In this article, you will find an important consideration for all lawyers, no matter what your practice area is.
According to survey data from the American Bar Association, as of mid-2018, there was a total of 1,338,678 licensed, active attorneys in the United States. Along with the sheer volume of lawyers in this country steadily increasing, emerging technologies such as DIY online legal services, legal process outsourcing, and even social media are all contributing to the changing state of our industry. We are in the midst of a huge transformation.
You will be a part of this change, or risk becoming marginalized. You'll risk having to compete with online document services and cheaper lawyers, or stuck charging hourly for your services and trying to make ends meet, always behind and stressed out. One crucial thing that you as a lawyer must do to mitigate these risks - and ensure that you are building a law practice that will thrive amidst the changes in the industry - is to differentiate yourself completely.
Whether you are serving clients for divorce, bankruptcy, immigration, estate planning, or any other practice area, you've got the opportunity to have conversations that are unique to any other professional with whom they may work.
As their lawyer, you have a view into their life that nobody else does. Due to this exclusive view into their lives, you have the opportunity to step into a role that no other professional can fulfill, and that is the role of a trusted advisor.
If you can step up in a way that no one ever has before - and establish a connection by talking with your clients about conflict, incapacitation, and death in a new way - you will solidify your role in their life or business as a trusted advisor. When you do, this will change everything for you.
Stepping into the role of a trusted advisor opens the doors to lasting relationships with your clients, which means you will earn their referrals, and have the opportunity to earn recurring revenue by servicing the ongoing legal needs of their family or business.
Here is the reality, each client you serve will eventually either become incapacitated and die, or die. We know it's going to happen; incapacity or death are inevitable. Moreover, without proper planning, their family or business partners will almost certainly end up in conflict because of that. Considering this, if you are not talking to your clients about incapacity and death, you are doing them a disservice.
Yes, you must start talking about conflict, incapacity, and death - and looking at the areas in which those will impact your clients' lives and what that means for them. And yes, you need to start having this conversation even if you are not providing estate planning services (you can always refer them out, or co-counsel with other lawyers).
To effectively utilize this conversation as a way to forge connection and develop relationships with your clients - and create the opportunity for them to see you as a trusted advisor - you will need to talk with your clients from a place of curiosity and care.
At NLBM, we teach our lawyer members to facilitate conversations like these with curiosity questions. For this specific conversation, that looks like asking the question of:
"I am exploring and expanding into a new possibility as a lawyer, and one thing that has become clear to me is that everybody dies. As a lawyer, I am starting to feel that it is my responsibility to understand more about how people prepare for death, and I'd be curious if you are willing to talk with me a little bit about that."
If they are willing to have the conversation, you get to ask, "have you done any planning around what would happen if you become incapacitated or die?"
If they say yes, they have done some planning, you then say, "great, would you be willing to share with me what that was like?"
If they say no, you can ask the straightforward question of "why not?"
You will most likely then get into a conversation about the traditional estate planning experience...
Those documents will not be updated, their assets won't be owned in the right way, and in many situations, there won't even be an inventory of their assets. So when it comes down to it, their family won't even know what there is or what to do.
In some cases, children will be placed in the care of strangers because the planning for those kids wasn't set up in a way that ensured their protection.
That's the traditional estate planning experience; the estate planning process, whether it’s done right, poorly, or not at all, can have consequences and impacts that are profound.
However, before you can help them do the right thing, it's about asking them questions, with curiosity and care, to know what they have or haven't done. Asking these questions will allow you to get into a conversation - telling stories and relating real-life experiences - to see whether what they want to do something different for the people they love.
If you are not talking with your clients about the potentiality of incapacitation and the eventuality of death, you are missing a tremendous opportunity. Engaging in this conversation will benefit not only your clients, but when you do it right, it will benefit you and your law practice, because you will more fully step into your role as a trusted advisor and counselor, differentiating yourself from all the other lawyers in your community and industry.
Are these topics that you are talking about with your clients? If not, why not? What's in the way?
Talk with one of our advisors and find out how NLBM can support you in becoming the kind of lawyer you really want to be, so you can do the right thing by your clients while building a life and law practice you love.