You might think an attorney would be a little embarrassed to ask this question, because our training is to maintain dignity and respect for ourselves, our clients and our colleagues. At first, it sounds a little undignified. Aren’t we supposed to put our client’s needs first, even if it means working into the wee hours, pumping out documents, getting things turned around fast while also ensuring that everything is done right?
On further reflection, this is a really good question. And it’s one that deserves looking into. Let’s start with the answer, and then we’ll explain.
No. You will not be working harder with a Client Care Program. You’ll be working much smarter, and so will the members of your team. The firm’s profits will increase.
When you create a client care program at a Foundations Workshop, the attorneys and the team members create a program that is individually correct for your practice, consistent with your resources, values and your beliefs of what you need to do to take care of clients and their families. Right from the start, you are setting the tone and determining what services will be offered.
We’ve seen what happens when someone tries to simply lift another firm’s client care program. That’s when you end up doing more work, trying to overlay one law firm’s systems and values onto another. It can’t work. It’s like having a pair of custom shoes made just for your feet, and then having a friend with the same size foot try them on. Yes, they are the same size, but custom is custom, and the many differences, no matter how slight, make the shoes wrong for their feet.
But won’t I have more clients, and many more files to manage? In a perfect world, you and your team will attend the Client Care Academy Foundations Workshop, start your client care program, and then join us as a member of the 5 to 500 program, and find yourself with 500 (or more) clients. So a big “yes” to having more clients.
How you manage clients will be very different than how you manage files. At our firm, we don’t have files. We have clients, and we have client families. There’s a big difference.
The point of the client care program is that you are working closely with families on an on-going basis to ensure that they have everything they will need at the time of the death of a family member. It’s a little harsh, but that’s what we’re all about. So when Dad dies, Mom knows :
She can make a phone call to the estate planning attorney and have easy access to any documents if she can’t find them;
All of the family’s assets have been properly titled, whether that concerns trusts and asset alignment or payable-on-death accounts;
There’s no guessing what Dad wanted in the way of funeral services because it’s been written out in a legacy letter; and
Anything that could have been planned for in advance has been planned for.
The family is spared any unnecessary stress, things go smoothly when the estate is settled, and usually a few family members continue to be clients of the firm’s client care program. In most cases, we have met with the family’s trusted other advisors—the CPA, financial advisor and insurance broker—and developed on-going referral relationships with them.
Is that a lot more work? If you are running an estate planning firm, you and your team are already doing the work, but you may be doing it in a less organized fashion. Here’s what we do for our clients; you can use it as a comparative checklist:
Last will and testament
Trusts, living, irrevocable or whatever is needed
Powers of attorney for general financial
Health care powers of attorney
Asset alignment and verification
We do go an extra step with the powers of attorney – we contact the institutions that we will need a POA for and get their forms in advance. Often banks and other financial institutions prefer that you use their forms. Rather than argue with them after the client’s passing or becoming incapacitated, which is a waste of everyone’s time, we do this in advance.
The same is done for asset alignment, funding and tracking. We make sure that once the trust is created, it is funded. That takes time, but it’s better to do it right than find out after the client dies that the entire estate plan is useless because the assets were never retitled, or the accounts were never properly funded.
So if these last two steps are what’s holding you back from instituting a client care program, you’re missing the point. If you don’t get these two steps done, which is part of a client care program, you and your team are going to have to do them anyway – just at the wrong part of the relationship.
Do the right thing by your clients, and your firm will win new business. Put the hourly rate ahead of everything, and you may find that ex-clients have contacted the bar association or are talking about a lawsuit.
Your firm is going to do the work anyway – why not do it up front and get paid for it? That’s how we manage to keep so many of our clients in our own client care program.
Ready to make the change in 2019? Click here to learn more about the Client Care Academy, and here to learn more about the upcoming Foundations Workshop, scheduled for March 28-29 in Orlando, Florida.