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Law Business Manifesto

15 Steps to Jump-Start an Estate Planning Law Practice

I’m often asked how I went from being a stay-at-home mom to a practicing lawyer.

Every single time, I have flashbacks of all the separate moments it took to first decide to go to law school, to return to studying full time for the first time in 25 years, all the way to passing the bar and then finally to the decision to be my own boss.

None of these were easy decisions at the time, but they feel incredibly liberating in hindsight.

When I passed the bar, the job market for lawyers was at an all time low (and still is!). I realized that I had little choice but to be a legal entrepreneur if I wanted to have any measure of control over my life.

Litigation was not an option for me—I did not want to live my life by a court’s docket calendar. The work available for children’s law pays too little to keep the ship afloat. And law firm jobs would demand 60-80 in office hours a week—far too much time away from my home and family than I was willing to give.

Then a cousin described to me her harrowing experience of probate and conservatorship after her young husband died years ago. I realized that parents have very little access to the legal information they need to make informed decisions about what would happen in an emergency or a tragedy. My own experience in the juvenile court system told me that there had to be a better way to ensure the best care of our kids possible than relying on an overburdened court system.

After a deeper inquiry with Alexis about what I really wanted out of my legal work I decided to become an estate planner.

But then when I finally committed, the first question I had was, naturally, “Where do I start?”

The practical, list-making side of me went right to work! I started with the most obvious.

My startup list ended up looking like this:

1.     Organize my company and file documents with the State

2.     Get a phone line and an email database setup

3.     Make sure my computer was in tip top shape

4.     Decide who I was going to serve, specifically

5.     Write up a firm vision, what I was going to do, for whom, and how

6.     Get a virtual receptionist

7.   Decide which drafting platform I’d use and get that contract signed (I landed on WealthCounsel and love it)

8.     Learn how to engage clients

9.     Put my intention out to my community and ask for referrals

10.  Learn what people want/need from their plan

11.  Design and execute my own plan

12.  Meet with my first clients

13.  Design and execute my first clients’ plan

14.  Learn from why I did and refine the process

15.  Rinse and repeat

As I was learning my craft along the way, I sought out almost every book and CLE I could find on estate planning. I took the State’s basic estate planning class that I found to be way over my head. I went to see probate cases in court. I reached out to our local probate registrars and asked them questions. I met with other attorneys who really didn’t have the time or inclination to take on a new attorney unless they stood to make some money on them.

Eventually, I pieced together what I needed to know from each of these sources, working through fundamental concepts as they arose in my work, applying them to real world clients in real time.

One of the downsides to this approach is that there were plenty of potential clients that allowed me to study their situations and come up with solutions and ideas but that I wasn’t able to engage simply because I didn’t know enough.

By the time I felt I really understood the basics, I’d plunked down about $10,000 on additional education outside of law school to learn my trade. And I’d missed a lot of revenue opportunity simply due to the lag time in learning my trade.

It became super clear that no one was teaching the basics! Every class, book, and mentor I had started with complex concepts like the Unlimited Marital Deduction, and A/B trust planning or asset protection planning.

How can we even begin to understand what these are if we don’t know the basic rules of the game? That was when I decided that I wanted to teach what I’d learned to other lawyers that I saw struggling like me to acquire their knowledge base.

And that is, of course, how we developed the Estate Planning Bootcamp, but that’s a whole other story we’ve told before! (You can read much of that story in this one article.)

When I coach other lawyers, I find that many of colleagues feel overwhelmed with the complexities of both starting a business and learning a trade at the same time. It does feel overwhelming…

That’s a natural part of the process of becoming the lawyer you (I) want to be. You’re taking the fast track to being self-reliant. Sometimes it’s going to be terrifying.

When you move from a feeling of excitement to feeling terror, it helps to remember you’re delivering a valuable service in a transformative way that actually helps people become better parents, better partners, and better community members.

It also helps to know that you don’t have to recreate the wheel. There are resources already developed and practitioners willing to support your growth.

If I have one piece of advice for any lawyer entering the field of estate planning, it’s:

Don’t panic.

You can do it. Take things step by step. Trust yourself to find and take the right actions for you. The rewards will be swift, and long-term. Enjoy the ride!

Want to learn more?

 

About the Contributor
Martha Hartney
Martha Hartney's is a successful Estate Planning lawyer in Colorado and co-creator of the Estate Planning Bootcamp. As a Law Business Mentor her greatest hope is to help other lawyers claim, or reclaim, the joy and the spiritual pursuit of being a lawyer.

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