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How to Craft Your Law Firm's Story

One of my all-time favorite business books is "Start with Why" by Simon Sinek. I make it a point to re-read it every year as part of my year-end recharge and refresh process. If you haven't read it yet, I recommend you take 18 minutes to watch Simon Sinek's TED Talk on YouTube.

 

In a nutshell, he explains that people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Inspired by this concept, my business development coach suggested that I add the origin story of my firm to my website. It was one of those "why didn't I think of that earlier" moments that come with coaching.

 

Therefore, I'm sharing my firm's story to inspire you to think about your why and encourage you to share your story on your website and other platforms. Additionally, I believe that it captures the essence of the members of the Wealth Solutions Network and what sets them apart from the majority of estate planning attorneys and financial advisors.

 

My Firm Story.

 

I started my own law firm after finishing law school. I joined a small law office with 12 attorneys, each with their own practices. My focus was on tax, estate planning, and estate administration. I quickly became the estate planning specialist in that group.

 

In that practice, estate planning was seen as a loss leader - a low-cost, low-value service to gain a client and potentially a future personal injury lawsuit or, more likely, to be there to administer the estate when the client passed away. That was where the real money was - in the administration of the client's estate.

 

In fact, it was common practice for attorneys to be named as Executors of their client's estate. This practice became so widespread that an ethics ruling had to be issued to prevent attorneys from doing this as part of their retirement planning.

 

I also witnessed the beginning of a trend where families were having their estate plans prepared by "trust mills". Salespeople would drum up the business, and attorneys worked in the background preparing the documents. Sometimes these families were referred by their financial advisors, sometimes the salespeople would drum up business by cold-calling and going door-to-door.

 

One of the many flaws in their model was how the estate planning was structured as a transaction and not the beginning of a relationship. As a result, these plans were set up to fail as families commonly did not take the important steps needed to bring the plan to life. So people that paid to avoid probate still had their estates go through probate and experienced the cost, conflict, and delay that can come from that process.

 

I found out that this was the way most estate planning was done for the middle and upper-middle class. Most attorneys looked at estate planning as a transaction and never saw the clients again. I also saw the problems caused by this approach. One of my mentors early on represented families when estate plans were disputed, and I worked with him on many of these cases.

 

It was when I was working on one of his cases involving a dispute over a trust that I decided to do things differently. This case struck a nerve with me. I realized that the legal world, the financial advisory world, and the accounting world had all let this family down. Each of those professions had looked at this family as a transaction and not as a relationship. As a result of this transactional nature of the relationships, the estate plan failed, and this family was locked in a dispute.

 

I vividly remember sitting across the table from four other attorneys more than 18 years ago and realizing that the family was going to have to pay each attorney in that room, and I was the bargain in the room at $300 per hour.

 

If only the family had built a relationship with any of their advisors that they could have called upon to make the changes in the estate plan that the mother had wanted, the family could have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars.

 

I decided then and there that I was going to build my practice differently. I was not going to look at my clients from a transactional perspective. I was going to build relationships. These relationships would be built in such a manner that there would not be the fear of being billed $400 per hour to ask a question.

 

I built this practice around flat fees, communication, and providing more expansive service to those clients that saw value in a single point of responsibility for their legal, tax, insurance, and financial planning needs. This solved one of the problems that I was seeing routinely in those early years of my career by creating partnerships with my clients and providing them a trusted resource for best-in-class tools and techniques from the various disciplines of insurance, tax, and investment.

 

There was another problem that I saw with the way estate plans were being sold. I saw these plans routinely fail because they were not properly set up. I saw instance after instance of estates where the deceased paid several thousands of dollars for estate plans intending to avoid the cost and conflict of probate only to have them fail and wind up in probate. This happened because they were never properly funded and implemented.

 

The first time I saw this happen, I thought for sure it must have been malpractice. As I kept seeing it happen time and again, I realized it was what most firms did. It wasn’t malpractice; rather, it was common practice.

 

That is just what the typical estate planning experience had become. A transaction, no follow-up, no certainty that the assets were properly positioned to get the outcome that they paid for - a plan that would provide for the orderly transfer of assets upon death or incapacity without excessive conflict, cost, and delay.

 

So, I have built this firm on a different model. A model where the initial planning is the beginning of a relationship. A relationship focused on providing as much value to our clients as possible.

 

So, here are some of the things we do differently based on my experience with the traditional model of estate planning:

- We build relationships with our clients and provide them with a single point of responsibility for their legal, tax, insurance, and financial planning needs.

- We charge flat fees and avoid billing our clients for every little question.

- We provide more expansive service to those clients that see value in our partnership.

- We ensure that estate plans are properly set up and funded to avoid the cost, conflict, and delay that can come from probate.

 

We approach estate planning differently than the traditional model. Firstly, we don't bill on an hourly basis; everything is billed on a flat fee, agreed upon in advance, so there are no surprises. You will know exactly what it will cost to work with us after we have established what you want, and you will be able to choose your own fee. After the initial planning process, we have options available to keep your plans up to date throughout your life, and again you'll know exactly what that costs and choose your own fee there.

 

Secondly, we have a team of people here to support you. If you are at the bank and need a quick answer on how to title an account, you don't have to leave the bank and return another day because there was no one available to answer your question. You will be able to speak to someone and get your questions answered immediately. If you need to speak with me about something that my team cannot answer, we'll schedule a call so that I can be prepared and you can be prepared, and we won't waste your time playing phone tag.

 

Thirdly, we view planning as just the beginning of our relationship. Once you sign your planning documents, that is when the relationship really begins. At no additional charge, we review your plan at least every three years. We have three levels of membership programs for almost all our clients to participate in. The Silver program provides you with a yearly plan review and unlimited changes to your plan, the Gold program includes an annual meeting with your attorney, access to tools that keep you on track financially, and our Platinum program provides ongoing financial planning, investment, tax, and risk management services in a comprehensive fiduciary relationship.

 

Finally, we don't just focus on passing on your financial assets, but your whole family wealth. We recently started this process. I did it myself for my daughter, and the experience was very powerful. My parents recently passed away, and I regret that I did not implement this process with them for the rest of my family’s benefit. We include this option with every plan, and it is a family wealth legacy interview. This is a process that captures some of your important thoughts and beliefs for those you love.

 

These are just a few of the things that make our firm different. We are the best fit for people who don't just want to leave their family a set of documents that may or may not work, but instead want to use the estate planning process to pass a legacy of love, care, and ease. We want to keep your family out of court and out of conflict.

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