Are You A “One Off” Attorney?

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Relationships Matter. . . .

Audio Version One Off Attorney Click To Play

Are you a “one off” attorney? This is an attorney who engages a client for the service sought and fails to understand they might be a greater source of business if they were to conduct business in a different manner.

A True Story

Years ago as a sales rep, many of my dealers never got it. I was employed by a company which produced compact diesel tractors. The least successful dealers were the ones who felt they were selling a product; compact diesel tractors. The most successful dealers understood they were really selling a service long term business relationships.

The “product” focused dealers concentrated on making a certain percentage profit on each tractor. Or, it didn’t go out the door. Their accountants told them that they had to make 23% profit to cover their overhead to stay in business. They focused almost entirely on price and indeed, they were able to sell some units and maintain their margins just as their accountant advised.

The “service” dealers concentrated on the customer and the customer’s needs. Each customer was evaluated based upon their unique situation. Pricing came up only during the final negotiations. Even if the customer insisted on getting a price quote, the dealer would persist in discussing the features that would satisfy the customer’s needs and profile to help the customer understand “value” vs “price”. These dealers often sold their tractors for less than the “product” dealers but they understood that with every tractor in the field he sold, he would sell implements to go on that tractor. He would discount the tractor and sell the implements and other services later which benefited the customer and the dealer. In the end, they both benefited.

The service dealer reduced the price up front with an understanding that he would make more in the long run on implements and follow up service. In doing so, he actually gave the customers greater value by maintaining a working relationship with them. By discounting, he would capture more sales and increase his volume substantially over the “product” dealers who were short-sighted and only interested in short term results. As a result, he would get volume discounts on his tractors above and beyond the normal discounts. In addition, a larger volume of customers meant they were more numerous than the “product” dealers customers. They were likely to tell others that the dealer gave them a real good price on the tractor and more customers would be drawn to the “good deal” dealer.

In my estate planning practice, many of the individuals we meet have Trusts or Wills which are 5 years old or more. They are not returning to the attorney who drafted them as they never established a relationship. Instead, many of those attorneys were focused on “selling the tractor” and forgot about the service aspect of their practice. . . .

You can charge $2,500 or more for a living trust and send the client out the door with a perfectly competent document which meets the client’s needs for the moment. However, even if you offered the Trust for $1,500 and earned less on that “product”, you can still make as much as the attorneys who charge more up front over the life of the relationship. All too often, I see clients who have been serviced and dropped after the fee was collected from the “one off” attorneys. The attorney never bothered to update their client’s documents and keep them current. If you charged $1500 up front and for ten years charged $100 a year for an annual review, the client would get much better service for the money spent. The only difference for you is that you have to wait longer for the income. However, once you establish an ongoing relationship with your clients, your revenue stream will be more predictable and measured over time. Also, in the long run, you would actually make more as a client who was 50 at the time you first counseled them could easily live to be 80 years old. 30 years at $100 plus the initial income from the documents is greater than you would make by charging $2,500 up front and forgetting about the client.

When a client needed more than a regular check up for the $100 fee, you would be justified in charging them to modify their estate planning documents to reflect changes in the law. They would be less reluctant to come back to you fearing another $2,500 bill. Even more important,  you keep them current with the law and their changed circumstances which is a huge benefit for them. Compare that to the clients I see cross my door with outdated and ineffective estate plans that often have devastating consequences for those clients.

Think about your approach to client relations and I believe you will prosper and your services will have greater value for your clients as well.

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