Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It's Not About the Paper (It's ALL About the Service)

Recently, a new client asked me to review an Estate Plan prepared by another attorney. Why would they be bringing it to another attorney for review? They had a nice folder full of documents, but more importantly, they had many unanswered questions and concerns. They weren't comfortable with their own estate plan!

The documents were reasonably well drafted, and contained language which clearly met the "industry standard." While my documents are different, and while maybe I could try to justify that they are somehow "better," the documents are not really the issue.

So what was the problem? It is a concern that seems to arise all too often. The attorney was unavailable to the client, not returning calls and not meeting with them after the first introduction and/or seminar. They were "boilerplate" and did not reflect a close connection with the client and their wishes. And perhaps most importantly, a significant source of frustration for the client was their lack of understanding of what the documents said, how they fit their particular circumstances, and what alternative provisions they might have.

"Legalese" in estate planning documents can be daunting, even as we have tried to make them more "plain English." But I don't think it is the documents, or the wording in them that is the real cause of the client's angst.

We are professional counselors and clients do not come to us just for document preparation. They come to us for our advice, experience, and expertise in applying the principles of our profession to their particular circumstances. They want, and deserve, some professional "TLC."

This is not a concept that is peculiar to lawyers. Lawyers, accountants, financial planners, bankers, brokers, insurance advisors and trust officers are subject to this concern. It is what separates us as professionals from technocrats. Certainly we produce and sell "products." And certainly, it is critical that the "product" that we produce for clients be superior. But it is not really the product that our clients seek. It is a personal relationship in which we impart some wisdom, borne of our years of training, experience and the relationships we have forged with clients.

As another year nears its end, I am moved to re-commit myself to provide superior service to clients. To me this means to listen carefully to their concerns and needs, to be responsive to their calls, questions and concerns, and to try to create and maintain that special relationship that makes us professional advisors. I hope you'll all join me in this commitment.


About Issues For Advisors

About 3 years ago, I started publishing a Quarterly E-Newsletter targeted directly at professional colleagues and valued referral sources. The intent of the newsletter was to be a resource for professional advisors, including Accountants, Insurance Professionals, Financial Planners, Brokers, Bankers and Planned Giving professionals. The "Issues For Advisors," newsletters have 2 primary goals: (1) To provide timely, useful information about issues that are either of current significance, have caused a recent problem, or are of a recurring nature to our mutual clients, and (2) To keep the content brief (no more than a single page). It recently occurred to me that there is no "archive" where advisors can go to retrieve, or re-read prior Issues. Rather than "burying" them somewhere in the Smith Bovill website, I created an on-line Resource specifically dedicated to the Professional Advisors enumerated above. In addition to the "Issues For Advisors" Archive, Links to other resources (including, of course, the MICHIGAN ESTATE PLANNING BLOG and THE SMITH BOVILL LAW FIRM SITE), will be featured here.

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