Thursday, March 12, 2009

Have Estate-Planning Lawyers Failed to Adequately Market Their Services?

Yes, according to Alyssa DiRusso and Michael McCunney in their article “Marketing Wills” (2008) 16 Elder Law Journal 101.

The authors write that most American adults die without a will. They suggest that one of the reasons for the high rate of intestacy “is a wholesale failure of the legal industry to effectively market” wills.

They write that consumers of services and products often make decisions after receiving information passively through advertising. People dislike having to research services on their own. The information available to consumers affects not only their decision about whether to buy a product or services, but also the provider.

Because lawyers have not marketed their estate planning services, they have lost many potential clients, who die without a will.

I have tried to summarize this article briefly in order to make my own comments from the perspective of a lawyer in British Columbia. The article goes into far greater depth, and is well worth reading.

I do not know what percentage of British Columbians die without a will, but my guess is that the majority do die with a will, or at least the majority of those with any significant assets. There are of course many people who put off doing a will, and I have had clients in their 70s and 80s who see me to draft their first wills. But my sense is that as people age, they become more conscious of the need to have an estate plan.

But I have seen cases where people have died without a will, leaving a mess for their heirs.

On the whole, I don’t think lawyers in British Columbia have done a great job in marketing wills and estate planning.

Many wills are drafted by lawyers who practice primarily in other areas of law. I suspect that some lawyers are charging less for drafting wills and providing estate planning than for other services (which I think is a mistake, but I will leave that for another post), in which case they do not have an incentive to market the wills and estate planning aspects of their practice.

Lawyers who practice primarily in estate planning do market wills more, but we tend to do so in a more low-key manner, such as conducting seminars, or networking with financial planners and other professionals who may refer clients to us. I think that this low-key marketing is probably more effective for estate-planning lawyers than spending money on advertising in newspapers, radio or television, but it might not reach as many people.

I think that the internet does offer good opportunities for estate planning lawyers to market better. One of my goals in writing this blog is to communicate the importance of creating a good estate planning, with the assistance of estate planning lawyers. There are quite a few other lawyers in Canada and the United States who publish articles either on blogs or websites.

But I recognize that websites and blogs do not reach everyone. Most of my hits come from people googling specific topics, which tells me that many people are actively researching legal issues, rather than passively receiving information about estate planning.

Overall, I am inclined to agree with Alyssa DiRusso and Michael McCunney. We could do a better job.

If anyone reading this has any ideas on how estate-planning lawyers could market their services better, I would be glad to hear from you.

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