by David Chapman
Robert Spohrer has referred to him as a “secret weapon.”
Roger Dodd, who partners with Spohrer at Spohrer & Dodd, said in his 32 years of practicing law he’s only given three testimonials — and one of them has been to the aforementioned weapon whom the firm uses consistently, but resides more than 1,000 miles away.
The man the trial lawyers speak so highly of is Chuck Derenne, a plaintiff-only structured settlements broker who resides in Milwaukee.
In the role, Derenne works with trial plaintiff attorneys and victims before, during and after their cases regarding negotiating and structuring settlements to protect clients’ interests.
There are horror stories aplenty, said Derenne, of victims receiving large settlements in lump sums from cases only to be broke months later — a scenario similar to some lottery winners cases — because of improper planning or unneeded expenditures.
Based on different factors in each case, ranging from age of the victim to the financial strength of the defendant, Derenne advises attorneys on potential settlement figures and the victims on settlement structures that best benefit them through the rest of their life.
“He (Derenne) cares as much about the client as we do,” said Dodd.
Derenne said he saw the need for plaintiffs to be protected and advised in the settlement process. In a release, Spohrer agreed, noting how the settlement has been historically one-sided in favor of the defense until Derenne began helping take control of the process when they began using his services 15 years ago.
The nature of Derenne’s business changed even before his work with the local firm.
Shortly after he began in the business more than 20 years ago, some attorneys filed suit to withhold advising plaintiff attorneys. Following the suit in the professions favor, he said, it continued to evolve.
“It used to be the old Ronald Reagan saying of ‘trust but verify’,” said Derenne, referring to looking over settlement figures. “It’s now evolved from being what I like to call a ‘quote monkey’ after the fact to settlement planning.”
The majority of Derenne’s cases with Spohrer & Dodd are ones of “substantial value” as Dodd puts it, and while Derenne’s involvement depends on the case and client, it’s usually early.
“He needs to be involved as early as possible in most cases,” said Dodd. “He gives us more options.”
While the level of involvement is never an issue, Derenne sometimes works behind the scenes as to not tip defense attorneys of settlement intentions or magnitude.
Though he lives in Milwaukee, Derenne said around 70 percent of his work occurs in Florida and Georgia. While he believes he averages anywhere between 10–20 trips to Jacksonville for one-on-one meetings with attorneys and clients for cases, he’s always a phone call away for consult.
Furthering the standards and practices of his profession has been a priority for Derenne. In 2006, he spearheaded the formation of the Registry of Settlement Planners Board and while president he helped found a professional certification program. The program was formed in conjunction with the Center of Financial Responsibility and Texas Tech University and compares to graduate level work, which must be completed within a year and include a comprehensive settlement plan. Such plans are then reviewed by the Settlement Planners board before the designation is granted.
Derenne is only the third person in the country to complete the program, but knows the program and Settlement Planners Board help show the value, need and impact of the services.
“They help prove to plaintiff attorneys and victims that we’re educated in the entire process,” said Derenne. “Not just a portion.”
Dodd knows firsthand of his importance.
“A trial lawyer cannot be an expert in everything anymore,” said Dodd. “The way the times are, it’s just not possible .”