The following is adapted from The New Law Business Model, Revealed book, by Ali Katz, New Law Business Model Founder—find it on Amazon.
Take a moment and think back to the time when you were filling out your law school applications. Maybe that was five years ago, maybe it was 25, or maybe you’ve just graduated and you’re preparing to take the bar.
If you’re like most lawyers, money probably entered the equation. But you can make money doing a lot of things. If you dig deeper, you’ll probably remember that you went to law school because you didn’t just want to make money, you wanted to help people.
The law is a helping profession! And, yet, then we go to law school, graduate, pass the bar, and the reality of both helping people and making money starts to seem less and less likely.
Lawyers who want to make a difference will often give up the paycheck, and the time to be with their family, to work long hours for the government, in nonprofit work, or as a guardian ad litem, taking on court-appointed cases.
And lawyers who want the money will work long hours in big law firms, at corporate jobs, or escalating litigation matters, but don’t feel as if they are making a real difference.
Serving families and small business owners as a trusted advisor, starting with wills, trusts, and other estate planning strategies designed to help people get their affairs in order is the answer.
But, only if you serve families and business owners in a completely new and different way than you learned in law school, or the old school law firm you may have started working at right out of law school.
If you’re unsatisfied with your current law practice, I strongly suggest that you consider creating a law practice in which you serve the needs of families and small businesses in a new way.
According to data from the Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs, there were 5.6 million employer businesses in the United States in 2016. Businesses with fewer than 500 workers accounted for 99.7 percent of those businesses. Every single one of those businesses and their owners needs wise counsel, not just on incorporation or contract review or employment agreements. They also need a lawyer who can keep them out of court in the event of a conflict. They also need a lawyer who can help them make good, proactive decisions about all of their personal and business legal, insurance, financial, and tax matters.
You can also do estate planning for families, you and old, and in between. There are abundant potential clients for this practice area, too. Here’s why: Every single person you know is going to die. And, before that, they may become incapacitated for some period of time.
And while not all of the people you know need a fancy estate plan with all the bells and whistles, eventually every single adult human you know needs to have something in place to keep their loved ones out of court and out of conflict in the event of their incapacity or when they die. Period.
Even though every adult human needs to have plans in place in the unfortunate event of their death, a lot of people don’t know that they need this. Or, they may think they don’t need this type of planning because they’re young and healthy.
You have an opportunity to get families talking about things that are often not talked about until it’s too late, and to help business owners to stay out of conflict in their businesses, and instead, grow their families and their dreams. To me, this is the greatest gift you can give your community as a lawyer.
Now, I know this is not what we were taught in law school about life and death and business, but that’s also why it’s such a huge opportunity for you. When you get in touch with the reality of what estate planning is really about and how to talk about that with your community in a new way, you get to totally differentiate yourself from other lawyers, and you can never be replaced by technology.
What we’re talking about here is personal, relational, and the most human work you can do. This has nothing to do with complex tax transactions or helping the rich get even richer. This has everything to do with life, death, legacy, and inheritance. As I said, it affects every single human being you know.
No one expects you to give up a good salary and work for families or small businesses for free, or nearly for free. On the contrary, there is great money to be made while you do good work for the people in your community.
On the financial side, within the next fifteen years, one-fifth of the population will be over the age of sixty-five, and as this generation passes on, there will be a $41 trillion transfer of wealth. During the next thirty years, ninety-three million people will transfer their assets to the next generation.
Beyond the baby boomer generation, consider that every single adult who has a family or owns something needs a plan for their estate. No one escapes death, and everyone wants to be sure their assets are transitioned properly. The opportunity is enormous and growing. This is not a morbid conversation, but it is an emotional one. I have found that people who plan for death during life—and talk to their loved ones about their planning—are happier and more secure. They don’t enter old age worrying about what will happen to their belongings and financial assets or how their families will manage without them.
In the ideal situation—and with your help—these conversations will happen early and often, providing significant peace of mind and creating harmonious families whose members will support one another for generations, instead of breaking up due to poor communication around critical matters. And people are becoming ready and willing to face these issues younger and younger in life.
And what’s more, your law practice will be immune to any economic downturns coming our way. Small businesses always need good lawyers to advise them and keep them out of court. Families are always concerned with estate-planning and taking care of their children and grandchildren, regardless of what’s happening with the stock market. This type of work is as close to recession-proof as law practice gets.
I hope I’ve inspired you to remember your younger, idealistic self—the self you were when you applied to law school. I hope you’ve recalled your dreams of doing good for the world while earning money, and probably, having a personal life, too. If you’re one of the lawyers who lost that idealism along the way, I understand; it happens to many of us.
But, the good news is that you can find that idealism again. No matter what stage you’re at in your career—whether you’re a new law school graduate, or you're five, ten, or twenty-five years out of law school—you can still help people. You can specialize in helping families and small businesses to feel secure and enjoy the peace of mind of knowing they’ve got their ducks in a row, and have done the right thing by the people they love, as they fall asleep at night.
And, you can do this while enjoying the personal satisfaction of knowing your clients are thrilled with your work (most of our lawyers even get hugs and gifts from their clients), while also making great money. It’s the rare situation in life and law in which everyone wins.
For more advice on how to create a law practice that specializes in working with families and small businesses, you can find The New Law Business Model book on Amazon.