I began my career at a big law firm in New Orleans. Pretty much as soon as I got there, I was unhappy because there was a huge disconnect between what I had dreamed about when I went to law school and the reality of being a lawyer. I had dreamed about going to law school and coming out and making a difference in people’s lives, but in reality, practice in a law firm was totally transactional and didn’t truly serve our clients.
Here’s what I mean …
First of all, everything we did was billed on an hourly basis. And, as you can imagine at more than $400/hour, my clients wanted me to do everything as quickly as possible with as little communication as possible. They didn’t want to talk about their families and they were afraid to call when they had changes in their lives or questions about their businesses because they didn’t know how much that call would cost them and whether it was worth it.
As a result, often they would have life changes, such as a new baby, a divorce, a new property purchase, or a new business started, but I wouldn’t hear about it because they didn’t want to pay to tell me. And, that meant that their plan was destined to fail when their family needed it most because it would be out of date pretty quickly after we created it.
They would leave the office with their fancy binder of estate planning documents, go to the bank because I had told them to change the name of their bank account to transfer their account into their plan and then they’d forget what I said, and call the office, only to get my voicemail, and leave the bank without having transferred the account and then it would never happen.
This is likely what happened to the father-in-law of one of my colleagues. He died when she was in law school and even though he had spent $3,000 on an estate plan, after his death, she and her family were stuck dealing with his ex-wife and the probate court, even though that’s exactly why he had spent the money to do his estate planning, to keep them from having to deal w his ex-wife or the the courts.
She thought for sure his lawyer must have committed malpractice, but then after she went to work at one of the best law firms in the country and saw that they did it exactly the same way, and that most firms did. What she found out is that it wasn’t malpractice at all, it was common practice.
What I noticed when I was at the big firm is that clients would come in, we’d prepare some documents for them, they’d sign the documents (most often not having a clear sense of what they were signing) and then take the documents, stick them in a drawer and not look at them again.
That’s just what the typical estate planning experience had become. And I knew my clients’ plans would fail as a result.
There was nothing abnormal about it, but it didn’t feel right to me. We didn’t have a mechanism for following up with our clients, making sure their assets were titled properly, or communicating regularly to make sure their plans continued to work throughout life.
So, I thought long and hard about whether I could change the way things were done at the firm and I was so disillusioned with the process, I gave up practicing law altogether for a while – that’s how unhappy I was.
I opened this new firm with the idea of bringing back the Personal Family Lawyer relationship - where initial planning is just the beginning of the relationship and we’re focused on putting in place a plan we know we will work for you and the people you love.
So, here are some of the things we do differently based on my experience with the traditional model of estate planning.
First of all – nothing we do is billed on an hourly basis. Everything we do is billed flat fee, agreed to in advance, so there are no surprises. You’ll know exactly what it will cost to work with us, after we’ve gotten clear about what you want, and you’ll even be able to choose your own fee. Then, after the initial planning process, we have options so that you can ensure your plan stays up to date throughout your life, and again you’ll know exactly what that costs and choose your own fee there.
Second – I have a team of people here to support you. That means, if you are at the bank and call our office to get a quick answer about how to title an account, you don’t have to leave the bank and return on another day because there was no one available to answer your question for hours or days. You’ll be able to speak to someone to get your questions answered right away. And, if you need to speak with me about something that my team cannot answer, we’ll get a call scheduled on my calendar so that I can be prepared and you can be prepared and we won’t waste your time playing phone tag.
Third – we see planning as just the beginning of the relationship whereas in the past the plan was viewed as a one-time transactional event.
Once you sign your planning documents, that is when the relationship really begins. At no additional charge, we review your plan at least every three years. And, we have two levels of membership programs that almost all of our clients participate in – either the gold program which provides you with a yearly plan review and unlimited changes to your plan or the gold plus program that includes an annual meeting with your attorney, CPA and financial advisor, plus ongoing legal guidance throughout the year.
Finally, we don’t just focus on passing on your financial assets, but your whole family wealth. When my colleague’s dad died, he left behind a little money, but more important to her, especially because the money was gone quickly, he left her a voicemail on her phone. It said “Lex, it’s your dad. Call me back.” And she listened to that voicemail all the time. Until the day it got deleted accidentally. She was devastated. That’s why we created a process and include it in every plan where we guide you to pass on more than your money, but also your intellectual, spiritual and human assets. We include that with every plan and our clients and their families love having that as part of their plan.
These are just a few of the things that make our firm different. We’re the best fit for people who don’t just want to leave their family a set of documents that may or may not work, but instead want to use the estate planning process to pass on a legacy of love and care and ease. And keep their family out of court and out of conflict.
On a personal note, I got into estate planning in the first place because of what happened when my grandfather passed away when I was about 10 years old. Because he didn’t leave a plan, when he died, it tore our family apart. My mom and her 6 siblings were in and out of court for almost 30 years to settle a modest estate, and to this day one side of the family doesn’t speak to the other.
I believe that proper estate planning is something that you do for the people you love the most. You won’t be the one to benefit from the plan we are going to design for you today – the people who will benefit are the people you love the most who will be dealing with things after you’re gone.
|LA||Eligible to Practice Law||1996||11/14/2022|
|Attorney||Myrna E. Arroyo LLC dba Progeny Law Firm||2002 - 2021|
|Association name||Position name||Duration|
|National Association of Elder Law Attorneys||Member||2020 - Present|
|WealthCounsel||Member||2020 - Present|
|ElderCounsel||Member||2020 - Present|
|Personal Family Lawyer||Member||2020 - Present|
|Progeny Law Firm||Guide to Louisiana Probate & Successions||2021|
|Tulane University||JD/MBA - Juris Doctorate and MBA||1995|
|Georgia Institute of Technology||BCHE||1989|
|Webinar||How Wills & Trusts Can Keep Your Family Out of Court and Conflict||2021|
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January 27, 2022
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