Will preparation: the value of training

01 May 2013 Martyn Frost

Will preparation: the value of training

Martyn Frost discusses will disputes, education and the younger generation.

Will preparation presents a real conundrum as an area of business. Our clients appear to place little monetary value on a will and are generally reluctant to contemplate realistic fees that reflect the time and knowledge involved in the matter. On the other hand, negligence claims against will draftsmen have been processed through the court system for almost 20 years. This client outlook, together with the submission of negligence claims to court, forms the background to will disputes, which, for a variety of reasons, are increasing. All of these factors make for a fairly toxic brew – low fees and increasingly litigious beneficiaries.

On top of this, there is the probability that will preparation will start to be regulated. There are myriad views as to the likely nature of this regulation. What it will require is yet to be seen, but the view that ‘… as consumers receive higher quality services at more competitive prices their confidence will increase, resulting in greater numbers of purchases and growth of the market’, does not bode well for any understanding of the link between knowledge, costs and quality. This view is likely to seriously mislead the potential client as to the skill and time involved in will preparation – that is, if any of them are silly enough to believe that the net result of regulation will be a lower cost to them.

Looking forward, how is the will practitioner to navigate through the perils of negligence claims and will disputes? It seems to me that to stay in this area of work requires a robust approach to managing the risks and an unapologetic approach to the true costs of delivering a professional product.

There are various ways to manage the risk, but acquiring and developing knowledge is one that is high on the list. Ignorance, as a general rule, increases risk. Cutting back on training and education, along with marketing, has often been seen as an easy answer to costs ‘management’ in a recession. However, in disputing this approach, an older and wiser person than me observed that cutting these costs meant that when you emerged from recession no one was educated to a sufficient degree to meet the challenges of wealthier times – but that didn’t matter, as without the marketing no one knew who you were anyway.

Avoiding cutting costs in the soft target of education and training is the better long-term business approach. This will also entail taking long-term decisions about development of potential. Should you educate to the minimum level to get by? Or the bare minimum required by a regulator? Is it not better that you should develop above the minimum in order to raise the standards of the business? The latter must be the answer if you want to differentiate your firm in the market, control its risks of doing business and develop other areas of the will market. In terms of staff involvement, a policy of development is far more motivational than a policy of meeting the minimum standard you can get away with, as the latter approach tends to encourage the belief among employees that they only need to aspire to the minimum.

At this point those with budgets to control have probably stopped reading – that is often the nature of budget control and its focus on now, never tomorrow. Spending on education is an investment in future business.

STEP has provided me with the opportunity to meet the younger generation of members, who genuinely believe in this idea. STEP has similarly shown me that there are those among our more experienced members who not only agree with this approach to education, but have demonstrably used it to generate success – and, I might add, have usually led by example during the process.

These ramblings are really no more than a plea for us to lift our eyes towards the horizon and plan for a future ability to deliver in a better way, and be a little less focused on the short term.

Oh, and as far as wills are concerned, there is the STEP Advanced Certificate in Will Preparation, which looks like just the thing to educate and differentiate those who do want to look to the future.

Authors

Martyn Frost

CPD Reflective Learning