Why be a trust and estate practitioner?
What does the average client coming for advice from the average trust and estate practitioner expect of his adviser?
Technical knowledge? Of course; if the client would have wanted a talented amateur to carry out his wishes he would either have gone to the golf club or the pub or alternatively visited his local library (if it still exists and has not been closed down because of cuts past, present or future), and taken out the ‘do-it-yourself’ guide book to trust creation and management. It always fascinates me that we think that the greatest skill we bring to our job is the technical knowledge we have.
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So far as our clients are concerned that is probably at the bottom of their shopping list. It is, to use the cliché of our times, “a given”.
A clean waiting room and meeting room is fairly high on the list; cups and saucers for tea and coffee which have been washed properly since the last usage is equally important, but above all empathy with our client’s problems and an obvious determination to reach a conclusion that the client wants even if he has no idea the route to be travelled to arrive there.
We need to be far more client aware and far more sensitive to our client’s wishes than many of us either are or have been trained to be.
If we had wanted to be loved as a professional we would have become a doctor. If we had wished to be regarded as extraordinarily clever we would no doubt have become an actuary and if we wanted to be regarded as numerate we would have become one of the innumerable bean counters with which we are surrounded.
If we chose to become a lawyer it must be for other reasons. In our world it is hardly access to justice for the underprivileged so it has to be something else.
That something else may be resolving a dispute between beneficiaries in respect of a Will which at least one of them thought was unfair; or helping plan the financial future for a disadvantaged child or grandchild of the family. Whatever it is that enthuses us about our job to make us successful, we have to show our client that the technical part of our job is merely a part, and sometimes just a very small part, of what it is we offer to the client. We should be counsellors, a shoulder on which to lean, a member of the extended family or a person from whom sound and practical advice can be obtained. But of course, because we want to be in business in the future, only for a fair fee. We need to demonstrate that the knowledge of the law is subsidiary to recognising the problems and helping resolve them in a sympathetic way.
Not every client can be helped to the conclusion which they wanted, but all of them can and should and must be treated with courtesy and respect and with an empathetic understanding of the issues that they think they face. If clients think we are on their side, even if we have to give unpalatable advice from time to time, they are much more likely to pay our bills in full and promptly. And that is one of the objectives of any business let us not kid ourselves. We may be a professional but we are in the business of giving a professional service.
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