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Way back in 2007, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal cut its estate planning practice. Many industry-watchers speculated that other BigLaw firms would follow suit. Years later, it seems they were correct. Solo and Small Firm guru Carolyn Elefant predicted, both then and now, that solo and small forms stood to gain from the vacuum left behind. We couldn’t agree more.
BigLaw has left the game. Meanwhile, the baby boomer retirement wave is cresting. You know who cares most about estate planning? People with children and senior citizens with assets. Demand is rising just as the biggest firms are retreating.
What steps should you take if you’re thinking of expanding into, or starting, an estate planning practice?
Okay, this is a bit obvious (well, maybe not to some attorneys), but you shouldn't hang an estate planning shingle until you actually know something about wills, estates, and trusts. No, your bar exam outline does not count.
There are a number of ways to get started. Personally, I love having a thorough practice guide handy. If you don't want to drop a few thousand dollars on one of those multi-binder sets, check out your local law library. They'll often have both paper and online copies available. My local library even allows you to access the materials on your own laptop, so long as you're connected to their wireless network.
Besides practice guides, there are also those all-day seminars promising to teach you everything you need to know to get started. Obviously, these vary in quality. The importance of asking around before enrolling can't be stressed enough, especially when many of these courses run in the $700 to $1,000 range. They do, however, help you to meet those pesky CLE requirements.
Finally, remember that education is an ongoing experience. You won't learn the entire field before practicing, nor should you (you do have to start making money eventually). Get the basics down now and remember to set aside time for continuing education. One great trick is to maintain a blog, and write at least one post per week on some interesting practice issue that you've researched recently.
Speaking of blogs, you have thought about online marketing, right? If you've got plenty of time on your hands, you can set up your own site and blog. Otherwise, there are a number of services (like us) that will handle your site and blog for you.
Offline, estate planning might be the epitome of word-of-mouth marketing. Do well for one person, and they'll refer their friends, especially if your rates are reasonable. In the end, referrals will probably make up a majority of your clients.
Speaking of referrals, you'll also want to network with fellow financial and estate planning professionals. If you know a good CPA, financial planner, or life insurance salesperson, referring your clients to them can result in future reciprocity while helping your client as well. Just be sure to check your state bar's rules on referrals -- many prohibit exclusive arrangements.