Customer Service On Life Support

Readers of this blog know that I believe the key to differentiating your law firm from all others is customer service. It now seems that the medical profession — another group that, at its worst, is known for arrogance, rudeness, and indifference to customer service — is catching on. And it all starts, as it does in a law office, with answering the phone.

Enhanced Paradigm Solutions

    Recently, I had occasion to edit copy written by an attorney who shall, for reasons of mercy, remain nameless. The first sentence had seven words of three syllables or more, and no verb. As a devotee of strong, clear, direct prose, I greatly enjoy Jonathan Kranz’s blog. It was through a comment posted there that I discovered the Corporate Gibberish Generator. I filled in the name of my company and it produced this.

Medicaid Guru Dave Zumpano Gives His Take On The New Law

    Below are comments from Dave Zumpano of Medicaid Practice Systems, concerning the recent changes to Medicaid rules passed by Congress:

   "I am as excited as I have been in years over the proposed changes to the Medicaid law. Not necessarily with the specific changes, but with change.
    "I have not seen this much interest  in Medicaid Planning since the "Granny Goes to Jail" law. If  you recall, back then the pundits proclaimed Medicaid planning was dead and anyone who did it was "going to jail".  The strength of our practice in the Medicaid field is to be an advocate for our clients. Lawyers have been trained from the first day of law school to be advocates and to find strategies and solutions to their clients’ needs.  This change is no different. 
Dave_1    "As an analogy, many believed the changes to the estate tax law in 2001 would eliminate estate planning. Nothing is further from the truth, it just has changed the focus of  estate planning away from taxes, toward family and asset protection. The changes to the Medicaid law will do the same.
       " I reviewed my entire six-day Medicaid Practice Program including all the tools, strategies, formulas, worksheets and calculations. I am excited to report approximately ten to fifteen percent is affected by the changes to the Medicaid  the law. The remaining eighty-five to ninety percent will still be effective strategies to use.  This enables MPS  members and others with similar strategies to distinguish themselves from the Monday morning Medicaid planning attorneys. I think the changes in the law provide the greatest opportunity to do what we do best, counsel our clients.
         "It is amazing how often we all get stuck in our comfort zones and perceive change as a threat. I believe it is a tremendous opportunity and I am excited to lead this charge discovering, exploring and modifying the strategies that have been successful in the past to accommodate the new changes. The buzz on the MPS Listserv has been overwhelmingly positive and exciting with the opportunity we see. I believe there is a tremendous opportunity especially from attorney referrals. The one-day Bar Association programs to learn Medicaid planning will no longer be effective in enabling people to practice in this area. It will require a fully-dedicated medicaid planning attorney, and I am confident those of us who focus their practice in this area will prosper."

Don’t Make Resolutions. Set Goals.

    Last year at this time, I advised readers not to measure their current situation against the ideal (which can never be reached), but rather to "measure backwards" and be heartened and motivated by their progress since the last New Year.
     This year, I want to warn against the New Year’s resolution. Clearly, I do believe that it is very useful, at this time of year, to take stock of where you are, and to make plans for getting where you want to go. I just don’t think resolutions are the best way to accomplish that. I think goal-setting is.
    There is a pile of evidence to suggest that written goals are one of the most important building blocks to achievement of any kind.
    188666909001_bo2204203200_pilitbdp500arr_1Although I use goal-setting techniques extensively in my own life (every morning, in fact), I am not an expert in the field. I learned a lot of what I know from people like Tommy Newberry, Dan Sullivan, Brian Tracy, and Zig Ziglar (Are you a wandering generality, or a meaningful specific?).

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What The Gurus Say

    Today I talked with several of the top attorneys in the field of elder law and Medicaid planning to get their take on the new law, and what it might portend for attorneys who practice in this area.

Harry Margolis of Margolis & Associates and

    I spoke this evening with Harry Margolis, founder of ElderLawAnswers. Harry predicts a windfall for elder law/Medicaid planning attorneys in the short run, and a murkier picture in the long run.
   "I think in the short run it will mean more business," he said. "People will be scared. Other attorneys who don’t practice this kind of law will be scared, and they will come to us. It’s a chance to get our names and expertise out there, and to get more business.
Small_939    "I’m less optimistic about the long run, because there are simply fewer things we can do for our clients. In the past, our best clients have been those facing a crisis. What are we going to tell them? ‘Gotta spend down.’ And how much can we charge for that advice? As to advance planning, all we can tell them is, you have to give it away earlier — and I don’t know how much that advice is going to be worth.
    "I’m sure there is going to be increased use of techniques like the Post Transfer Trust and the Personal Services Contract, but it’s hard not to imagine that, in the long run, this new law will mean less business."
    I asked Margolis what practice area might be attractive to elder law attorneys who will now need to find new markets.
    "Definitely special needs planning," he said. "This will be the biggest growth area and it calls for the same skills, the same knowledge base. I also believe elder law attorneys will have an affinity for the work, which involves serving families in need in many of the same ways elder law does."

