WMU-Cooley Professor Gary Bauer
Professor Gary Bauer has been a member of the full-time faculty at WMU-Cooley Law School since 1998. He now teaches Estate Planning to third-year law students and a directed study class he created called Solo By Design. Professor Bauer’s blog, found at sololawyerbydesign.com, provides law students, recent solo practitioners, and seasoned professionals who wish to go solo, with information and resources to be successful in the legal business. This blog post was first published on June 5, 2015.
Are you looking for business in all the wrong places? Sometimes you are doing a great disservice to your clients if you aren’t offering a maintenance agreement in conjunction with their estate planning services.
A True Story
A number of years ago while I was working as a regional sales manager for a Japanese company, it was necessary for me to travel extensively often exceeding 100,000 miles a year on the road. I wore out a lot of vehicles. In 1979, while driving a brand new Buick Century on one of my calls, the radio quit working. Since it was under warranty, I took it to the nearest dealer for a repair.
Now, at that time, credit cards were not being used as much as they are today. You couldn’t charge your meal at a drive thru like you can today. So, it was necessary to carry a lot of cash on me. Waving too much money around was a major concern. Hiding money in a place that would allow me to access funds without carrying large sums of cash in my wallet necessitated covert action. The Buick Century had a panel on the lower surface of the dash that was flush and could be easily removed. Four, one hundred dollar bills fit neatly within that compartment where no one would ever discover it.
Back to the repairs at the Buick dealership. I was told to wait in the customer lounge while a mechanic made the necessary repairs provided under warranty. Within a short period of time, my name was called and told that the repair had been made and that it was only a blown fuse. There was no charge for the repair. So, once again, I was on my way.
About 10 miles down the road it hit me! A fuse! Checking under the panel where the money was hidden uncovered only fuses. Now what? Call the police and have them investigate? It was my word against the mechanic. What proof did I have that there was money in there in the first place? Back at the dealership the owner listened to my concerns and expressed doubt that his mechanic would be a thief. We met with the mechanic that did the repairs. He denied seeing any money under that panel. This was a very expensive lesson for me. I didn’t have the time to fool around contacting the sheriff and seeking a warrant for this man’s theft. Besides, he seemed shaken and nervous about the turn of events.
I said, “Perhaps the money slipped down below that panel where we couldn’t see it. Would it be possible for him to remove the lower panel and check it out? In the meantime, the owner and I would go up front and get a cup of coffee while we waited. Soon the mechanic came to the lounge and said, “I found it! Just as you suspected, the money had slipped below the panel and here it is.” I thanked him for his assistance and never placed money in that location again. I also learned a valuable lesson about allowing someone to save face. It wasn’t that he was a bad person. The temptation was just too much and when confronted, he felt the pangs of guilt and regret and the possible consequences of discovery. I found a way to allow him to walk through the door that gave him permission to undo the damage and save face. It was a win for both of us. Afterwards, I investigated further and there was no way for the money to slip below the fuse box due to the design of that panel. Had the sheriff been called, it could have had serious repercussions in that mechanic’s life. I didn’t want that.
Keep your eyes open to the possibility of a win, win for you and your clients. Particularly in estate planning, it is easy to loose sight of ways that you can enhance your client’s position and at the same time, help your bottom line. Don’t write off a client who walks out the door after your services have been rendered. Look for a creative way to maintain that relationship at a higher level.
We often look outside our client base for business. But how often do we miss the mark and fail to encourage a continued relationship with our existing clients? If you do estate planning for a client, how many of you have an additional service maintenance plan that you offer your clients? For an agreed upon amount, say $500, you offer to do an annual review of your client’s documents with consideration for changes in the law and their circumstances. That fee could cover 5 years of review and each year you could charge $100 against your trust account for those services as earned fees each year providing you with a continued and predictable stream of income.
If upon your review, you found it necessary to make changes, those services would be in addition to the fees paid for the annual review. In addition to an annual review, your client’s would be entitled to subscribe to your monthly or quarterly newsletter to help alert them to changes in the law that might affect them. This keeps your firm’s services fresh and on a continuum. You can tailor this program in any way you wish consistent with the rules of your jurisdiction. This type of program helps meet their goals and ensures that their estate plans are properly funded and kept current. The cost for them is reasonable and predictable. For you, it is a continuous and predictable revenue streams as well.