Alumna Pekin finances legal funding in tough economy
As Americans feel the effects of economic turmoil, some can’t afford to put food on the table, let alone wait years for a case to be settled.
That’s where Elizabeth Bialow Pekin (JD 91) comes in.
Pekin is director of attorney marketing and sales at Oasis Legal Finance, a Chicago-based company that advances money to plaintiffs who are involved in personal injury cases.
“It’s the most interesting thing right now because of the economy,” she said.
Being unable to work due to an injury can mean the loss of a livelihood for many of Pekin’s clients.
“Most of these people are everyday working people that had manual labor type jobs,” she said. “They get behind on a few bills and everything spirals from there.”
Cases can often take years to resolve and lawyers can’t ethically lend their clients money. With the current economic downturn, people are desperate, Pekin said.
“The clients are not people that can go to banks,” she said “They’re contacting us because their phones are getting cut off and they can’t pay for school supplies for their children.”
Often, injured plaintiffs can’t get the surgery they need because they can’t afford to miss work.
“That’s an amazing part of the business: We can advance the plaintiffs money so that they can actually get off work to get surgery,” Pekin said. “It actually makes their case more substantial,” Pekin said.
The money that plaintiffs receive from Oasis is not a loan, but rather a non-recourse advance. Oasis purchases an interest in the potential proceeds of the personal injury case.
“If the case is lost, they don’t have to pay us back,” Pekin said. “The collateral is the case.”
Financially assisting plaintiffs allows attorneys to stay the course of the case and not feel rushed by their clients to settle early.
“We come in and we give a small percentage of the value of the case,” she said. “That can help the attorney really stay involved in the claim and get the maximum value for the client,” she said.
Pekin became interested in the concept of financially assisting plaintiffs while practicing workers compensation law.
“I spent half the day talking to my clients and they were asking me, ‘Can you please call my landlord and ask them hold off? I’m going to lose my house.’”
When Pekin became involved in the groundbreaking field six years ago, it could take three weeks to a month to secure funding for a plaintiff. Oasis has made the process more speedy, efficient and attorney-friendly.
“Now an attorney can call my office at 10 a.m. requesting $15,000 and I can have that money out the door by the afternoon,” she said.
Oasis Legal Finance is now the largest company in the legal funding industry.
Pekin is licensed by both the Florida and Illinois bars and works with a variety of cases. She handles all of the attorney referrals that come in from Florida.
“It’s interesting from a legal perspective because we are reviewing all these different kinds of cases to assess whether or not we would want to make an advance to the plaintiff.”
Pekin once helped a homeless man buy clothing so that he could go to trial.
“The lawyer called me and said, ‘My client just needs $500 so he can get a hot meal and I need to put him in something: He’s got a court hearing,’” she said. “The plaintiff was able to use the $500 advance to buy a suit for the hearing and buy food to eat.”
Pekin enjoys being able to use her law degree in a creative way.
“I love that I’m not necessarily practicing law but I’m allowed to have that connection still with the law,” she said. “When I hear these clients and they tell me that we helped put food on the table, it really is rewarding just to be able to help.”