Vincent Russo, past president of NAELA

Russo    I spoke today with Vincent Russo, past president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). As a prominent elder law attorney on Long Island, NY, Russo has helped thousands of individuals and families facing catastrophic nursing home costs. In July of this year he testified before the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging. In his testimony, about the proposed law, which has now been passed, he told the Senators: "Making asset transfer penalties more punitive will mainly hurt seniors who are faced with horrific health and income security choices and who are acting in good faith."
    I asked Russo what planning tools would be left under the new law.
    “The first thing everyone needs to know is that until this measure becomes law, which according to our best estimate will be on Jan. 4, 2006, the old rules apply,” he said. “That means if your clients have been hesitating, you need to get them in now.
    “As to modifying our planning techniques, there are several areas we will have to explore. We are going to need to look at exempt transfers, and how they might be used. The new law will not affect transfers made for other purposes than Medicaid qualification, so we will have to look at that, as well as payments that might be made for less than full consideration, for example, a personal services contract with a child who is serving as caretaker to their elderly parent.”

Hal Fliegelman, long-time elder law attorney of Philadelphia and founder of MplanToGo

Hal_1   The following are comments from Hal Fliegelman of MplanToGo:
   "The doomsayers are out in full force. "Woe is me.  Thanks to Congress, Medicaid Planning is gone and we have been put out of business."  Cry. Moan. Sob. Grieve. Despair!
     "But not so fast.
     "The reports of Medicaid’s demise are premature and greatly exaggerated.  In fact, this new law represents a fantastic opportunity for us. Just imagine how many of our competitors will give up. Can’t you just hear the whole world crying ‘You can’t get Medicaid without going broke’ (just as they have always done) and we will be saying ‘Yes you can’ (Just as we have always done).      
    "It is true some of our favorite strategies no longer exist, but some of us have already come up with new ones. They won’t shelter as much, but a married person will still be able to shelter the house, a car, more than $95,000 and at least half of the remainder; while a single person will still be able to shelter at least half of his/her assets. Don’t you think that will sound sweet to the person who thinks everything must go?
    "Do you realize what good news this is for us? I predict significant growth for those who stick it out.   In fact, as soon as I heard the House had passed the conference version, I increased my sales projections by 50 percent and my profit margin even more. [There’s an old sales maxim: When you are the only one who has fish to sell, you can sell fish at filet mignon prices, especially when people are hungry and think there is no fish available].
    "So start gearing up. 2006 is going to be a fabulous year for us."

Senate Passes Bill That Will Make Medicaid Planning More Difficult, Cheney Casts Tie-Breaking Vote

Images_13The Republican-controlled Senate passed legislation to cut federal deficits by $39.7 billion on Wednesday by the narrowest of margins, 51-50, with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote. The measure is expected to make many aspects of Medicaid planning and elder law more difficult as it will eliminate some of the popular techniques used to "artificially" impoverish seniors who want to qualify for Medicaid benefits in paying long term care expenses.The House must vote on the bill before it can be sent to President Bush for his signature. According to the Associated Press, passage is all but certain, but the timing remains in question, since most House members have returned home for the holidays. The SmartBlog will post an interview this evening with ElderLawAnswers’ Harry Margolis on what impact he expects the new law to have on elder law and Medicaid planning practices. 

Christopher Walken’s Favorite Word

Christmas_sm_05_1I was watching "Inside The Actor’s Studio" hosted by James Lipton on the Bravo channel. The guest was Christopher Walken, and one of the questions Lipton asks each guest is "What is your favorite word?" Walken didn’t skip a beat. He replied: "Lunch." So, herewith a photo of the Smart Marketing Holiday Lunch: (l-r) Foster Reznor, Sarah Marshall, Diane Sciré, Lesley Blaine, Mark Merenda, Julia DeRocha, Nichole Vanas, Zach Katkin, Harry Casimir. Not pictured: Marcia Albert, Michael Lasalandra.

It’s The Merenda Blog Event!

    Can someone please tell me when did a "sale" became an "event"? Was it around the same time everyone in baseball stopped talking about speed and control, and started talking about velocity and location?
    I turn on the TV, or open the newspapers and all I see are ads for "events." It’s the Mercedes-Benz Spring Event. It’s the Diamond Merchant Holiday Event.
    What’s an event? It’s a generic word that seemingly covers every possible occurance. A wedding is an event. A concert is an event. My burping is an event. A "sale" is an event the same way a "car" is a vehicle.
    I suppose someone at Mercedes or Gucci found the word "sale" a little too… shall I say?…..declassé? And now everyone else must follow suit. Soon we will see the Wal-Mart Summer Solstice Event.

More Marketing Lessons From The Beatles

Images1  One of the most important concepts to understand in marketing, and in business in general, is: Don’t focus on costs.
    Focusing on costs generates fear of loss, one of the strongest human defense mechanisms. Fear of loss will paralyze you and stop you from doing things you need to do, from making the leaps you need to make. You need to be focused on one thing — revenue generation. “Take care of the top line,” said one famous businessman, “and the bottom line will take care of itself.”
    Among the 2005 obituaries is one for a man you never heard of, and there’s a reason you never heard of him.
Images   His name was Eric Griffiths. In 1958, he played with a Liverpool “skiffle” group called the Quarrymen. Asked by his band-mates to switch from guitar to bass, and to purchase both the bass and an amplifier, he realized the only way he could do so was by “hire purchase” (i.e. taking a loan and making monthly payments). Instead, Griffiths joined the British Merchant Navy.
    It was on a ship’s radio in the Persian Gulf in 1963 that Griffiths heard “Please Please Me” the first hit by the former Quarrymen, by that time called The Beatles.

All Things To All People

In marketing, a good rule is: the more things you ask a given marketing vehicle to do, the less effective it is. I could write volumes on the subject, but I am reconsidering… I am in L.A. this week, and yesterday was driving through Encino on the way to an appointment, when I spotted the following sign above an eating establishment: Café Bonjour Kosher Sushi.