Not My Attorney | Bruce Turkel

During the last days of 2010 Barack Obama changed Federal tax law. In a stunning political role reversal, Republicans supported the President’s package while Democrats opposed it.
You might remember that the President’s deal included a renewal of expiring jobless benefits and a one-year cut in Social Security taxes paid by workers. It also extended the Bush-era tax cuts for all income levels.

Don’t worry; this blog post is not going to devolve into a political screed. Instead, I want to tell you about what happened when a client of ours – a billionaire several times over – learned about the changes.

Because Bush’s tax cuts had been scheduled to expire, our client’s financial advisors had planned certain activities to protect as much of his income as possible. Now, with an unexpected change on the horizon, he called his accountant to find out what they were going to do in the last week of 2010 to change the now irrelevant strategy.

The accountant called our client back the next day and explained that under the circumstances there wasn’t much he could do. First of all, a billionaire’s taxes are way too complex to quickly alter and secondly, even if they wanted to make changes, most of the accountant’s staff had already left for the Christmas holiday. In fact, the accountant himself was on his way out to a ski trip with his family, and was really calling to wish his client happy holidays. His suggestion was that they’d go with their current strategy for now and then make some changes in 2011.

Needless to say, this didn’t sit well with our client. He started calling his friends for recommendations of accountants that they were happy with and was given a few leads. One of the referrals returned his call immediately and told our client that when she heard about the potential of the President’s plans to change tax law she cancelled all staff vacations and had her people standing by. They were ready, willing, and able to tackle the assignment.

You know how the story ends. Our client moved his tax work to the new firm and was so happy with their response that he eventually moved all of his accounting to them. His old accountant returned from his vacation to find that he had lost his largest client.

When I asked my client if he wanted to add anything to this story for my blog, he said that he learned everything he knows about customer service from Woody Allen.

“Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

“But what about quality?” I asked.

According to my client, all premier accounting firms should be able to do the work – their professional capability was not in question. Instead, it’s their ability and willingness to get the work done that mattered. Or, as we’ve said so many times before in this blog, “They don’t buy what you do. They buy who you are.”

Another great client of mine, not quite a billionaire yet but well on his way, had another similar story.

He was in the process of interviewing attorneys for a new project. I asked him how he determines if they’re good or not.

“We’ve already done the due diligence and checked their professional prowess,” he answered. “At this point I assume they can all do the work, otherwise I wouldn’t be considering them in the first place.

“If I leave them a voice mail message and they call me within the hour, then they’re a great attorney. If I leave them a message and they call me by the end of the day then they’re a good attorney.”

“And what if they don’t call you back until the next day?” I asked.

“Then they’re not my attorney.”

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