Adding trusts & estates planning to your practice can be nerve-wracking. There’s so much potential for business growth, but yet, there’s a significant level of risk involved: do you know enough about this area of the law? Can you accurately sell these services to clients? And once you have a client who is willing to pay you, how do you actually deliver on the strategy?
With proper planning and careful thought it’s easy to overcome these challenges. Attorneys who take the time to educate themselves, both on the legal issues involving trusts & estates as well as best business practices, will wind up with a firm foundation on which to build their new practice area. If you’re getting started in trusts & estates, the following three steps are critical:
- Learn it. Trusts & estates law isn’t the ho-hum, stuffy type of law that doesn’t change. There have been massive shifts in estate planning priorities and strategies over the past several years, and the industry continues to evolve in dramatic ways. Attorneys need to deepen their knowledge of estate law and the planning strategies most commonly deployed. Not only do you need to understand estate planning basics—wills, trusts, powers of attorney—but you must also be able to spot problem areas that might require more advanced or specialized planning. For example, clients who have any significant wealth in retirement accounts may well benefit from a special Standalone Retirement Trust. Clients who own firearms might benefit from a gun trust to keep their trustees and children from accidentally breaking state and federal law. Clients who are also business owners will need to draw up succession plans. In-person as well as online courses are a good resource for gaining the knowledge you need to help clients effectively achieve their goals.
- Sell it. Once you understand the impact and opportunity of various estate planning strategies, you have to be able to turn that know-how into revenue. To get clients in the door, you need to communicate how important estate planning is to achieving their goals. That’s no easy task. A 2014 study found that 64 percent of Americans don’t even have a will, let alone a full-fledged estate plan. Some attorneys have found educational webinars to be useful; others rely on e-mail or direct mail campaigns; some simply mine their existing clients. The right solution for you depends on your target market as well as your budget and capabilities.
Your work doesn’t end there, though. Clients are easily intimidated and confused by the complex process of estate planning. Take some time to develop simple explanations for some of your most common estate planning methods. Helping clients and their other advisors understand your methods makes it easier for them to take action.
- Draft it. When your client is ready to move forward, it’s time for you to deliver on the plan you’ve discussed. Drafting estate planning documents, however, can be time consuming and challenging. If your revenue is based on a flat fee and not an hourly rate, the complexity can hurt your ability to run a profitable practice and also introduce more potential for error. Instead, many attorneys turn to drafting systems, which can help you deliver more professional, more effective strategies, more quickly. This frees up time for you to build stronger relationships with your clients as well as prospect for new ones. Look for a drafting system that can produce high quality documents that have been drafted and reviewed by top quality lawyers. Also look for a system which is continually updated to include changes in the law. Having a high quality drafting system in your toolbox allows you to properly serve clients and helps protect you and your firm against malpractice risks.
With the right education and tools, attorneys can easily add trusts & estates planning to their practice. If you take the time to learn the law, develop the right business skills and implement proper drafting processes, you’ll be able to successfully capitalize on a significant opportunity for growth.