Lawyer Money Basics: Finding a Financial Pro

  • Start the process of finding a financial professional by figuring out exactly what kind of help you need
  • Your personal network is a great resource for finding an advisor—especially those who are in similar tax brackets and have similar goals
  • Financial professionals charge differently for different services, so make sure you understand the different types of fee structures

Whether you make a Big Law salary or you’re a public defender, you should be working with a financial professional.

The same is true whether you’ve got mountains of student debt or have already paid off your loans. And it doesn’t matter if you’ve been working for over a decade or you’re fresh out of law school—you should be financially planning for the future.

Noticing a theme? Lawyers and money are a complicated match. Some of us make more than we know what to do with (and can’t help spending every penny), while others struggle living paycheck to paycheck. All of us, however, could benefit from the counsel of a finance expert.

But how do you find a financial professional? And once you’ve found one, how can you get the most out of your relationship with them? Here’s what lawyers should keep in mind.

Figure Out Your Needs

As with lawyers, financial advisors provide a variety of services. Before you set out to find a financial professional, ascertain what you’re looking for. Do you need help with retirement planning? Are you looking for investment advice? Are you struggling to create a budget while also building up your savings? Or maybe you don’t even know what you need—you’re looking for someone who can educate you and help you answer basic questions. Different advisors will offer different services (and bill differently for their services; more on that below), so make sure you know exactly what you’re looking for before you start the process.

When you think of working with a financial professional, what things are you most interested in learning about or working on?

Search Intelligently

The real first step to working with a financial pro is finding one. There are a number of ways to do this, but it’s always worth starting with your personal network. Begin by asking your friends, family, and coworkers for recommendations. This is especially helpful if you can ask those who are in similar tax brackets and have comparable financial goals to your own. If you come up empty, you can find advisors via searching financial organization websites. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors and Garrett Planning Network are great places to start.

Know Their Worth

Certainly, you want to be sure any possible financial professional you hire is legitimate. It’s worth it to verify their credentials and review their complaint record—fortunately, both of these are public and easy to access. Every financial pro should have an agency (or agencies) that oversee their business, likely either FINRA or the SEC, or both. You can review their licenses and find out if there are any complaints on file through those agencies’ websites.

Pay the Right Way

Most financial advisors get paid one of two ways: fee-only or fee-based. And despite the terms sounding similar, they actually play out very differently for those paying. Fee-only advisors are paid directly by their clients. This can take a few forms (hourly fees, retainers, percentage-of-assets fees, etc.), but never takes the form of a commission. Fee-based advisors also receive payment directly from their clients, but also take a commission from whatever financial product they’ve referred to you. As far as which pay structure is better, lawyers tend to agree fee-only is preferable. As your portfolio grows larger, any commission-based fees an advisor would take also increase.

Set a Schedule

Just how much you check in with your financial advisor depends on your particular needs, but you should meet with them at least annually. At these annual meetings, you can review the past year’s performance and make any changes or updates; for example, to your retirement plans. You should also set additional meetings with your advisor any time your circumstances significantly change, such as if you plan to buy a house, you join a bigger firm in a new city, or are planning to start a family.

What's Next

Still haven’t gotten around to finding a financial professional? Begin by asking friends and colleagues about whether they employ a financial advisor and who they would recommend. Then, ask for referrals and schedule a quick introductory call with an advisor or two to see whose style you’re comfortable with.