Watching your prospect list grow is an exciting thing. Those new prospects mean that your marketing efforts are paying off and if you’ve already implemented a Client Engagement System in your firm, then you should be feeling pretty good about converting those prospects into clients.
But what then?
What do you do with your new clients once you have them?
Now, before you answer, I want to tell you that “service them” is not a complete answer. Nor is “manage them” or “work their file.” No, I’m looking for something a bit more detailed than that, so I’m going to ask you to get specific.
From the moment a new client retains your firm, do you have systems in place to handle them?
We’re surprised at how often the answer is NO.
For many attorneys, a new client simply means a new estate plan to draft and that is truly the extent of their new client process. But before that plan can be appropriately drafted, some information needs to be gathered about the client and their assets.
And there should be a system for that.
The estate plan will need to be funded and the documents will need to be proofed.
And there should be systems for that too.
In fact, there should be systems in place to track both the work and client from the moment the account is created. How many systems, you ask?
You should have a system:
- For gathering client and asset information – This should all be gathered in a systematic way that leaves no stone unturned.
- For quoting the fee – Instead of quoting different fees based on what you think the client can afford, your fee should be the same every time.
- For electronically logging in the client information in a firm database – A good relational database can completely run your practice for you.
- For tracking the retainer check – You should be getting a minimum of 50% when you retain a client. Many of our Academy Members get up to 80% up front, so there’s very little Accounts Receivable to contend with – the balance is due upon delivery of the final document.
- For data entry into an automated document assembly program – Producing world class documents requires time and attention to detail. Having an automated system in place can ensure that every document is created with the utmost care, even if you or your paralegal are having a less-than-perfect day.
- For funding the estate plan – This can sometimes be a complex component to the estate plan – shouldn’t it have a system to ensure that everything is in place?
- For proofing the documents and getting the clients’ OK before they come in – At the Academy we don’t recommend that you send out drafts of these huge documents. Why? Because it’s a recipe for procrastination. Clients won’t know what they’re reading anyway.
- We recommend that you schedule what we call a “Phone Final” – This is where your well trained paralegal armed with a checklist goes over the important areas of the estate plan on the phone with the clients. Your staff person identifies and makes sure each person named in the plan is spelled correctly and the fiduciaries and the distribution match their wishes. Getting your clients approval of all the details BEFORE they come in for the final signing, takes the pressure off everyone. There are no last minute changes to the documents while the clients are sitting there tapping their fingers because you spelled their grandson’s name “Brian” rather than “Bryan.“
- For scheduling the final signing – There should be a systematic way to ensure that enough time is allowed for each and every signing and an automatic confirmation letter is mailed out.
- For conducting the final signing and receiving the final payment – Did you know that your paralegals and support staff can handle the final signing for you? Of course, this can only work if you have a system in place to dictate how the final signing should proceed and you’ve fully trained your staff. As a side note, this brilliant piece of delegating just saved you a ton of time and gave you the opportunity to use it for more strategic law firm work.
- For electronically logging in all conversations with the client – It doesn’t matter if the conversation is with you, your paralegal or your receptionist… it should be logged into a relational database so that it can be easily tracked.
- For storing the documents for ready access – If a client calls in and needs copies of documents, can you lay your hands on them quickly? A document storing system will ensure that you can, but the better solution is for all files to be digitally accessible with a click of your mouse.
Now, why do you need all these systems?
To ensure that nothing is missed and you have a consistent predictable outcome every time.
Systems give you a method for handling tasks that often get overlooked or delayed because of their nature. Many attorneys for example, are hesitant to ask for a retainer check because they believe the client won’t see the value of the services that you’ve provided, but this simply isn’t true. Having a system in place to secure that retainer check will give you the comfort level you need to expect money up front.
Having these systems will also guarantee that your client receives top-notch service and that your firm produces world class documents every time… The recipe I might add, for maximum client retention.
President & Co-Founder
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.