I began my legal career by opening my own solo general practice law firm in 1993. It did not take long for me to realize what I dreamed about when I went to law school and the reality of being a lawyer was not the same. I dreamed about coming out of law school and making a difference in people’s lives. But in reality, practicing law the way I did back then was totally transactional, was not fulfilling to me and did not truly serve my clients.
Here’s what I mean.
For many years, everything I did was billed on an hourly fee basis. In my career, my rate moved from $150 to $500 per hour. You can imagine my clients wanted me to do everything as quickly as possible with as little communication as possible because I was billing them by the hour in six-minute increments. They did not want to call me when they needed me because they did not know how much that call would cost and if it would be worth it to them. Instead of building lasting relationships as the trusted advisor with each client, I was more often seen as a hired gun to do a job as quickly as possible and move on. I was very good at what I did but clients did not always appreciate it because no one ever knew in advance how much the final bill would be and money sort of got in the way of our relationship.
Many estate planning lawyers will charge an hourly fee billed in six-minute increments. Too often, clients do not understand what is in their plan or what anything means. Clients will not call their lawyer with questions or when something changes in their life, like a new baby or buying a new house, because they know they will be charged that hourly rate. So, instead of getting the help they need to make the right adjustments, they suffer with the plan they paid for. They put their fancy binder of documents on the shelf and never look at them, again. When they need the plan, their loved ones often end up in court or in conflict with each other, which usually costs more than it would have to make the proper adjustments to the plan. This is not what they wanted. But it is often what people get.
Another problem, especially for a solo practice like mine, was the unavailability of the lawyer when the client needed them. Let’s say a client paid $4,000 plus for the right plan for them and they were the ones putting the assets, like bank accounts, into their trust. They might be standing in the bank but forget what they are supposed to do. If they called me from the bank, I would probably not be available because I might be in court or meeting with another client. So, because the client in the bank could not reach me right away, they would leave the bank and never go back to put the accounts in their trust.
Even when the assets made it into the trust and the clients understood the documents, the plan often still did not work when it was needed because the whole thing was transactional. The documents were delivered and the relationship between me and client was essentially finished. There was no system for an ongoing relationship and communication to periodically review the plan to help my clients make the appropriate changes in a timely manner so the plan would work for their loved ones when the plan was needed. And clients were not inclined to reach out to me for fear of the hourly fee.
So, I relaunched my firm with a focus on relationships with my clients. Now, initial planning is just the beginning of the relationship and we focus on putting in place a plan we know will work for you and the people you love.
Here are are some things we do differently based on my experience with the traditional model of estate planning.
First, nothing we do in the planning process is billed on an hourly basis. We have thrown away the clock! Everything is billed on a flat fee that you choose in advance based upon your specific needs. After we are clear about what you want, you will know exactly what it will cost to work with us. There are no surprises. Then, after the initial planning process, we have options so you can ensure your plan stays up to date throughout your life, and again you will know exactly what that costs and choose your own fee.
Second, we have a system to support you. In fact, we close our firm on Monday to continuously work on our systems to serve you better. That means, if you are at the bank and need to get a quick answer about how to title an account, you do not have to leave the bank and return on another day because you cannot get your question answered for hours or days. You will be able to access answers to most of your questions right away either via our website resources or a quick text message. And if you need to speak with me about something my system cannot address, we will get a call scheduled so I can be prepared and you can be prepared and we will not waste time playing phone tag.
Third, we see planning as just the beginning of the relationship where in the past the plan was viewed as a one-time transactional event.
The relationship really begins once you sign your planning documents. At no additional charge, we review your plan at least every three years. And we have two levels of membership programs that almost all of our clients participate in. The gold program provides you with a yearly plan review and unlimited changes to your plan or the gold plus program includes an annual meeting with your attorney, CPA and financial advisor, plus ongoing legal guidance throughout the year.
Finally, we do not just focus on passing on your financial assets but your whole family wealth. When my mother died, I only had my memories of her and what she taught me. One of the most treasured possessions a child might have when a parent dies is a recording of their voice talking to them. What if your child had a special recording of you telling them what was important to you in your life and what you would like them to know whether you are with them or not? That is what we help our clients do for their families. We will guide you to pass on more than your money, but also your intellectual, spiritual and human assets. We include that with every plan and our clients and their families love having that as part of their plan.
These are just a few things that make our firm different.
We are the best fit for people who do not 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 on a legacy of love and care and ease. And keep their family out of court and out of conflict.
On a personal note, I am the husband of a wonderful wife and the father of three great children. What they bring to this experience for me is the awareness that planning is something you do for the people you love the most. You will not be the one to benefit from the plan we are going to design for you today. The people who will benefit are the people you love the most who will be dealing with things after you are incapacitated or gone. I am guessing that is why you are here and we are going to talk about those people you love.
Click here now to schedule your planning session!