ELITE ADVISOR BEST PRACTICES
Building Alliances with Attorneys
A proven process for working with private client lawyers
By Jonathan Powell
- Alliances with attorneys are powerful sources of business growth.
- There are key differences between alliances with attorneys and alliances with other professionals.
- Best advice: Use a systematic process to find potential partners and create your alliances.
As I pointed out in a previous article, alliances with private client attorneys can help you grow your business dramatically. No other type of lawyer comes close to the private client lawyer—who specializes in the areas of trusts and estates as well as in wealth protection—in terms of working with a consistent stream of affluent clients who could benefit from wealth management.
To form such an alliance successfully, it’s important to understand how alliances with attorneys differ from alliances with other professionals (such as accountants) and to have a strategic plan.
Attorneys vs. Accountants
Start by comparing alliances with accountants to alliances with attorneys, which differ in several key ways:
- “Economic glue.” Strategic alliances with CPAs usually include a revenue-sharing agreement. The most effective glue in a strategic alliance with an attorney is indirect financial incentives.
- Level of formality. Strategic alliances with accountants are guided by formalized agreements. In contrast, alliances with attorneys are informal affairs with less structure.
- Point of contact. CPA alliances typically require consensus about the agreement from all partners concerned. Strategic alliances with attorneys are much different. You will usually work with only one attorney at a firm.
- Type of accountant/attorney. Strategic alliances are workable with a number of different types of accountants, but strategic alliances with attorneys are most effective with private client lawyers only.
Steps to successful strategic alliances with attorneys
CEG Worldwide recommends the following process for creating successful strategic alliances with private client lawyers:
Step 1. Determine the most suitable potential partners. The best partners are the trusts and estates attorneys of your wealthiest, most ideal clients. If none of your clients has these relationships, contact the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (www.actec.org) or the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils (www.naepc.org).
Step 2. Narrow to top five candidates. Focus on highly respected attorneys in your area who specialize in trusts and estates, work extensively with wealthy clients, share your target market and are interested in growing their business.
Step 3. Make the initial call to explore a working relationship. Set up appointments to discuss joint opportunities for working together. Your goal is to start exploring ideas about how a strategic alliance might be mutually beneficial.
Step 4. Conduct an exploratory meeting. Your objective for the exploratory meeting is to determine whether the attorney is right for you and whether you should continue the exploration process. You want to learn as quickly as possible whether he or she is a good candidate who justifies the time that will be necessary to form a highly profitable strategic alliance. Remember that in every meeting the other party always wonders, “What’s in it for me?” To answer this question effectively, you must confidently communicate that there is a substantial business development opportunity for your firms to work together, assuming the other party is the right candidate for a strategic alliance.
Next, uncover the key issues for which you should drill down in order to complete your assessment, by asking questions such as the following:
- What are the three key services your clients are asking you for today?
- On what target market(s) are you interested in focusing?
- Who is your ideal client?
- What services do you provide to your clients?
- How do you differentiate your practice from your competition?
- What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your practice today?
- What has been your experience in working with other financial advisors?
Step 5. Share industry research. Walk the attorney through the key concerns that private client lawyers face. Describe each challenge briefly, pointing out that many of these same concerns are shared by financial advisors and that you have expertise in solving these challenges.
Step 6. Make a decision. If it doesn’t make sense for you to form a strategic alliance with the attorney given the responses you’ve heard, simply thank the attorney for meeting with you. If working with this attorney seems like an exciting opportunity, set up a second meeting to brainstorm.
Step 7. Identify opportunities to work together. At the brainstorming meeting, ask questions at a deeper level to uncover significant opportunities that can be tapped in your strategic action plan—including questions about the attorney’s client relationships, business goals and marketing efforts. Your goal is to expose the opportunities, objectives and expectations for the future that you and your potential attorney partner have in common.
Step 8. Draw up and present your recommendations. Using the interviews from the two meetings, assess the range of marketing and client development challenges that the attorney faces. Draw up a list of the top five challenges that you identified. Describe five specific recommendations that will address each of the attorney’s major concerns (examples might be using a process for getting introductions or adopting a service checklist). Articulate specific positive outcomes that the attorney should expect from implementing your ideas—for example, increased affluent client business and better relationships with existing clients.
Step 9. Get agreement from the attorney. Address and satisfy any questions or concerns the attorney presents, and then gain a firm commitment for moving ahead with your recommendations.
Step 10. Assist in implementing the recommendations. As soon as you receive agreement on your business enhancement recommendations, assist the attorney in carrying them out as needed. It is extremely important to have some successes early on in order for both parties to remain committed, so work to ensure that this happens.