Among all professionals including trusts and estates (T&E) lawyers, there is tremendous competition for ultra-wealthy clients who are defined as having a net worth of US $30 million or more. For T&E lawyers, one reason for the appeal of ultra-wealthy clients is that they pay well for value. “While most everyone wants a bargain, the ultra-wealthy are intensely results-oriented and appreciate the advantages they can get from bespoke legal services,” says Jeb Burton, the managing principal of The Burton Law Firm. “When we provide unique solutions to address their tax situation that also work well for their family, they are happy. When they realize how much more money we save them compared to what we charge, they are very, very happy.”
Another advantage of working with the ultra-wealthy is that generally speaking, they are quite capable and comfortable making decisions. While they may—and often do—consult with others, the ultra-wealthy are usually able to determine what they want or understand what they need.
The inherent nature of the legal work is a factor in the appeal of working with the ultra-wealthy. According to Arron Yen, senior partner, Ascendent Law Group, “We find working with wealthier clients very rewarding because their situations make for far more interesting legal work. As we specialize in inbound planning from China, Singapore and Korea, we consistently see more complex financial, tax and family situations requiring sophisticated tax planning.”
According to Cliff Oberlin, chairman and CEO of Oberlin Wealth Partners and co-author of Family Fortunes: How Family Enterprises Thrive Across Generations, “In our survey of 148 elite private client lawyers—those consistently earning US $1 million or more per year—the way they predominantly connect with their ultra-wealthy clients are from referrals from other professionals. These other professionals run the gamut from other lawyers to wealth managers to accountants to life insurance agents. For some leading T&E lawyers, other types of professionals prove to be solid sources of new ultra-wealthy clients. Examples of these other types of professionals include executive coaches, concierge medical physicians and the coordinators of mastermind groups.”
What is important to recognize is that the leading T&E lawyers are getting the majority of their ultra-wealthy clients for other professionals. Based on previous studies and reflected in this study is that the source of most clients for T&E lawyers are satisfied clients who are not often ultra-wealthy. “In our research, we only found that about 16% of the leading T&E lawyers received introductions to ultra-wealthy families from their clients,” says Oberlin. “This is often a function of a wealthy individual asking a peer for an introduction. Many of the wealthy are hesitant to ask peers for these referrals for several reasons. For example, many leading T&E lawyers, although they will regularly embrace absolute discretion, know the intimate details of their client’s lives. This tends to lower the likelihood these clients will refer.”
There is a very important benefit for the ultra-wealthy when they are introduced to T&E lawyers from other professionals.“ As it turns out, many T&E lawyers are not very technically proficient and unable to provide state-of-the-art legal solutions to the ultra-wealthy. Therefore, getting referrals from other professionals is often a good way for the ultra-wealthy to better evaluate the capabilities of T&E lawyers. What is regularly required is that the ultra-wealthy proactive and strategically inquisitive when provided a referral to a T&E lawyer.
Russ Alan Prince is the executive director of Private Wealth magazine and chief content officer for High-Net-Worth Genius. He consults with family offices, the wealthy, fast-tracking entrepreneurs and select professionals.