How to Strike Gold in the Initial Client Consultation

Sep 8, 2017 10:00:00 AM

One of the most beneficial tools for estate planning practices is often the most underutilized: the personal information form. The information collected on this intake form sets the stage for a successful initial client meeting and a fruitful and satisfying long-term relationship between attorney and client. A completed form helps attorneys guage clients’ values, concerns and goals which can guide discussion during an initial consultation and yields optimal asset protection planning.

The key to an effective information form is asking the “right questions.” For example, attorneys can learn a lot about clients based on their listed assets, including the number and type of vehicles they own or the collectibles they acquire. Equally valuable insights are gained through non-asset-related information, such as philanthropic interests or details clients divulge about their children and pets.

Don’t be afraid to get personal

Estate planning documents being signedDiscovering this information is invaluable to helping lawyers customize their initial consultations in order to quickly build rapport with new and prospective clients. With conversation tailored specifically to them, clients will feel valued and listened to, and will be willing to dig deeper and share more during that important first meeting.

This type of information can also help lawyers put clients at ease who may be nervous during their initial meeting. Consultations can sometimes feel too formal, and clients tend to worry and focus on how much the attorney is going to charge them. Coming to the professional relationship with information can break the ice, make the consultation feel more personal, and put anxious clients at ease.

Make the personal information form a requirement

Attorneys should always require that the client complete the form. Estate planning requires a high level of personal engagement to best answer wills, trusts, and estates practice questions from clients. Requiring a little effort on the client’s end will pay off in the long run. Plus, this will prove to attorneys that clients are invested and serious about completing the estate planning process.

In addition to serving as a barometer of client commitment, the personal information form can also serve to pique client interest in areas of estate planning that they might be unfamiliar with. There are a couple “essentials” that should be included in every new client’s personal information form:

  1. General Information - This includes basic information such as date of birth, dates and number of marriages, states of residence, contact information, military service, existing planning documents, etc.
  2. Goals and Philosophies - This can include general goals about what is important to the client, charitable planning opportunities, and what specific concerns they wish to discuss.   
  3. Assets - This section should ask the client about life insurance policies, retirement and investment accounts, homes, properties, or businesses they might own.
  4. Children - This section should include basic questions about age, where the child lives, parentage, and special concerns such as disabilities, addictions, or other medical issues.

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