There are no deadlines in an estate planning engagement. (So to speak.) This is not the case where other kinds of legal services are in play. In litigation, for example, there is built-in urgency. Someone is suing your client or you are suing the other lawyer’s client, that’s urgency enough. But there is more. Litigation deadlines impose themselves on one’s calendar, and those deadlines are not that far ahead: they are not in any respect over the horizon. In addition, there are many deadline enforcers: the judge, the other lawyer, your client or the other lawyer’s client, the rules of procedure, the statute of limitations. For both lawyer and client there is a lot to lose by not meeting litigation deadlines. They are scary and real.
Business matters are different in substance but they have a set of urgencies too. For one thing, there are two client-lawyer pairs; they are on opposing sides, pushing at each other. If the deal is not closed, then the clients do not get what they want, which is usually money or something else that puts them in a better place. The lawyers may not get their fees. So things will perforce move ahead.
But estate planning is different. Death is certainly a deadline. But we are all accomplices in our culture’s denial of its reality. There is only one lawyer-client set. The client makes no money, because the value will belong to his beneficiaries. Furthermore, the legal services a client buys (for the benefit of his family) will have a half-life of three years, if the client is lucky, because the circumstances of life are always changing. The estate planning lawyer, on the other hand, traditionally will not get full value for his time. He may have other kinds of work on his desk for which he can receive full value. So in the lawyer’s office there is a tendency to push estate planning to the back burner, unless the client is about to die. To address this problem, both lawyer and client need to hold each other accountable for getting the job done. When the client temporizes, it drives up the time that the attorney must devote to the matter, making the enterprise for the lawyer even less remunerative and, therefore, even less attractive. When the lawyer puts off the work, the client himself loses interest and wanders off. The lawyer must keep after the client; the client must be responsive to the lawyer and persistent in keeping the lawyer’s attention. This tendency to inertia ought not to be, but it is very often the case.
A lawyer who is a nudge. A client who is committed. An estate planning engagement made in heaven.