Building an Estate Planning Practice
One of the big challenges for estate planning attorneys is convincing clients to hire them in the first place. People know they need wills and other estate planning documents, but they may not do anything about it until they have a family death or unpleasant medical diagnosis. And estate planning doesn’t have any tangible benefits: your clients aren’t going to get a big settlement or a fresh start in life because they signed their wills.
That means that an estate planning practice requires advance planning and strategizing if it’s going to bring in clients. A first step is to identify your strategic objective. What services will you offer? Will you just be an estate planning firm, or will you also offer estate administration/probate services? Will you include elder law? Special needs trusts?
Also consider your ideal client. Try to be as specific as possible. A lot of estate planning lawyers target people with a high net worth, but it can be hard to differentiate yourself in such a broad and competitive category. Examples of target clients include:
- Young parents who make at least $150,000 a year
- Parents of children with significant disabilities
- People over 55 with a net worth of $1 million or more
- People in the early stages of Alzheimer’s
Each of these categories is a distinct group of people with a specific group of concerns. You can tailor your firm’s offerings to meet the needs of your target audience, and you can market your firm in channels that are likely to reach them.
Software is likely to be one of the biggest budget items for a new estate planning practice. Estate planners spend a lot of time drafting documents like wills and trusts, and document preparation software can make the whole process easier and more efficient. Look for a product geared specifically toward estate planners. Practice guides, treatises and CLE courses can also help with establishing your practice. And, like all law firms, an estate planning practice needs case management software.
Estate planning lawyers must decide how to handle wills and other original documents. Small firm estate planners often decide to give originals to their clients, rather than taking on the responsibility of storing them. However, it is important to make this document retention policy clear in the engagement letter and to give the client specific instructions on retaining and storing the originals.
Networking is an important part of marketing an estate planning practice. Get to know people in complementary fields, like financial planning, who have the same clients you are seeking. Spend time building those relationships and ask people in your network to refer business to you. Other lawyers, such as family lawyers, can also make good referral sources since people usually need to update their estate plans following a divorce. Other estate planning lawyers can also refer business that they can’t take because of conflicts, because they are too busy, or because they lack the specific expertise required.
Advertising and articles in print publications can be effective if they reach your target audience. Consider publishing or advertising in small niche publications and newsletters that your ideal clients read. Finally, your website can be an important marketing tool. Be sure it is set up to work seamlessly on mobile devices.
If you establish a niche and have a good marketing strategy, estate planning can be a profitable practice area. Before launching an estate planning practice, think carefully about the clientele you want to serve and make sure you have the expertise to do it well.