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Practice Development Section

Enhancing the Client Experience and Growing Your Practice

By Eric J. Einhart, Esq.

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Learn how you can expand your client base and create greater stability for your firm. 

Most attorneys in private practice have the same essential goals — “grow my practice and better serve my clients.”

When you consider the ways to grow your practice, there are two fundamental strategies: expand your client base and offer additional services. This article will focus on various ways to expand the services offered in your practice and what to consider before you do so.

Many attorneys who practice elder law and special needs planning have already expanded their services beyond the traditional core practice areas. For those who have not yet taken the leap, it is worth investigating since it could help generate additional revenue streams and create greater stability for your firm.

At my firm, Russo Law Group, P.C., we have incorporated several additional legal and non-legal services into our practice that have served our clients well and allowed us to grow our business. Throughout the years, our firm has strategically embraced several ancillary services to complement our core practice areas of estate planning, elder law, and special needs planning. This strategy has helped us to provide a more robust number of services to our existing clients, expand our client base, and create greater stability for our firm.

Here are some of the services we have incorporated into our practice throughout the years as well as some lessons we have learned along the way.

Trust and Estate Administration
Representing fiduciaries of trusts and estates is the most natural expansion of services for our existing clients as we have planned for their lives and when they pass. We have drafted the relevant trust or last will and testament and are very familiar with the terms of the documents and related issues.

It may seem obvious, but you should always offer to meet with the nominated fiduciary upon the passing of a testator and/or settlor and offer to represent the fiduciary. This creates the possibility of providing several additional services in other practice areas, such as surrogate’s court practice, real estate, and tax preparation.

Real Estate
In addition to preparing deeds, our firm represents clients in the purchase and sale transactions of residential property, commercial and residential lease agreements, assignments of leases, as well as preparing mortgages and promissory notes.

These services can be part of an existing service you are providing for a client, such as preparing a new lease for rental property held in a Medicaid asset protection trust or a deed transfer to fund a revocable trust to avoid probate. In addition, these services may be offered to supplement the core service being provided to the client. It is critical to create a system in your office to provide the service in an efficient manner that can add to your bottom line. In addition, rendering these services to your client will help strengthen your relationship, which can generate additional opportunities for your firm in the future.

Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
When you consider the current divorce rate in the United States and the number of second marriages that we see as estate planning and elder law attorneys, the preparation of prenuptial and postnuptial agreements is an essential tool in properly serving our clients.

This is a service that fits in with the planning you are recommending to your clients. If you are not familiar with these agreements, it is advisable that you attend continuing legal education seminars/webinars on this topic and become familiar with your local matrimonial and family statutes and case law.

Medicaid Applications
After assisting clients with creating and implementing plans to help them become eligible for Medicaid, the need to further assist our clients with Medicaid applications is a natural complement to our existing services.

This service allows us to strengthen our relationship with our clients, develop helpful relationships with local departments of social services, and generate additional revenue.

It is advisable that you establish a well-thought-out internal system for the Medicaid application process before incorporating this service into your practice. This can include detailed checklists of the information you will need from the client for the application as well as the documents and items needed to accompany the application. At the outset, you should also advise the client in writing as to the nature and scope of documents you will need to properly prepare the application and communicate with the client about any outstanding items until the application is approved.

Home Care Coordination and Consulting
Most of our clients wish to age in place. However, many clients are not familiar with the care they may need to do so. To help our clients age in place, our firm routinely works with social workers and/or geriatric care managers who can help clients develop a plan for care, provide information on care options, assess the individual’s risks (home safety check and fall prevention), and facilitate referrals to appropriate support services. These services can help ensure the well-being and safety of our clients.

This relationship can be a source of cross-referrals. As an alternative, you may want to consider bringing these services in-house.

These services can help ensure the well-being and safety of our clients.

Nursing Home Placement
We often work with clients and their families on selecting the appropriate nursing home for their loved one, communicating with the facility, and helping them with the application process. If Medicaid is involved, the nursing home can be comforted by knowing that their resident has legal counsel assisting them with Medicaid eligibility and the application process, although this may not be the kind of service that generates tremendous revenue, these efforts are always appreciated by our clients since they provide help during a time in their lives when they are faced with great stress and confusion. This is the kind of service that, when done correctly, will turn a client and their family into lifelong ambassadors for your firm.

