As much as attorneys would like to focus on only doing billable work, marketing is a constant in any entrepreneurial role, and you need to view investing time into growing your estate planning practice as an integral part of your weekly to-dos.
The Bad News First
Selling estate planning services has become increasingly difficult for estate lawyers over the past decade. With LegalZoom, RocketLawyer, and other online DIY options, our prospective client base has shrunk.
The substantially increased Estate Tax Exemption has also taken a bit out of the more complex and lucrative estate planning and administration work that was plentiful years ago.
And there has been a proliferation of the use of other governing instruments like Transfer and Pay On Death (TOD and POD) designations.
The “TOD” option used to only be available for life insurance and retirement products but is now pushed by the financial industry for virtually every type of non-qualified asset, including traditional bank accounts and other investment accounts.
The public perception of lawyers doesn’t help either. People view dealing with attorneys as unreasonably expensive and time-consuming.
So What’s the Good News?
The good news for estate lawyers is that everyone’s financial life has also become increasingly complex. And people are still people — we all want and need help with the different aspects of our lives, and not everyone wants a robot to help them. Personal service and relationships matter, and that’s what we estate lawyers need to focus on.
And what about all that technology and information on the web? Well, you may have not noticed, but it is pretty overwhelming, often contradictory, and not nearly the quality of information and analysis that a private lawyer can deliver — and deep down inside most people know that. So our advice may be even more valuable than it used to be.
These developments may paint a challenging picture, but they also provide numerous opportunities for estate lawyers to market their services.
This article focuses on marketing opportunities and techniques for estate lawyers to grow a self-sustaining trust and estate practice that will reward you personally and financially for years to come.
Your Options When It Comes to Marketing
Unlike even a decade or so ago, estate and trust attorneys have not one but two primary marketing channels: online and in-person.
Online marketing starts with your website and may include search engine optimization, posting blogs, and using pay-per-click advertising (e.g. Google, Facebook, LinkedIn). Online marketing can also involve engaging your client base on social media.
In-person marketing involves developing face-to-face relationships with referral sources such as accountants, financial advisors, and insurance professionals, and it means deepening your relationship with existing clients and their families.
These worlds often bleed into each other. Our digital lives reflect a version of who we are, and ideally, we use online marketing to foster more meaningful in-person relationships.
In today’s world, you need to do both, at least to some extent, and the first step is figuring out who you want to target.
Tip #1: Define Your Ideal Client
Your first step is to figure out who you’re marketing to, and then you can shape your marketing to best target those people. Specificity sells.
This will change over time, but you want to think about income, industry, and any other details you can think of. Here are a few other thoughts on client targeting:
Average Wealth vs. Ultra-Wealthy
You might think the wealthier the client, the better. And that can be true, but there are only so many ultra-wealthy families out there (say with a net worth exceeding $25 million).
The pool is very small, and while it may be a goal of yours to develop a higher-net-worth practice, there may be 100 prospective clients in the “mass affluent” category (say families with a net worth exceeding $1.5 Million) for every ultra-wealthy family, and focusing there can be a much more fruitful place to put your efforts.
That being said, working for the ultra-wealthy is more than just about making more money, you can invest substantially more time customizing provisions and working on a plan compared to a more generic family situation. That can be professionally challenging and enriching.
Families that have extensive assets also have extensive risks, taxes, and pitfalls. In short, there’s usually more to do. So if you are targeting the ultra-wealthy, you’ll need to be prepared to have a much lower volume of clients so you always have time to address issues as they come up.
Higher maintenance clients mean more billable hours, and that is of course a good thing, but there is also more stress and you’ll find yourself being asked to “jump” more than you might like.
Successful Business Owners
Business owners also make great clients for lawyers because they deal with a lot of legal issues. Identifying up and coming businesses in your area that you think will continue to grow and reaching out to establish a relationship can be a good source of leads. Many of the most successful businesses in your area will likely have existing relationships, so you may find your efforts are less fruitful there unless they are unsatisfied with the lawyer they’re currently working with.
Clients Who Already Pay Other Professionals
Clients who use a financial advisor are good sources of work because you know they have money and value advice. You’ll want to target financial advisors as a referral source for these clients, and we’ll talk a lot about that in a bit.
Same goes for clients who have accountants, especially CPAs. The nature of the relationship people have with their accountants differs from that of a financial advisor, though. Financial advisors generally communicate numerous times throughout the year and in my 25 years, I’ve found they are “closer” to the client than accountants. Accountants, on the other hand, are often viewed by their clients as conservative and objective, and for that reason, a lot of clients defer to their accountant in certain financial decisions, especially business decisions that financial people are not as accustomed to dealing with.
