For many elder law attorneys, the question of pricing can cause a lot of anxiety. That’s because lawyers feel the pressure to prove value in an industry where pricing — no matter how fair and legitimate — still causes sticker shock for many clients.
If you’ve struggled to have the price conversation with clients, or found yourself reducing your prices to appease clients in uncomfortable client meetings, then you may benefit from the expertise and counsel of other professionals in the elder law community. It's important to get pricing right in order to successfully grow your elder law practice.
This very topic was the subject of a panel discussion at one of ElderCounsel’s Symposium events, where attendees got some valuable advice and takeaways that we’ll share with you here.
So, how can elder law attorneys position their fees to alleviate some of the anxiety of that initial client consultation and shift the focus to value over price point?
According to Steve Riley, a consultant to attorneys across the nation on everything from pricing to practice management, the price conversation depends on the stage of the practice. Pricing strategies will be different for a practitioner that’s been in business for 30 years vs. one that’s been in business for three, for example. Overall, Riley says the pricing conversation has to be a contextual one and that elder law attorneys need to begin educating the client about his or her issue even prior to their meeting with you.
“Don’t wait until the first meeting to educate them,” he says. Riley encourages attorneys to use the tools available, including webinars and resource guides, to begin educating clients before they ever set foot in your office. Most clients don’t know enough about their problem or issue to think about it critically enough to ask effective questions in that first meeting. But by prepping them ahead of time you can educate them, and begin showing your value before they ever meet you face to face.
Kristin Yokomoto, who practices estate planning, trust administration and business planning as a partner with Albrecht & Barney in Orange County, California, echoes Riley’s sentiment. She says that while most clients think they know what services they need, you as the expert will be the one to actually reveal what the true need is and to help educate them about the best course of action.
“You just have to get them into the right box,” she says.
Turning cost consciousness into a value proposition
Yokomoto told Symposium attendees that it’s important to shift the conversation from the cost of services to the value and savings that can be achieved by proactive planning. That can be a powerful conversation that helps the client shift his or her focus from fees to value.
To that end, she talks to her clients about various scenarios. For example, if a client does nothing and they have a $30-million estate, she informs them of the losses they are opening themselves and their children or heirs up to — possibly millions of dollars vs. spending $20,000-$30,000 in prevention today.
“Really walking through that helps most people,” she says.
Of course, many clients will already be more value conscious than price conscious.
“For many it’s not the size of the check but that they are comfortable that you are providing them with value and helping them take care of something important of value — their kids, their grandkids, their business, or their employees,” says Kevin Forbush, who owns an estate, business and tax planning practice in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “Once you can get over that hump then the entire cost, value, pricing discussion becomes more productive because you can convey that value.”
Still, many elder law attorneys struggle when it comes to selling themselves, particularly those that are newer to the practice.
“The most important thing to get comfortable with is the value that you bring to the table,” Forbush says. “The people that we work with don’t have the context to understand and assess their issues.”
Having advisors in your network can also help with the client confidence factor, according to Yokomoto. That’s because when clients come to your elder law practice via trusted advisors, there is already an inherent buy-in for the value you provide.
Once you’ve met with the clients face to face, you can begin establishing rapport to build a personal level of trust. By establishing that relationship, most attorneys find that fees become less of an issue and that initial sticker shock goes away.
Trust continues to grow when clients begin to see that you understand their needs perhaps better than they do and that you can help them achieve more than they could on their own.
“I always ask people what their objectives are,” Forbush says. “They think they need a will and I say, ‘how do you know?’”
While there are tools or documents that clients can conceivably prepare on their own, they lack the value of the strategic planning and insight that your services can provide.
“What they can’t do (on their own) is create a successful plan that will help them match their objectives to the outcomes that a good plan can get,” Forbush says.
To that end, it’s important to redirect the client conversation away from tools and to really get them thinking about what it is they’re trying to accomplish.
Revealing the details
It takes more than one meeting to get to the crux of a client’s big picture. For example, in the first meeting when you ask about family and children, your client may paint a rosier picture, and as you get to know them and their situation, more honest details — such as strained family relationships, or substance-abuse issues — may be revealed.
“We can’t solve the problem until we know what it is,” Forbush said. “Our clients don’t know, so you have to help them discover it. And they don’t care about the check that they’re writing once they know you’re really helping them solve a problem.”
When it comes to setting fees, Riley said that it’s important to remember that all value occurs in the client’s head. Pricing strategies should be outlined with that in mind. He says collaboration is the best way to drive up prices, and advises attorneys to establish a client advisory board of 10-20 people which represents the ideal demographic and test prices.
“Talk to them about how you should talk to prospects,” he says. “It’s a great focus group.”
He suggests that attorneys establish a pricing guide for their marketplace based on this focus group research and testing.
At the end of the day, fees become secondary so long as you’ve given your client the confidence that you are the right firm and that you will help them navigate the planning they actually need based on your expertise vs. their own assumptions. Once you’ve proven that level of value, the fee conversation will become much more comfortable for both you and your clients.
If you’d like to learn more about the resources and community of elder law attorneys that can help you navigate questions about fees and other issues relative to your practice, contact us to learn more about the benefits of ElderCounsel membership .
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