(Photo: Alexis Katz)
By Becky Holladay, California Business Journal.
The old model of estate planning and small business law is broken, according to Alexis Katz.
“We’ve been taught to see ourselves as document drafters,” she says, “and the truth is that we went to law school to become trusted advisors.”
The “old law business model,” as Katz calls it, means taking on as many clients as possible, drafting as many documents as possible, and communicating as little as possible — an unfulfilling and harried work style for the lawyers that also doesn’t serve the client’s best interests.
Katz, a California licensed estate and business planning lawyer, is also the CEO and founder of the New Law Business Model (NLBM), a program that trains attorneys not only in best estate planning practices, but also on the “new law business model” that focuses on plans that work and a trusted advisor relationship with clients, rather than a “one and done” transactional or hourly-billing based law practice.
The program teaches attorneys how to educate their communities, empower their clients and create an estate plan that will work for the family, or ensure the business is truly set up for ongoing success.
Under the old law business model, pressed-for-time-lawyers often create ineffective estate plans with sometimes devastating consequences. A bad estate plan — or worse, no plan at all — can lead to time spent in probate court, lost assets, children put in the care of the wrong people, undesired healthcare decisions, and ultimately unnecessary stress and conflict for loved ones.
Katz knew when she went to law school that she wanted to help families — she just wasn’t sure how. It was in her final year at Georgetown University Law Center when her father-in-law passed away that she started down the path of estate planning. A poorly drawn-up estate plan put Katz and her then-husband in Probate Court, which was the exact opposite of her father-in-law’s intentions.
“At the time, I thought that his lawyers had committed malpractice, because he had spent $3,000 on an estate plan, and he had done that to keep us out of court and from having to deal with his ex-wife. And then all of the sudden we’re dealing with his ex-wife and the probate court,” Katz says.
Turns out his lawyers hadn’t committed malpractice at all. It was common practice.
So, after law school, Katz went to work in the estate planning department of Munger, Tolles & Olson, and in 2003 started her own practice, Martin Neely and Associates (Katz’s last name was Neely during her marriage).
By creating a system where she could implement plans that would work and inspire clients to pay her properly for them, Katz built a million-dollar practice focused on serving families and small business owners.
There are many reasons why an estate plan fails. Assets may not be properly inventoried, circumstances are always changing, and life events like marriage, babies and death are always happening.
Clients who go the DIY-LegalZoom route — or choose an attorney who is transactional rather than relationally-focused — will “put in place a plan, and never look at it again,” Katz says. “It just gets put in a drawer or on a shelf, assets aren’t owned in the right way, and the family is lost when their loved one becomes incapacitated or dies, even if they’ve got an estate plan.”
This leads to stress and conflict for family members at the worst time, when it’s too late. Giving lawyers the tools to help families create more connection and business owners have more success is one of the core objectives of NLBM.
NLBM trains attorneys to a new way of doing estate planning and business planning and provides attorneys with the business model to support them and their clients, including how to correctly assign guardianship of children, something Katz discovered isn’t properly addressed in most estate plans.
Katz even wrote a book on legal planning for families: Wear Clean Underwear: A Fast, Fun, Friendly — and Essential — Guide to Legal Planning for Busy Parents.
“The current way lawyers are trained to document legal guardianship for children leaves children at risk of being taken into the care of strangers if anything happens to their parents,” Katz says. “Even if it’s temporary, no parent would want their child taken into the care of strangers, no matter what.”
NLBM’s focus is not just on training lawyers to prevent these things from happening to their clients, but also on creating more fulfilling lives for attorneys themselves. Katz’s clients are “lawyers who want to make a great living, a real difference in their clients lives and have complete control over their calendar,” she says. The “relational model” Katz created allows attorneys to truly love their lives and law practices again, and turn their law degree into their most valuable asset.
“The very first thing we do is put our lawyers through a boot camp re-training program that restructures the way that they think about themselves and their legal planning and helps them understand what estate planning and business planning really is from the client’s perspective, not just through the lens of documents — the way we’ve always been taught,” Katz says.
There are online multimedia classes, live coaching calls, and business-training modules to guide attorneys on their schedule, from their home or office, with no travel necessary to make the shift in how they attract, engage, serve and retain clients for life. There is a personalized road map for each attorney, depending on their level of experience, and the program is designed to be adapted to meet each individual attorney’s needs.
In the past decade, New Law Business Model has trained more than 1,600 lawyers, like David Feakes, who today has a million-dollar plus practice in Massachusetts called Parents Estate Planning, and Irene De Jesus, who was a nurse for 30 years before joining New Law Business Model right out of law school. She now makes as much as $18,000 in one week serving clients virtually — part-time.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Robert Galliano, who had been doing estate planning for more than 25 years before finding New Law Business Model, and had lost his love for the practice. After implementing the New Law Business Model, he went on to love his life and law practice, and recently sold his law practice for a seven-figure payout.
Katz feels that she’s finally gotten to that place in her own life where she is helping families and small business owners in the way she always hoped was possible.
“For a long time, I wasn’t sure,” she says. “I knew that I was here to help people and make a difference, but I wasn’t sure if it was possible in the legal field.”
But now when she sees the lawyers getting paid well, having lives they love and making a real difference in their clients’ lives, she knows for sure that this was the right path for her, and that she truly is helping families and business owners, in the way she always dreamed she could.
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