A few weeks ago, I went to my college lacrosse team 20 year reunion of our 1990 national championship team. I played for syracuse university lacrosse and it had been about 10 years since I visited the university. What I found interesting is that the lacrosse program is as successful now as it was when I attended the university. Since I left syracuse, they have won 7 more national titles. How did this program become so successful? What are they doing well that other programs should learn from? I think you can learn a lot from successful organizations, especially about the types of habits they develop.
My return flight from syracuse was delayed and I decided to attend a lacrosse practice to see how the practices have changed since I attended over 20 years ago. What surprised me is that the core or base practice drills the team was running were essentially the same drills I had been taught 20 years ago. We had a specific system and routine that we followed every day and I saw the kids doing the same thing that we used to do. The system produced the consistent results and it was the focus on the system and the mastery of the system that produced these positive and different results. I guess the old adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” really is true.
I thought about my law practice and about how are firm has developed since we started focusing on our process and our system. Traditionally, law firms do not really have an estate planning process or an identifiable system. Most attorneys are focused on producing documents and their system is basically their computer. When we changed our focus on producing a plan that works for the client WHEN they actually need it to work (disability/death) it is supposed to work, then our system changed. We needed to develop a process to title assets properly, commuicate updates to the clients on a routine basis, educating the family, etc. When we were able to clearly see our goal in this manner, our system started to take form and our team (the law firm) starting focusing on fine tuning our process so that we were producing tremendous results for our clients.
For example, every year we hold a “What to Do” workshop for our clients and their families. What to do when a loved one becomes disabled and What to do when a loved one passes away. We have found that clients and their families don’t know the first two things to do when a significant event like disability or death occurs. We initially designed this workshop to address these issues. However, through the years clients have given us consistent feedback that it would be good to have a “Helper’s Handbook” that the clients and family members could have in their possession and reference when needed. So our law firm team developed this “Helper’s Handbook” and continued to refine it to meet our clients’ expectations. So every year, our team practices and focuses on making our ” What to Do” programs better and how we can make our handbook better. Focusing our efforts on making the clients life easier helps clarify the law firm goals and brings the team together to create successful plans.
My point is that I belive estate planning is a process and is not just a transaction or document. Some attorneys are more “word processing” oriented and our focused on the documents as the end result, while other attorneys are focused on counselling and the actual plan results (did the plan work smoothly or was it painful, long, expensive process?). We find that we get consistent positive results when we focus our systems on counselling the family. The way we “practice” and refine our system is by constantly looking at our process and asking the following questions:
1) What are we doing well in our planning process?
2) What do we need to improve on or what aren’t we doing so well?
3) What aren’t we doing that we should be doing?
By objectively looking at our practice and mastering our systems (just like the lacrosse team working on the same drills every day until they master them) we provide consistent results for the clients. Maybe this is a simple point, however, I find that this point is often overlooked.
This blog is not intended to provide tax, legal, financial advice. It is simply a forum to express my opinions of issues that I see on a daily basis.