Wahlstrom decries structured settlement kickbacks

Chris Rizo Apr. 20, 2009, 2:29am

Mark Wahlstrom

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (Legal Newsline)-Trial attorneys are pressuring the structured settlement industry to pay kickbacks in exchange for clients, an industry expert said Sunday.

Mark Wahlstrom, president of Wahlstrom & Associates, wrote on his blog Sunday that settlement companies are facing "relentless pressure to from some unscrupulous plaintiffs' attorneys.

"I've always felt that any time we participate in something as shady as rebating or kicking back commissions, no matter how you dress it up or try to justify it, we are devaluing our professional services in the eyes of our customers," he wrote.

Wahlstrom, founder of The Settlement Channel, said pay-to-play practices leads to an "endless cycle of professional debasement, deterioration of our profit margins and in ability to invest in other business lines or services to help the end consumer."

He said what he finds to be "really upsetting" is the widespread pressure structured settlement brokers have on them to either make contributions to a trial lawyer association or pressure to directly pay kickback commissions in return for writing an annuity for their clients.

Wahlstrom noted that he has never been solicited to make a kickback to a trial lawyer nor does he make contributions to plaintiffs' attorney groups beyond the "modest" membership fee, he said.

"I'm not sure what I find most appalling about this practice of demanding kickbacks from structured settlement brokers, the disgusting ethics of the lawyers involved or the pure stupidity of the settlement professionals who cave in to this pressure and write checks to these ethically challenged bags of dirt," he wrote.

He offers some advice to his colleagues in the structured settlement industry. Chief among his suggestions is not to compromise one's integrity.

"In short, don't sell out. I promise you, you will hate yourself for it later. Most of these brokers who do it, if you look at their lives are a string of fail marriages, broken business relationships, substance abuse and other addiction problems," he said. "They are miserable people pretending they are living a life they can be proud of, but at the end of the day the money means nothing and they are forced to deal with who they really are."

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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