I am no genius at anything. Those of you who have dealt with me professionally, personally or even sportingly will need no convincing of that.
So what makes me think that I can blog on matters of firms’ efficiency, profitability, development and success? Trial and error, dear friend. Anything I write about is something I have done – well, badly or again and again. One thing I have learned in being a solicitor for 30+ years and running my own firm since 1987 is that success is not a right. Not all the most intelligent folk make the best lawyers, and not all lawyers make good businesspeople. Everyone has to work at it, and earn whatever success comes along.
As my career has progressed, I've learned a few things about what works and what doesn’t. That’s where the trial and error comes in – I've made plenty of the latter, and hopefully learned something every time.
And that’s it. I intend to talk about those aspects of legal practice, mainly but not exclusively in the high street private firm, where I perceive there are lessons for all to learn in meeting the challenges of the present day and the future.
This is one for the general practitioners and private client solicitors.
Wills – beloved of us all, as they are often routine, don't take long to do and it’s a moderate but ready fee. With a percentage they will lead to an executry. Fine. And your point is?
Communication. The wrong thing to do is to build up wills in a safe like the Sleeping Beauty, only to be awoken at the kiss of death. That might be decades away, and in the meantime the testator might have moved house (so who then did the conveyancing because you did not keep in touch?), got remarried to someone with their own solicitor, started (or sold) a business, become incapax… made another will.
Three things to do
1. Keep in touch
Once a year, every two years, three max, send a letter (or best, always best, an email), to remind the client that you hold their will and ask if there have been any changes in their life that might cause their will to be looked at. Better if you also send some useful info – increase in IHT thresholds, changes in intestacy prior rights (yes, I know they’ve got a will, but people are interested in how estates are wound up and it lets them compare what would happen if they didn’t have a will or, God forbid, the will was now inadequate), or if there has been some interesting court case around inheritance disputes. Clients love that.
2. Check the wills
Check them physically or via your database (you do have a wills database, right?) to ensure that they are all correct, and/or that the info is up to date. Testators may indeed have moved home and thankfully used your conveyancers, but have you updated the data you hold? No need to redo the will maybe, but let the client know you have kept track of them. It again reinforces the relationship and makes it look like you care.
Any client making a will over a certain age ought to be made aware of the horrors of not having a power of attorney in place in time for the depredations of age and fate. You’re not waterboarding them to sign up, but it may be that they appreciate the advice and take it up then – or later. But again it shows a relationship, with mutuality of trust, that will earn you a fee there and then, or will strengthen the bond and you will get work of one sort or another later, and that is value for money and a good service to the client. Indeed you might even get work from other clients referred by that admiring client. There is also wealth management, care cost planning, succession planning for business clients, property transactions if appropriate. All from one will. If you don’t ask, you won't get.
And that’s just clients who have wills. We’ll soon have a look at how to deal with clients who don’t… yet.Austin
- Austin will be talking about opportunities in the changing legal market at the Society’s Annual Conference on 18 September. Book your space here.