We started sending out a booklet with our Vision Meeting confirmation letters. It’s considered our client handbook. We know that it's helpful to start with a mutual understanding when working together.
A prominent section of the client handbook explains that our firm has Core Values. These are non-negotiable values that Carolina Family Estate Planning follows and believes in.
After many years of business, we recognize that there’s a type of person we enjoy working with. CFEP employs team members who exemplify the business’ Core Values in everything they do. And our favorite type of client is someone who does the same. Most of the time, clients don’t even realize they’re embodying the Core Values we hold so dear.
Want to know what our Core Values are?We act with integrity.
- We are proactive.
- We hold ourselves and each other accountable.
- We work as a team.
- We drive innovation.
- We thrive!
- We love dogs (and cats)!
Our Core Values are a touchstone; when all else fails we can return to them to figure how to move forward. If we’ve entered no-man's-land and there’s no policy or procedure to guide us, the Core Values determine our next steps.
The concept of Core Values isn't unique to CFEP. In fact, we set out to determine our Core Values after reading the book Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.
The book is the product of the authors' attempt to find out what visionary companies have in common. A fundamental principle shared by all of the companies was the need for a core ideology: a central purpose and Core Values by which they operate.
Our central purpose, by the way, is to help our clients find relief, happiness, and confidence in the future by making plans that work.
We Act With Integrity
Our first core value is: “we act with integrity.” This value applies to every relationship that we have, whether we’re interacting with clients, one another, or professionals outside of CFEP. Everyone we meet has unique gifts, and everyone we meet deserves honesty.
Integrity means that our clients and employees can trust that they will receive honesty and respect from everyone within the company. Having integrity with one another means treating others as well as we wish to be treated, if not better than we want to be treated.
We appreciate that our clients have often overcome the forces of hesitation and uncertainty to arrive at our office. We understand that no one's life or family situation is perfect. And we do our work as if we were completing our own estate plan, probate, or trust settlement.
We understand and honor the training and hard work that other professionals have put into their craft. We are not CPAs, professional healthcare advocates, or investment advisors. So we work closely with the best professionals around to help our clients.
It's not purely altruistic: one of our greatest pleasures in life is to observe experts at work.
Integrity also involves willingly meeting people where they are. Everybody has a bad day. Even the kindest person falls short from time-to-time. Integrity means having the grace to forgive.
Nevertheless, to protect the firm, every once in a while, we have to draw the line and end the relationship when a client, professional, or team member is persistently rude. Fortunately, it doesn't happen very often.
Having integrity with each other naturally leads into our next core value: we are proactive.
We Are Proactive
On the surface, it seems like an obvious value of any business that you want to work with. You want them to be proactive, to have procedures in place and ensure they’re one step ahead of any errors and issues that might arise.
Clients are nervous and concerned when they first come to Carolina Family Estate Planning. Visiting a lawyer is intimidating, and probate clients have recently lost a loved one. Often, losing that loved one gets clients to get their ducks in a row.
But once clients complete their planning, they're relieved. And it's almost like they walk a little taller, because they are confident that they have done a good thing. They’ve made sure their family is protected, or carried out a loved one's last wishes.
They are being proactive, and we’re helping them achieve this proactivity.
There's more to it than the legal work we do. We strive, in everything we do, to make sure the services we provide are congruent with our clients' own values. During our vision meetings and initial consultations, we spend over an hour trying to get to the heart of the person we're meeting with.
- What are their values?
- What do they want to achieve?
We take great pains to offer services that are tailored to clients' needs and hopes, and that give them a value that exceeds the fee and the time invested.
But that's not all!™
We’re so proactive that we help people, not just our clients. Every day, a few people call our office in need of services we don't provide. There are procedures in place, and nobody answering the phone is going to hang up without trying to help you find what you’ve called about.
Whether you need help with a criminal matter, or an estate in Maryland, or something so unrelated to the law (like appraising a rare coin collection), you’ve called us to get help.
We are constantly amassing a database of resources that we can use to help anyone who calls our firm.
That's one reason we take part in groups like ElderCounsel and WealthCounsel. That's what our Team 100 referral program is all about.
The fact that we help everyone to the best of our ability leads right into the next core value.
We Hold Ourselves And Each Other Accountable
Working with lawyers, it’s easy to be intimidated and nervous. After all, to become a lawyer you have to get a bachelor’s degree, take and pass the LSAT, apply and be accepted to law school, earn a juris degree, and then pass the bar. That’s a lot of schooling.
And you have to be able to trust your lawyer, and hold them accountable. So that’s what this core value is about.
To some extent, it's not just our core value, it's the law.
The State Bar requires that we follow through with the commitments that we put in our engagement agreement that we sign with every client.
But there's the letter of the law, and then there's the spirit of the law. Doing what we say we will do starts with setting clear expectations and making sure we follow through with them.
In everything we do.
Setting clear expectations is one reason we put such a focus on education at our firm. Often, there is more than one way to approach an estate plan or estate administration. We take the time to explain the tradeoffs between the available options.
When we meet for the first time, we set a clear agenda, and we explain how each step of our process works. At the end of each meeting, we will go over homework and what to expect at your next meeting.
What about following through?
