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VALLEY FIRM CASHING IN ON PLAINTIFFS' NEED FOR FUNDS.

Byline: Evan Pondel Staff Writer

RESEDA - Dennis Shields carefully avoids words like usury and miser when describing his business.

``I also hate when people say that we get pre-settlements for the poor,'' said Shields, 36.

So before the executive describes his business, he hands over a professional-looking folder with the name LawCash emblazoned on the cover. And just below the company's name is a logo that reads: ``Veritas.''

Shields said the truth about LawCash is that it enables plaintiffs in personal and worker-related injury cases to receive cash before reaching a settlement. With tort-related cases generating at least $30 billion in California annually, Shields believes his new Reseda office is going to thrive.

But there's no LawCash sign on the front of the company's office building. Shields' marketing efforts include hiring a former Ivy Leaguer to meet with lucrative law firms throughout Los Angeles. The business is primarily word of mouth. ``And that means if you have reputable attorneys saying good things about you, LawCash will stand out among the competition.'' Shields said.

The Brooklyn-based company also has competitive pricing. For every cash advance to a plaintiff, the company charges about 3 percent a month. Other companies generally charge 10 percent a month, but their cash advances are usually a little higher than LawCash, Shields said.

To obtain a cash advance, the company estimates the value of a plaintiff's case. LawCash then takes out a lien on the case, with plaintiffs generally receiving $500 to $100,000 up front. When the case is settled, the plaintiff owes LawCash the advance, plus 3 percent of that amount compounded on a monthly basis. If the plaintiff losses the case, they keep the money and do not have to pay back the advanced funds.

So far, the company is generating about $1 million a month in new business and hopes to quicken its pace to $2 million a month by August.

``I'd say right now our greatest obstacle is doing the research in order to tap the California market,'' Shields said.

As for the ethical implications of Shields' business, Gregory Keating, a USC law professor, said it depends on the population LawCash serves.

If someone is in desperate need of cash, an advance would certainly provide an immediate boost. However, once the case is settled, the plaintiff could be in jeopardy of losing even more money based on the compounded interest rate, he said.

Shields disagrees.

Instead, he thinks most plaintiffs have nothing to lose if they elect to a cash advance. LawCash is also beneficial to attorneys because the advance could determine whether a plaintiff should pursue a case, Shields said.

``This one woman was ready to accept a $1 million settlement because her financial situation was so poor. But she held out, and was able to settle for $3.5 million,'' Shields said.

To better understand its audience, LawCash has formed a Consumer Advisory Board composed of former trial attorneys.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 7, 2003
Words:489
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