The following is adapted from The New Law Business Model by Ali Katz, New Law Business Model Founder and CEO—find it on Amazon.
What is the best practice area for lawyers with big hearts and dreams of making a difference?
Consider this: a new baby is born, and the infant’s parents immediately start to wonder what will happen to their child if something were to happen to them. They want to make sure their child is cared for, as they choose and by the people they choose, no matter what.
That same baby probably has grandparents who want their new grandchild to receive financial gifts that can be used for college or a first home down the road. Those grandparents may also want to leave the baby’s parents an inheritance—even just a small one—without having to go through a court process to get it.
What do all of these people have in common?
They all need a lawyer to guide them if they want to keep themselves and the people they love out of court and out of conflict.
These people don’t need a criminal defense lawyer or a workers compensation lawyer or a business compliance lawyer. They need an estate planning lawyer.
They need a trusted advisor who can guide them through every single one of life’s most important decisions—the decisions that affect all of us, matters of life and death.
It’s very likely (though not universal) that the way you were taught wills and trusts or trusts and estates in law school did not come close to conveying the massive opportunity for you in becoming an estate planning lawyer.
And, if you did become an estate planning lawyer anyway (or had a great T&E experience in law school), it’s very likely that the way you learned to practice estate planning is kind of, well, a little too focused on the documents, and leading you to a life and law practice you don’t really love.
If any of that is true for you, here’s what I want you to get: estate planning, wills & trusts, trusts and estates, being a true trusted advisor to the people in your community is the best practice area out there for lawyers with big hearts and caring souls, when you do it in the right way, which is not what most of us were taught.
Estate planning is the most deeply personal practice area, and when done right, allows you to systematize the structures so that you can spend your time doing the most fun things of all: being an authority and expert in your community and counseling your clients, who after working with you will (when the planning experience is done right) send you gifts, thank you notes, and even invitations to their weddings, baby namings, and holiday parties.
You see, everyone wants a consigliere, a trusted advisor, a wise confidante, and there’s no other practice area that lends itself to that more than estate planning.
But, only if you set your estate planning practice up in the right way, not the way most of us learned.
Estate Planning Affects Everyone
There’s one common denominator among all of us humans—no matter our race, creed, religion, political or sexual orientation—and it’s inescapable. We’re all going to die.
More and more, people are beginning to realize that when they do die, they don’t want their loved ones stuck in our broken court system, or left in conflict that could have been avoided.
It used to be that estate planning was only done by the wealthy because it was extremely expensive to create documents, in triplicate, using carbon paper. And, our court systems weren’t nearly as overloaded or complex to deal with as they are today. Plus, most people’s lives were rather simple.
Today, we live in a much different reality.
Our lives are complex. Our court systems are way over-burdened. We can create legal documents easily. And, enough of us have now seen the impact of the death or incapacity of loved ones resulting in lost assets, family fights, and unnecessary costs due to lack of planning, or faulty planning, to know we don’t want to do that to our families.
And with the rise of online estate planning services and the millions of dollars they are putting into advertising to get people to use their online services (often leading to sales of highly profitable insurance or financial products that are not always in people’s best interests), people are more educated than ever about the importance of handling these matters earlier, rather than later, in life.
Now, more than ever people are motivated to keep their families out of court. And out of conflict. On top of all that, they want to keep their affairs private and their assets out of the State Department of Unclaimed Property.
So, if you’ve had any concern that the estate planning field is saturated, think again. It’s not. At least not for estate planning that’s done right.
Think about this: over 93 million Americans will transfer their estates in the years between 2007 and 2061. Yes, I said 93 million.
Ninety-two percent of those estates will be worth less than $1 million, and while you may think that this is a disadvantage to lawyers, it’s not. The fact is that because these estates are small, it’s relatively easy for you to learn to serve these families in a way that is lucrative, fulfilling, and truly impactful for them.
On the other hand, it’s quite complex to serve families with more assets. So, you can safely bet that a large client base—certainly large enough to bring you the fifteen to twenty-five new clients a month you’ll need to have a highly successful practice—awaits you if you choose to explore this option further.
And, let’s just look at the numbers of that for a moment. With the right practice model, and a truly meaningful service for these clients, you could be bringing in $60,000 to $80,000/mo in revenue from those fifteen to twenty-five clients each month, and serve them with joy.
We think one of the best parts about building an estate planning law practice is that you can turn into a truly meaningful, and even joyful law business - a real business that uses your law degree and turns you into the go-to lawyer in your community for everyone you know.
Estate Planning Is Personal
One of the most fulfilling aspects of working in estate planning law is the personal relationships you build with your clients. They will be sharing their family histories—and futures—with you. It’s both deeply personal and extremely important. These personal relationships will be intimate, and you can find deep satisfaction in providing high-quality legal services, built on trust.
And, it really does come down to the personal relationship with you.
Wendi was a long-time litigator who decided to transition into estate planning. Shortly after she opened her practice, Wendi had a family come in for an introductory Family Wealth Planning Session - which we teach to the New Law Business Model members. During the meeting, she learned that the couple was shopping around, also meeting with a lawyer who’d been in practice for forty years and was the former mayor in her town.
Wendi was thrilled when the couple eventually called to say they wanted to work with her—not the far more experienced lawyer—because they loved her process, and wanted her to be there for their loved ones when they couldn’t be. Even though she was new to the field, they chose Wendi because they loved how she helped them think through the hard decisions necessary for their estate planning. And that’s what it’s really all about.
Forget the Way You Were Taught
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “But I hated Wills and Trusts class in law school.” And, if you are, I get it.
The way that Wills and Trusts is taught in most law schools and through most CLE programs is the worst. It’s transactional, not relational. It’s focused on documents that we know are likely not even going to work for the families you serve because they will be outdated, or no longer cover assets that will have long shifted, or lives that have changed many times over. It’s way overcomplicated. And, worst of all, boring.
Estate planning doesn’t have to be this way, though. Again, estate planning is personal. It’s about relationships with real people who trust you with some of the most important decisions in their lives.
You will create documents, of course, but they are the byproduct of the relationship you are creating with your clients, not the thing you are selling. Instead, what you are offering your clients is a lifelong trusted advisor relationship, in which estate planning documents are simply part of what they receive from their engagement with you.
Yes, You Can Make a Living in Estate Planning
Maybe you’re thinking, “Great, I love the idea of having personal relationships with my clients, and it does sound like there is a lot of potential business out there. But will people pay?”
Yes, they will.
My personal experience and the experience of lawyers I’ve worked with have shown that all kinds of people will invest good money for estate planning services from a skilled and empathetic lawyer. Families and small business owners in your community will pay $3,500 to $5,500 on average upfront, with ongoing payments ranging from $100 per year for a family with a simple situation to $36,000 per year for a high-end business owner.
I built my million-dollar-a-year revenue-generating law practice in just three years as a new kind of estate planning lawyer. But here’s the key, I did it by providing estate planning services that were wholly different than what most other lawyers in my community were providing, as a relational rather than a transactional lawyer.
If, like me, you love people, have a big heart and a caring soul, and see that it’s time to use your law degree in a new way, you may find that being an estate planning lawyer is more exciting and more rewarding than you initially thought. I hope you’ll consider the possibilities.
For more advice on how to be an estate planning lawyer for your community, you can find The New Law Business Model book on Amazon.