A basketball team filled with point guards with no shooting guards, forwards or centers wouldn’t fare very well. A football team made up exclusively of offensive lineman, without a quarterback, running backs or wide receivers (not to mention a defense) wouldn’t win any games either. Just as sports teams require athletes of different sizes, shapes and skills; your legal team requires many people with different attributes to provide the best client service.

How do you go about doing that?

Early in my career I was one of three attorneys in our office. Each one of us had one secretary; we also had one drafting assistant that we all shared, along with a bookkeeper and receptionist.

That was it. And I was miserable.

I spent a majority of my time drafting documents for clients, a skill that I am quite good at, but one that is not the highest and best use of my time. Nor was it in the best interest of my clients for me to be locked up in my office, not taking telephone calls or scheduling conferences because “I had to get the work out.”

“Won’t these clients stop calling me, wondering where the drafts of their documents are” I wondered in frustration. “If they only would leave me alone I’d be able to get the work done.”

Concentrate on What You Enjoy Doing

Then there was the matter of bringing in new clients. In order to be successful, estate planning practices require a continuing influx of new clients. Where was I to find the time to meet with referral sources, write professional articles, conduct workshops and perform the other tasks that one does in order to keep our doors open?

That’s when I realized that I had the whole thing backwards. My A+ activities don’t center on holing myself up in an office and drafting documents. What I truly enjoy doing and can do all day without losing energy is developing marketing systems, front stage and back stage processes, meeting with clients to develop their estate plans, and schmoozing with referral sources. So I had to figure out how to free myself up to do those things, while providing the best client service possible.

And you know what? To do just that requires a team.

But like the basketball team with only point guards I alluded to at the beginning of this article, it requires building a team complete with different capabilities and mindsets. I couldn’t hire a bunch of Mini-me’s (an Austin Powers reference for those who don’t know) and find success. When I looked at a number of different professional offices that I work with, I noticed that’s exactly what they had. Everyone seemed to fit the mold of the founding partner. That’s fairly easy to do without putting much thought into the hiring process since we all tend to feel the most comfortable with those who are similar to us.

Determine Skill Sets Needed

So the first step in the building a team process was to consider what skill sets I needed to hire for.  If I don’t enjoy drafting, I had to find attorneys who do enjoy that and are skilled at it. Same with my support staff, who prepare funding documents, draft probate pleadings and deal with client clerical issues.

How do you go about finding those people? When interviewing, how can you tell who you are hiring is someone that fits the description of the needed mindset and skills?

There are a variety of online tests that work very well.  The one I most rely on is the Kolbe system. The Kolbe profile is a short online quiz that takes no more than thirty minutes to complete. There are no “right” or “wrong” answers, as the test is designed to reveal your propensities for dealing with day to day decision making. It creates a profile based on four attributes – “Fact Finder”, “Follow-Through”, “Quick Start”, and “Implementer”.   I don’t have enough space in this column to flesh out what each of these mean, you can go online or even buy Kathy Kolbe’s book which will give you far more insight.

Not only is there a test to determine your profile, but there is another profile that you can take where you indicate the certain attributes of the position you wish to fill. The program then compares a candidate’s propensities to the profile you created for the position. I had everyone (including me) in my organization take the Kolbe profile, and the results were informative and enlightening. It fostered better delegation between the attorneys and staff, and better communication amongst all of us.

We have branched out beyond Kolbe and also use the DISC profile  and Strengthsfinder. Both provide different types of information on all of our team members, and have assisted us in creating what I believe to be a fantastic working atmosphere.

While personality profiles aren’t meant to be the “end all and be all”, they can serve as a useful tool when building a bigger team than an attorney and his secretary, which brings me to my next point. You might be wondering how you are going to afford hiring more attorneys and staff.

Differentiating Yourself in the Marketplace

To differentiate yourself in the marketplace you are going to have to bring more to the table than a traditional law firm. The level of service of a good estate planning firm should include more than the mere planning and drafting of documents. I can’t count the number of times, for example, a client has arrived at my office to review a revocable trust plan created elsewhere where nothing has been funded into the trust. The client was provided an instruction sheet and told to go transfer all of their assets by themselves.

That’s not a complete estate plan.

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