If you are reading this blog post, then chances are you are old enough to remember the movie Jerry Maguire. You know, the movie that launched Renee Zellweger's and Cuba Gooding, Jr's careers and gave us great catch phrases like "Show me the money!" and "You had me at hello." But do you remember how the movie starts? It starts with Jerry having a crisis of conscience and penning an epic Mission Statement about his sports agency.
While I am not experiencing a crisis of conscience, I am having my own Jerry Maguire moment, and it all has to do with one question I get asked at networking events and in conversation with other attorneys all the time:
Who is your ideal client?
Can I be frank with you? I absolutely despise this question. Why? Because, in part, it presumes that people who meet certain criteria are exactly alike.
If I say my ideal client is a married couple in their 60s, a year or two away from retirement, with a portfolio of X dollars, then I'm saying everyone who meets that criteria can be lumped together and stamped with the label ideal without actually getting to know their individual circumstances, goals, fears, and needs.
If I say my ideal client is a young professional couple with solid careers and small children, then aren't I in effect labelling those outside my metrics as undesirable? Haven't I created my own "basket of deplorables"?
Beyond the fact that the question pigeon-holes people -
My abiding hatred for this question is rooted in one thing - the question treats people as commodities, not individuals.
If you are in business development, marketing, or sales, then you are cringing right now. Targeting your ideal client is crucial to your business. But news flash! I am not Neiman Marcus, or Apple, or Coca-Cola. I am not looking to sell a product. I am looking for an opportunity to serve. I truly believe the work I do is a ministry, whether it's in helping people be good stewards by working with them to implement a charitable giving strategy as part of their estate plan or helping a grieving spouse administer her husband's estate and walking with her through the dark days of losing a loved one.
I hear attorneys brag that they have a client worth $15 million, $35 million, $100 million, and that's wonderful. But what about those who have "only" $1 million or $200,000 or nothing but a stack of debts? Don't those people deserve a good attorney too?
I know the importance of putting in place a comprehensive plan to protect your family and loved ones. I have seen firsthand the mess that family members have to clean up when there is no effective plan. If I fervently believe that everyone, regardless of the size of their family or the size of their portfolio, needs an estate plan (which I do!), then shouldn't I be willing to serve everyone, regardless of the size of their family or portfolio?
I believe I can Do Good and Do Well without having to commoditize my clients.
So let me forevermore put to bed the question "Who is my ideal client," by asking 3 simple questions of my own:
Are you breathing?
Do you want to take control and not let the State of North Carolina decide who gets your stuff when you die?
Are you willing to invest your time and energy in working with an attorney to develop a custom-built plan?
If you answered yes to all 3, then...
YOU are my ideal client. Let me be your ideal attorney.