It is important to inform the client in writing that your firm cannot guarantee the quality of services provided by any nursing home. You should also offer to assist the client with addressing any concerns about the long-term care services should the need arise.

Pooled Trusts
We often meet with clients who are overwhelmed simply by the concept of a pooled trust, let alone the process of selecting and funding one. By helping our clients navigate the process of selecting and funding the appropriate pooled trust, we can ensure that the assets placed in the pooled trusts will not adversely impact the client’s government benefits as well as the proper administration of the trust assets. This can provide the client with peace of mind in knowing that an experienced professional helped them make a sound decision, and that process was done correctly.

Tax Preparation
Throughout the years our firm has invested significant time and resources to incorporate fiduciary, gift, and estate tax preparation into our practice. We regularly represent clients in the preparation of state and federal fiduciary income tax returns, state and federal estate tax returns, and federal gift tax returns. Our clients benefit from their tax and legal needs being met under one roof and appreciate the additional tax expertise we bring to estate planning. These services also help generate additional revenue and strengthens our client relationships.

To incorporate successful tax preparation services to your practice, you must become familiar with tax law, learn how to prepare tax returns, and become proficient in tax preparation software. You must also have a good internal system for obtaining and reviewing the appropriate tax information and documentation necessary to prepare the returns.

Social Security Disability
Our firm has created an “of counsel” relationship to represent clients in the application and appeals process for Social Security Disability (SSD). Since most applications are initially denied, a significant portion of our client representation in this practice area is in the appeals process.

If you are not successful in your initial appeal of the denied application, there are several additional levels to the appeals process. Each step of the process can take months or even years to complete and a successful outcome oftentimes hinges on continuous and thorough medical records.

The legal fees for these services, which are contingent upon a successful outcome of the appeal, are by law 25 percent of the award not to exceed $6,000. The fee is paid directly to the attorney by the government from the SSD award amount after a successful appeal. This payment structure helps eliminate any collection issues the attorney may have with the client.

Since the fees are contingent upon a successful appeal that can take a long time to occur, the attorney must develop an excellent internal process for vetting clients, and consistently track and obtain the medical evidence that will be necessary to win the appeal. You must also have an adequate volume of cases or steady stream of cases to develop the skillset necessary to be successful in this area of practice and to generate the revenue to justify the investment.

Providing Quality Legal Services
There are many other legal and non-legal services that may complement your core practice areas. Some such services and practice areas not mentioned above are as follows:

• Guardianship practice

• Special education

• Mental health law

• Business succession planning

• Helping clients with Medicare issues

• Advising clients on long-term care insurance

• Acting as a fiduciary

• Assisting clients with establishing corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships, non-profits, etc.

Don't Dabble

It is important to note that when­ever you expand your services, you must fully commit to learning the skills necessary to become proficient in that area. You must also ensure that you have the resources to adequately serve your clients. If you do not, then your clients may suffer from your growing pains, and you may be subject to unwanted liability. In short, don’t dabble.

If you are interested in adding additional services to your practice but are concerned about the time and resources needed to do so, you may want to consider bringing in an experienced attorney in the chosen practice area or create an “of counsel” relationship with an attorney with experience in one or more of these areas. You could also create a referral system that will not only create good will with your clients but potential referrals for your services. Teaming up with a network of non-legal professionals, such as social workers, geriatric care managers, financial advisors, and accountants can also help expand your client base and allow you to increase the services you are providing.

Concentrating your efforts on expanding your practice to offer additional services can be time-consuming, a commitment to resources, and push you outside of your comfort zone. But as the saying goes, “no pain no gain.”

About the Author
Eric J. Einhart, Esq., is a partner with the law firm of Russo Law Group, P.C., who actively practices elder law and special needs planning in New York. He is NAELA News editor-in-chief and a member of the NAELA Board of Directors.