You may not know this, but we use a lot of checklists and written policies, systems, and procedures behind the scenes to make sure we get the details right. We review and update them regularly.
Even so, every once in a while, something falls through the cracks.
There's a system for handling that:
- First, apologize and take full responsibility.
- Next, fix the immediate problem.
- Third, figure out how it happened.
- Fourth, fix the system so the problem doesn't happen again.
We've recently been working with our team to add a few additional check-in steps, to get feedback from individual clients as we're working with them. This helps us to make sure that we're on the same page throughout the process. In short, to make sure that we are doing what we say, we will do.
Next, let's talk about using time effectively.
Spoiler alert! Using time effectively involves systems, and it goes back to helping people and working together as a team. Expectations set. Now to follow through. Make sure everyone is held accountable.
We Work As A Team
Our staff works together as a team to deliver an exceptional client experience. It's not without strenuous work. Teamwork is actually one of the hardest Core Values to achieve and maintain: it takes good systems and training; it takes constant monitoring and tweaking; and it takes the brightest and best people. We often interview for several months for open positions.
Working as a team means clients work with several people throughout the span of their case. I know that this makes some prospective clients uncomfortable at first. Not only does working as a team help us to use our time more effectively, but it also means that clients speak to many different people throughout their time with CFEP.
Now, when we tell people this for the first time, the immediate reaction is to worry that we’re going to rush them through their meetings. However, after they've worked with us, many clients have told us that quite the opposite was true, instead!
They never felt rushed. They felt like they always had enough time to explain their concerns and to get a full explanation--even if it required some extra meetings or emails back and forth. We want to be fully present when working on a client's case, whether we're meeting with you or working behind the scenes. It does require some discipline, however.
If we've designed but not signed an estate plan for a client and death or incapacity is imminent, we will do everything we can to help get that plan signed while the client has capacity. Having good systems helps us do that. Most of the time, however, we can avoid emergencies.
And that lets us "chunk" our time, give clients our undivided attention when we're meeting with them, and respond to non-urgent questions at a set time every day.
But this core value is about so much more than what we do internally. Because we will work as a team with all the professionals you and your family work with. We enjoy working with financial advisors, CPAs, geriatric care managers and healthcare advocates, bankers, and other professionals—especially when they are every bit as committed to excellence and serving our clients' interests as we are.
We approach these relationships similarly with the understanding that we are all experts in our respective fields.
Finally, consider that you are on the team as well. We can achieve the best results when clients expect the best from us and we can have honest discussions with one another. Those reading this who have done estate planning with us: can you imagine trying to make a plan based on little more information than we could find out in the phone book?
This, by the way, is one reason we're not shaking in our boots about online document software: currently there's no way $99 software can capture the nuances and "metamessaging" that happens during a client meeting.
We truly want our clients, when we've closed their case, to feel relieved, happy, and confident. If we don't feel there is an extra high likelihood of achieving this goal, we will refer to the case. By doing so, we hope to be able to help people, even if it's not by directly providing them with legal services.
We Drive Innovation
Innovation is key to achieving long-term success, remaining competitive, and adapting to changing circumstances. It's the driving force that propels us forward and enables us to stay ahead of the curve. It plays a role in how we hire, who we hire, how the team manages their schedules, and even how we interact with clients. If something isn’t working, we’re going to find a better way to do it.
If something works, but could still be better?
We’re willing to challenge the status quo and approach problems from new angles. We continually strive for new and better ways to serve our clients.
Innovation is never-ending and ever-changing. It means a lot to us that we do things differently—that we do things better. Sometimes, innovation looks like altering how we meet with a client (like doing Zoom calls if the client prefers not to come to the office). Other times, innovation may be as simple as rephrasing something for a client, so that they clearly understand what we’re discussing.
To ensure that our team at CFEP is able to be innovative, we’ve created a culture that fosters collaboration and creativity. By encouraging our team members to share their ideas and perspectives, we’ve created an environment inspiring innovation.
Innovation is in everything we do. It’s risky, sometimes these risks are successful. Other times? Not so successful. But it’s all worth it and we learn from every success and every failure.
Thriving is a powerful concept that inspires us to achieve our goals, find happiness, and live our best lives. Being able to thrive means that the members of our team are growing and developing in a positive way. We’re overcoming challenges, and making the best of opportunities that come our way.
Because we thrive, we want to see others thrive. And that’s where our commitment to helping our clients comes into play. We’re excited to help our clients get the tools and resources that they need to plan their future.
Serving our clients helps them plan for their future, in every facet of their life, not just financially. Here at Carolina Family Estate Planning, we’re contributing to a better world, where everyone has the opportunity to live their best life and make a positive impact on everyone around us.
So we thrive, and we create meaningful relationships within our team, our community, and with our clients.
We Love Dogs (And Cats)!
Does your estate planning law firm have a set of Core Values? Don't you think they should, if you're going to trust them to help you plan your future?
If you'd like to work with a group of professionals who respect and help people, who do what they say they will, who use time effectively, and who work as a team, please call us at 919-443-3035.
We find that even when people come to us stressed out, confused, and anxious, we can help them get to a place where they're relieved, happy, and confident in the future.