You’ll need to know and understand the differences if you want to network with them, and you need to understand their business model.
Tip #2: Play Up What Makes You Different
On a similar note, unless you are a brain surgeon or rocket scientist, you are going to have a lot of competition — regardless of where and who you choose to target. The estate planning arena is no different. There are a virtually unlimited number of other people and companies vying for the same estate planning client that you are.
One of the best ways to differentiate yourself is to identify a customer pain point (such as lack of hands-on attention) and position your firm as a direct source of relief for it.
Or another example: you could talk about how you use technology to streamline your process, making getting a will or trust more convenient and less expensive. We have an online application you might called LawSafe® and it does a great job differentiating estate lawyers from their competition.
Also, if you are in a small practice group, focus on the personal attention you’ll give and your immediate availability. In a larger firm, focus on the depth of your bench and number of specialists available to the client.
Tip #3: Network Inside of Other Organizations
Participation in other organizations can help you network and build a referral base. This is important and may be easier than you expect.
Estate lawyers are not generally the life of the party, so you might be thinking that making inroads in an organization like your local rotary club is not for you, but when people think about estate planning, they don’t expect the most popular person from their class.
They want someone responsible, bright, and passionate about what they do — and that describes most estate lawyers that I have met in my 25 years. So show up. Try to create genuine relationships, and see where it goes.
Tip #4: Raise Local Awareness
You need to be careful when buying into brand awareness advertising, but one of the best places for these types of campaigns is in hyper-local situations.
Ways you can build local brand awareness are:
- Advertising in your local paper
- Local pool signs
- Newsletters or emails in any organizations you belong to
- Sponsoring sports events
Don’t expect to get immediate gratification out of it. Plan on advertising for many months, even a couple of years.
Apart from traditional advertising, you should also invest in local SEO. This is a combination of digital efforts that can help you rank for things like “estate planning lawyer near me” and other local searches.
Here are a few ways you can start ranking:
- Do keyword research on Google Keyword Planner or a more sophisticated tool like SEMRush. Look for how people are searching for your services and build a list of keywords like “estate planning [your city]” to target.
- Once you have them, make pages on your site that say those keywords along with other relevant information. You can set your URL to the keyword as well, for example: yourwebsite.com/estate-planner-nashville
- Don’t just stuff your website with keywords, though. The idea is to make it as helpful and readable as possible. Google rewards websites based on engagement.
- You should also completely fill out your Google My Business profile and submit your business and website to all local directories like YellowPages, etc. This helps build “backlinks”, which strengthen your website’s “authority”.
It will take people a while to really notice and remember you, but you’ll be surprised at how useful it is once it pays off. You’ll become the “estate planning” person in your community, and that pays dividends for years.
Tip #5: Host a Professional Luncheon
It’s not cheap to put on a luncheon for other professionals, but they are a great way to showcase technical knowledge and personality. You won’t walk away with a dozen new referral sources but even if you pick up just one it will pay for itself in a matter of months.
If you’re going to do it, be sure to choose a higher-end restaurant and aim for 20-40 people. Too few people in attendance projects a lack of demand for you, but too many people creates an impersonal environment — making it harder to connect.
And the secret to making it work? Keep it brief and light, touch on current events, be sure to inject real-life examples, and whenever possible make it count for CEC.
Do the Work to Give Your Clients CEC Credits
Look into what it takes to get your attendees Continuing Education Credits. Both financial advisors and accountants require a certain number of what we lawyers call “CLE”, and if your presentation qualifies for say 1.5 or 2 hours of education credit, you’ve got more of an incentive and won’t feel like you’re just wasting their time.
Prepare a Good Presentation
In addition to offering a quality meal and CEC credits, put the work in to make a quality presentation. Give a handout that contains relevant information. Think hard about what’s on people’s minds. Ask them what they’re curious about beforehand. Tell them a little bit about yourself and your process, and be transparent about your prices.
And if you happen to have any particularly interesting cases in the office, tell your attendees about them, but be sure to change the names to protect the innocent! People love to hear an interesting story about a real-life situation.
Don’t Skimp on the Follow-up
As with all marketing, staying in touch with people is critical. After the luncheon be sure you are emailing or mailing pieces to your attendees. Plan on a dozen or more pieces over the following year. Staying on their minds is critical to future work.
Tip #6: Be Really Good at What You Do
In the long term, the best thing you can do to market yourself is make the client experience the best it can possibly be. This dramatically increases your word-of-mouth referrals.
