Annual maintenance programs are always the buzz in the estate planning industry.  As we close in on year end the conversation is on the top of most attorneys’ minds…everyone has one, wants one or is trying to get one!  We work with a lot of firms and see many different varieties of annual maintenance programs – some that work and some that don’t.  And there are a few great ones available for licensing on a variety of levels.  All opinions aside, a plan that “will work” is a plan that involves the firm, as a whole, carving out dedicated time to think through the services you will provide, the annual fee you will charge, the time allocated in attorney hours and team hours per client to fulfill the included services, and any other hard costs you will incur. (Docubank, Legal Directives, Legal Vault, etc.)  Then making sure you can deliver on the services you offer for the price you are charging.  (A maintenance program is great marketing, a feeder for spin off business and trust administrations, and all that…BUT you can’t lose your backside delivering the services or it just ends up being a bottleneck you can’t deliver on.)  So before you throw everything and the kitchen sink into your maintenance program offering, think through the price, the time involved and the resources needed to deliver on your promised services.  Otherwise, the program is a breeding ground for client dissatisfaction while impacting your resources to bring in new clients.

With that said…here is our “low down” on two major maintenance program misnomers:
1. Proactive updating versus “call us when you need us”: The downside to not proactively providing service during the year for maintenance program clients is that many clients will receive their annual invoice and say “oh I didn’t use this service this year – I don’t need it.”  If you proactively provide services/value, clients realize things DO change, rather than depending on the client to know they should pick up the phone and call you about a change.  Many programs out there do not offer proactive updating of documents, instead basing the program on the law firm being accessible for questions or changes upon a request from the client.  We are sure it can be done successfully in this format, but we’ve seen retention be a problem in this scenario.  (If you have a different experience please share!). It’s a simple plan of proactive vs. reactive living. We’ve seen it done very easily and successfully in the world of “proactive”. Not to mention it really is a ton of fun once you have the system down.

2. Your maintenance program is part of your marketing program:  Meeting with clients for updating purposes, in a group format or individually, can be a TREMENDOUS way to obtain client referrals.  When Laney worked in a firm their client referrals increased over 150% after fully implementing a maintenance program.  (NO exaggeration.  She tracked incoming referrals very aggressively.)  It also allows you to learn about additional needs your clients have and allow you to provide those services.  You learn mom and dad aren’t doing so good and need planning – you learn daughter just had a baby and needs a plan, etc. The voice of the customer IS your marketing message, so essentially you are getting paid by the client to market to and through them!

With some intentional deliberation and analysis, a maintenance program can be a great addition to your firm.  And it doesn’t have to be that hard!  We believe you would agree that it would be a nice feeling to wake up on January 1 knowing you already have money in the bank from your annual maintenance program fees. In our next blog, we’ll share some easy steps to kick off your maintenance program in 2012.  Stay tuned!