Famed New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is 90 percent mental, the other half is physical!” While Yogi’s math was famously a tad off, we all know that so much in life depends on our mindset. If we believe that today is going to be a good day, then chances are it will be. The opposite also seems to hold true, doesn’t it?
So that’s why I pay such close attention to the mindset of my clients during our initial client conference. Estate planning – including discussing one’s own death – is usually not an enjoyable topic for anyone. Nevertheless, I can tell within the first five minutes of an initial client conference which clients are going to have a transformative experience and which clients will have a frustrating one.
The difference is one of mindset. Those clients, for example, that view estate-planning attorneys as a more expensive version of the online document preparation sites that are found on the Internet really ought to use those sites as opposed to going to a lawyer. Since their mindset is already set on one particular experience and outcome, the law office is unlikely to satisfy.
On the other hand, clients who are looking for a long-term relationship with an attorney who can serve as an important counselor into the next generation have a different mindset that will likely lead to success, particularly in families that have any degree of net worth.
With all that said, allow me to share with you the eight mindsets I have identified leading to a successful attorney-client relationship.
1. Transparent Thinking. If you are willing to share your goals, concerns, family and financial situation with your estate planning attorney, you are well on your way to a successful experience. Not being transparent with your estate planning attorney is much like going to the doctor, complaining of pain that you expect her to fix, but not telling her where it hurts. It’s important for your legal team to realize what works and what doesn’t work in your family to consider the most effective strategies for your situation.
2. Relationship Driven. The best attorney-client relationships are those that are long-term. If you view the creation of your will and advanced directives as a one-time transaction that should be shoved in a drawer for ten years never to see the light of day, then you are setting your family up for a frustrating experience should you become incapacitated or upon your demise.
3. Receptive. If you are open and receptive to your legal team’s expertise in suggesting creative solutions leading to family harmony and protecting your financial well being, chances are you’re going to have several interesting options to meet your goals, transforming your worries into comfort and clarity. Conversely, the client who knows what he wants before stepping foot in the office will limit himself, walling off what could be opportunities to avoid dangers and conflict.
4. Responsive. In order to do an effective job, most estate-planning attorneys will require a significant amount of background information. Those clients who promptly and fully respond to the inquiries will likely be far better satisfied than those who drag the process out because they don’t have the time or gumption to gather and transmit the information.
5. Appreciate Process. Like most things in life, quality results are usually the result of a detailed process that takes a little time. Those that appreciate and understand that estate-planning is a process and not a fill-in-the-blanks transaction will get the most out of their legal team’s efforts.
6. Team Oriented. Good law firms build teams of legal assistants and associates to take care of their clients. Not every question needs to be answered by the partner in charge. Those clients that value teamwork, and are willing, for example, to direct their clerical questions at the team members usually get their answers faster (and for less expense) than those who want each and every response to come from the head honcho.
7. Recognizes Expertise. Recognizing that skill levels between attorneys and law firms matter is another important mindset that translates to success. Those clients who view professionals, whether they are lawyers, doctors, CPAs or engineers, as commodities usually don’t have the best ones working for them. Taking the time to vet your professional means that you are looking for a quality relationship leading to a successful outcome.
8. Expectations. Our society seems to expect everything instantaneously, cheap and of high quality. An old attorney that I used to work with used to tell his clients, “Fast, cheap, right – you can pick any two of the three!” Most of us know that you often “get what you pay for,” whether that is for something like an automobile, fine dining or professional services. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with having high expectations that your estate-planning experience far exceed the price that you pay. Those clients who have that expectation are usually the happiest in my experience.
Before scheduling a conference with your estate-planning attorney, why not take a few moments to review each of these mindsets to see where you might fall on the spectrum? It’s relatively easy to adjust one’s mindset so that you’re primed to achieve the best outcome.