There is nothing more convincing than hearing another person whom you can relate to telling you that the services (or goods) provided by another person (or company) are top-notch. That kind of personal testimony can’t be purchased, it must be earned.
So how do you earn it?
Be personal with your clients. Don’t charge for initial meetings. Make sure to be punctual and flexible. And above all, turn the estate plan around in a few weeks, not a few months, if possible. No matter how thorough a job you do with your clients, if you procrastinate getting it done, that is all the client will remember.
And remember that you’re the expert, and it is your job to help the client understand their options, but everyone is different. Some people want all the details, others just want the overview. Figure out as quickly as you can which client type you are dealing with and communicate with them accordingly.
For example, engineers are going to want to know how everything works, salespeople will want to keep it light. There is always technical ground that needs to be covered, but there is always more than one way to communicate things.
In other words, soft skills make a big difference.
Tip #7: Stay Connected With Your Clients
It’s entirely too common for lawyers to finish an estate plan for a client and then rarely, if ever, talk to them again. We are not in a “sticky” business, so once the estate plan is complete, you don’t have many excuses to contact your clients.
There is no need for you to send them annoying sales emails on things they don’t need, but there are smart ways to stay in touch. This will ensure that you are top-of-mind for any of their friends or family and remind them of what your services are.
There are two great ways to do this.
1. Send Thoughtful Updates
If there is a big change in estate law or something in the zeitgeist that affects how someone should think about estate planning, write a bit on it and send it in an email. This will remind your past clients that you are the expert in this arena.
2. Use Software That Offers an Easy Reason to Reach Back Out
There are few better reasons to reach back out to a client than reminding them of the importance of keeping their estate documents up to date. If you keep those documents in a digital service that you introduced them to, then you can develop a recurring online experience that keeps you in touch.
For example, our application, LawSafe®, is an online storage portal specifically designated to store clients’ estate planning documents and all the information fiduciaries need to know in case of an emergency.
With your white-label branding on the platform, LawSafe® keeps you personally connected with your clients and their families for as many as 10 years after they sign your estate planning document.
It’s a brilliant referral system because your client’s most trusted family members will be a part of the account, which means they will get an idea of who you are and what you do — plus you can earn $100 or more on each engagement by setting it up for them.
LawSafe® also gives you a reason to have annual and billable “maintenance meetings.”
I use LawSafe® to have billable meetings every other year to stay in touch, and it helps my clients stay organized after the estate planning documents get signed. Every time they log in, they see my face and are reminded that I am a part of their team.
For more on LawSafe® and how you can get an entire year for free, go here.
Tip #8: Meet Other Professionals Serving the Same Space
As mentioned with the luncheon, networking with other professionals such as financial advisors, accountants, and insurance professionals may be the most effective marketing tool — old-fashioned, yes, tried and tested, you bet.
You should be doing everything you can to meet these people.
There are numerous networking groups for financial professionals, like the Financial Planners Association, and be on the lookout for accountant and advisor meeting groups – they are always looking for speakers and content.
There’s built-in mutual respect that comes with meeting people who are of a similar age and at a similar point in their careers. The goal is to find a group of professionals you respect and can grow with together.
Plus, meeting other professionals is easier and more fun than you may think. This can be very rewarding if you approach it from the perspective of finding good people who have overlapping interests.
If you methodically reach out to every other professional with whom you cross paths, you’ll eventually and inevitably find people you genuinely enjoy being around. These are the people most likely to give you referrals in the long run.
Here are a few ways to meet other professionals in your area.
- Ask your existing clients, friends, and family members if they work with any financial advisors or accountants you meet.
- Become an active member in relevant online communities
- Join networking groups
Tip #9: Participate in Legal Plans
Lots of companies offer legal plans as benefits to their employees, and you can get a lot of good business by working with them. These plans are created by MetLife and AragLegal, and while you won’t make as much money from these clients, you’ll get a lot of good experience and potentially make good relationships that will serve you moving forward.
Contact your state and local Bar Associations for referral lists to get started.
Tip #10: Use Court Appointments for More Early Experience
Similarly, court appointments are good places to find work and experience, but you won’t find a lot of money here. You can contact your local county probate court and see if you can get involved in their “guardian ad litem” programs where judges assign cases that require an independent attorney.
Final Words on Estate Planning Marketing
There’s no silver bullet in the world of marketing. It often feels like pushing a boulder up a hill, but with enough consistent effort and good work, those efforts will begin to snowball into something that reliably brings in good leads and good clients.
Your business will always require maintenance, but you’ll find that the pressure will lift over time as you become established.