Stacy D. Phillips is a well-known and respected Certified Family Law Specialist who has won multiple awards as a family law practitioner. She is a sought-after commentator, author, philanthropist, and advocate for children and families. As the founder and managing principal of Los Angeles-based family law firm Phillips Lerner, she represents a wide variety of high-profile and celebrity clients as they undergo the significant and often difficult changes involved in divorce and custody issues. During her more than 30 years of practice, she continues to believe in a philosophy she often shares with her clients, which is that “how we treat others, how we conduct ourselves, and how we communicate during difficult times can alter the course of one’s life.” www.phillipslerner.com
What do people with significant assets at stake look for when selecting a family lawyer or law firm?
People often select an attorney or firm on the recommendations of friends and family. Many of these kinds of clients look for lawyers they can control, because that is how they are accustomed to operating. Sometimes, women who are married to controlling men hire a male attorney to help them stand up for themselves and offer a feeling of protection. These selection criteria may or may not serve them well. Experience in handling high-asset cases is the most important factor to consider.
What are some of the “out of the box” suggestions you’ve made in settlement agreements that are unique to high-net-worth cases?
Most of the innovative ideas I have suggested have to do with the divorcing couple’s finances. In one case, one spouse was a prominent and accomplished wealth advisor who agreed to manage the other’s money. In another instance, the husband took all of the couple’s real estate assets and created a REIT, which he then sold. The result was that both parties emerged independently wealthy from the divorce.
What have you learned about the expectations of high-asset divorcing people that has served you well over the years?
My clients often have teams of advisors involved in their lives. These professionals can serve as objective, unemotional advisors who assist in my handling of the case; at other times, they are overly protective of their client (our mutual client), which is not at all productive. Some clients expect to be left alone, which is not to their advantage, as I require full access. Some clients expect to call their own shots, which can be detrimental to the case’s outcome. I have found that just because someone is talented in one area doesn’t mean they are talented in all areas. Even sophisticated, high-net-worth individuals can be naïve in matters outside their field, which is why they retain my services in the first place. I have learned to manage unrealistic expectations of all sorts!