Vicki Vasser-Jenkins, Arkansas Elder Law Attorney, tells us how the Elder Law College helped start and then grow her practice…
Vicki, can you share with us your experience of what it’s like being an Elder Law College graduate, and how ELC helped you grow in your practice?
Sure! First, attending ELC was a good experience and it rejuvenated my interest in Estate Planning in general. I came from a background in Family Law and I’d always had a desire to focus more on Estate Planning. I changed firms about two years ago and was given more opportunity to be selective about which Family Law cases I took so I could start to switch gears and focus more on Estate Planning. The firm was glad to send me to Elder Law College and I was then able to reevaluate what I wanted, where I exceled, so I dug into Elder Law in general.
When did you first become aware of Elder Law College and what has your experience been like since joining ELC?
I think the practice of Elder Law has typically been more Medicaid-focused and there seem to be very few lawyers in Arkansas who specialize in Elder Law. But about four years ago, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a certified Elder Law attorney and I remember thinking “I may want to focus more in this area at some point.” At the time, I wasn’t at a firm that could allow me to really dedicate the time I needed to dive into it. But it was, and still is, a growing area and I decided if I had an opportunity, this would be something I would want to do. He advised me to attend the Elder Law College and it worked out perfectly: last Fall, I was at the end of one-too-many nasty Family Law cases and I was really ready to make a change. So I decided 2017 would be the year! And my experience since joining the Elder Law College has been so positive.
After I attended, I was excited and ready to get going. I made a concerted effort to reach out to people with whom I already had existing contacts, like at senior centers and such. I had a very supportive marketing contact in our office who got me in contact with some of our local business journals. They needed content, so I have written articles about Elder Law and why it’s important, and Estate Planning issues and the like, and through this, I have been able to open some doors. And, quite frankly, there has been some cold calling with the hope of introducing Elder Law to the community. I’ve been invited to serve on discussion panels at a cancer clinic and a senior center, and I’ve had additional speaking and writing opportunities so the word is getting out quickly. If you return from something like the Elder Law College and don’t harness the excitement right away, it would be easy to just put the binder on the shelf and add it to your resume. But you have to do the work to establish yourself with somebody who knows about that practice area, and it’s not going to happen overnight. Interestingly enough, the week I came back from Elder Law College I had a colleague who was trying to help a fellow church member qualify for Medicaid. He asked for my help, knowing I’d just returned from ELC, and I was able to immediately put it to work and was able to help him and his friend. ELC gave me not only the knowledge but more importantly, I think, the confidence to dive in and take care of this client.
Wow, that’s fast! So what was it like, your experience with that first client?
Well, part of why I practice is so I can really help people. So the notion of doing this type of work really allows you to help people take care of their family members and really, as much as helping them, it’s putting their mind at ease. You can see the benefit of that immediately when someone has maybe been given the runaround and hasn’t been able to get to the right person. In this case, she appreciated that I got on the phone with somebody local right away and I took the time to visit with her about it. She had been told two or three different things and it really wasn’t as complicated as she had been told. My reward was just seeing that I was able to help somebody so quickly and easily after what she had previously gone through. She already had to deal with the role reversal of having to take care of a parent and I could just see the relief of the adult daughter. Her mind set was put at ease and Mom, who was in long-term care, was really glad things were being taken care of. So it’s immediately rewarding to be a part of that.
What’s amazing to me about this story is that you basically walked straight out of the Elder Law College into a client and you said it really wasn’t that complicated. I imagine part of that is because of the experience you had at Elder Law College.
Absolutely, and I was excited to be able to help her. It kind of reminded me of when I got out of law school and was so eager to help the world, to take the information I’d just learned and do something important with it. I was able to feel comfortable and that wouldn’t have been the case two years ago. Certainly not every client needs long-term care planning but sometimes you don’t even know the impact you are having – that even explaining a document that will help their kids down the road sets their mind at ease. After attending Elder Law College, you feel more comfortable going further and not having to send them to somebody else.
How, then, do you market your services?
We have a website, of course, and Estate Planning and Elder Law are listed as services we provide. I have had several speaking opportunities and I talk about what we can offer elderly people and their families. There is an insert in our firm’s portfolio my bio and practice areas, focusing on Estate Planning and Elder Law. We also use social media, particularly if I’ve written an article, or I do one-on-one coffees that are really personal. We network with people who are retirement community marketing people or directors who may be out in the community more and that really helps. I have a network of great friends who are financial advisors, CPA’s, trust officers at banks – some go-to people who are great referral sources – and I’ve circled back to all those contacts to let them know of my new practice focus. Some of it is cold-calling, some of it is just going back to people you have worked with in the past and rebranding yourself or your firm. I try to reach out to someone at least once a week. And I serve on speaker panels. Some firms may think that’s a waste of time, that you could be in the office earning billable hours. But recently I spoke on a panel about end-of-life decision-making and I immediately had somebody reach out with legal needs. Sometimes it’s basic, but they may need other planning down the road for other family members as well, so almost all of those speaking opportunities result in some client contact afterwards.
What do you do to schedule your time to make sure you prioritize the growth of your practice?
Well, I have recently joined a networking group so I have a built-in weekly meeting that surrounds myself with other people who have clients who need Estate Planning and Elder Law lawyers. Outside of that, I try to look ahead at opportunities to always have some type of CLE or speaking engagement on the calendar to help promote the practice. And about once a week I try to have some type of lunch or coffee with someone who is in a referral position. So it’s making sure you have place holders for your time: if it’s not a client, you treat it like it is a client and give it an appointment on your calendar. Once or twice a week I spend about half an hour to reach out to contacts and I’ve been fortunate to have done some of the leg work ahead of time so I’m not always reaching to all brand-new contacts. I’m reaching out to people who are already familiar with me to some degree, and that’s helped tremendously. I just remind them that I’m now able to help with people who have more long-term care needs, or maybe Medicaid eligibility planning – so it’s just circling back to be helpful, to make sure they know your brand and your expertise.
Vicki Vasser-Jenkins assists clients across Arkansas and Missouri in the areas of estate planning, elder law, business and non-profit formation, corporate governance, special education law and family law. She frequently presents continuing legal education programs, lectures at the University of Arkansas School of Law and participates as a regular panelist for the Northwest Arkansas Emerging Leaders Board Certification Training. She is a 2017 graduate of the Elder Law College, a comprehensive four-day program to help attorneys grow their knowledge and tools in the Elder Law arena, and is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.