, Smith represented clients with injuries ranging from mild soft tissue injuries to their backs and necks to severe broken bones requiring surgery, those who have undergone lumbar fusions and one who had an amputation due to the severity of his injuries.
Since launching his own quickly growing firm, Smith – a Magna Cum Laude graduate of the University of Georgia and Cum Laude grad of Georgia State’s College of Law - and his team have served hundreds of clients in the Metro Atlanta area with cases involving car wrecks, car accidents, personal injury, slips and falls and back and neck injuries. He has particularly enjoyed the opportunity to help clients who have been struck by drunk drivers receive the compensation they deserve; they have also been a regional sponsor of MADD. Smith has worked tirelessly to develop contacts and relationships with many specialist doctors in the region to ensure that his clients can receive treatment no matter how seriously they are injured.
While Smith could certainly focus only on personal injury related cases to grow his practice, he has both personal and professional reasons for immersing himself in this other dynamic area. As his business became more successful and complicated, he had the same accountants as at the start whose tax advice was just, “Here’s how much you owe, write this check.” Concerned about better protection of assets and income, Smith reached out and found another, more sophisticated accountant, who prompted him to investigate different business structures, i.e. diversifying so as not to have all eggs in one basket. This would ensure paying lower taxes and protect the firm in case of a potential lawsuit.
The Law Offices of Shane Smith is very much a family run organization, with Smith’s wife Holly, a nurse by training, supervising the firm’s accounting, bookkeeping and customer service and his mother in law Shirley leading the “empathetic intake department,” making that first contact with potential clients and taking down all of the details of their cases and addressing their potential concerns.
“Another concern was, one day if I die before my wife, how does she receive the value of this business we have created these past five years?” Smith wondered. “We realized that few lawyers I knew had plans for such future contingencies. Holly can’t take over because she’s not a lawyer, so I had to find another means of making sure she was covered. These two issues combined to propel me into this new area. That, and talking to more and more practitioners and business owners who were frustrated with their present accounting and business structures. We got into estate planning first to help people in need of a great succession plan, and the whole business structure and tax planning areas really appealed to me. We were showing people how to save money now.”
Smith oversees the operation related to Estate Planning and Wealth Management and explains the big picture of his services to clients, but he has assembled a powerhouse team as a joint venture with other firms to make sure all of his clients’ needs are met with a balanced approach. Having experienced that awkward nether region of being a financial client caught between advisors suggesting different things, he makes sure that the solutions his team crafts balance everything and don’t offer conflicting advice.
“For the kind of work we’re doing here, a team always needs a CPA, accountant or tax lawyer who understands corporate structures,” he says. “In addition to the CPA, we work with a financial advisor who talks to clients about investing and asset protection, life insurance and disability insurance. And then we have lawyers whose specialty is estate planning and who can help with all areas of business. Business advice may include things like needing a document in place that shows that the building a practice is owned by a separate LLC and rents to the practice. That protects the doctor or business owner, so if an error happens in one part of the practice, it doesn’t destroy the whole thing.”
Smith adds that all of these elements work together to help clients – kind of like a one stop shop of estate planning and asset protection. They all work together to build collaborative costs into their pricing, with the understanding that clients really interested in these services will not find the idea of working with several different specialists worrisome.
“I’m generally hands on in the beginning as we talk to the client and figure out their needs and discuss proposals and what work we need to do,” he says. “Clients appreciate our outside the box thinking and non cookie cutter approach. Everything is individualized and personalized to meet their goals. Once we create the plan, we bring in staff members or junior attorneys to create business documents to start implementing the necessary course of action.”
The first step is to analyze the client’s real estate holdings and how they are owned, then evaluate the amount of revenue and profit that goes through their practice or business, which tells Smith and his team the scope of the practice. The bigger the project, the more work they have to do to lower the client’s tax burden; they then look at various corporate structures to see what would be most beneficial, and create an operating agreement for those. At that point, they work on estate planning for the client’s family – part of which includes analyzing their insurance needs so that their family is protected in case something happens. Next comes the implementation of the operating agreement and the business structure, a day to day operating plan which ideally will be geared to have a minimizing impact on the doctor or business owner.
While the wealth protection planning aspects of The Law Offices of Shane Smith has only existed less than a year, Smith is excited by its rapid growth and future potential. “It’s a funny area of the law, because instead of helping people who have been in serious work or auto accidents, we’re helping those small practice and business owners who are driving our economy,” he says.
“I enjoy working in this world because almost all of my friends are small business owners and I’m constantly realizing there is a driving need for these kinds of services. I rarely talk to anyone who isn’t curious or interested in hearing more about what we do. Just as my wife and I have put long hours into growing my practice, and know the hard work and dedication entailed in it, we know there are many business owners grinding away, hoping to have success. But if they make even a few small errors in structuring their business, those could leave them vulnerable for a huge liability – or they might be paying too much in taxes and leaving too much on the table. They work hard, and it’s a good thing to help them out. We love when clients come to us and tell us we have saved them a huge amount of money. All we ask as this part of the firm develops is for permission to do just that. We care and we want to help.”