In this article, Michael Perkins talks about how collaboration fuels how we work with financial planners and other professionals to serve our clients better.

Collaboration in the business system sense is a new engine room to drive the evolution of Estates Practice beyond the traditional concepts of wealth management.

At Autonomy First Lawyers, we use collaboration in a business sense to help shape and operate our relationship with professionals with whom we work concurrently around a client in jobs like estate planning, administration, governance and succession.

Starting with the customer’s job to be done

Clayton Christensen from Harvard Business School led the team which proposed the “Jobs to be Done” theory in 2016.

Whilst focused on commercial business practice, the theory and its supporting published material were also applicable to professional practice, including law. YouTube has a good library of this work. (Search for “Clayton Christensen jobs to be done”)

Business imperatives have fostered functional specialisation in the professions. This has led to productised services flourishing in the expectation that our customers can simply select what they needed.

Clayton Christensen reminded us that clients have needs that single products alone may not fulfil. Our experience leads us to the conclusion that the best client outcomes occur when the client’s expectation (their job to be done) is aligned to the actual service delivered.

There is often learning for both professionals and clients in the course of the job. In the end, however, it is in achieving that alignment that client satisfaction is optimised.

Yes, we are simply in the business of using our knowledge, skill, experience and resources to produce satisfied clients. What undermines this goal?

Avoiding disappointment – a continuing challenge

Disappointment is not only a risk of failing a client but also failing a colleague. Reputation risk is on the line in all aspects of an engagement. We use adhering to the ethics of care as a baseline expectation in managing performance in professional engagements by all parties including our clients.

For more information about this approach see the briefing paper on our website.

We work in a specialised technical area in which clients generally have limited expertise. That is why we are being engaged. We must then make our services relatable to our clients. We find this is often best achieved by one of a client’s existing advisers (such a financial planner, accountant , commercial or taxation adviser) taking the role of the lead adviser who is in charge of translating the expectations of the client and the lead advisers’ knowledge of the client situation into an executable scope of work for us as lawyers. Sometimes clients can take on this role directly. In both cases, the initial task is to place the job to be done in the context of the client’s situation and validate there is a viable way to meet their expectation.

Often this is our first phase of work and comprises the estate planning phase of the engagement. This approach is also a requirement of our professional practice rules as lawyers. Not all professionals are held to the same standards. Collaboration in a business systems sense helps us form ethically sound and professional practice compliant methods of work that can then apply across multiple professional boundaries.

What is estates practice?

Estates Practice not only deals with wills, personal representation, estate administration and succession but also with a client’s concern about their care and the administration of their affairs during their life and following their death. These causes and concerns can in turn be summarised as concerns dealing with:

  1. Wealth Conservation
  2. Estate Governance and Administration
  3. Succession
  4. Values Based Care Planning
  5. Mitigating abuse risk in the administration of a person’s affairs
  6. Optimising how the will and preference of a client is to be supported and safeguarded in the administration of their affairs during their life and after their incapacity, disability or death
  7. Resolving the significance of a client’s territorial connections on their estate administration objectives.

Clarity in the client’s intentions and objectives allows us to actively manage the client’s satisfaction with our services. Clear communication with clients through a lead adviser can often simplify the management of a job. Communication preferences and reporting expectation need to be established at the start of a matter.

Where we are dealing with estate administration and succession problems, any given objective or concern of a client may generate issues that need skills of accounting, tax, financial service, banking, insurance as well as legal services.

Efficient delivery of services can only occur if there is not only clarity of communication but also, in our experience, common practices for case management and workflow management. Clarity about the job to be done may start with the client but also permeates how we then draw in or are drawn in to work with the client.

Estates Practice is not the domain of any single profession

Estates Practice is not the domain of any single profession. It is a landscape of a client’s affairs that we are engaged to service. To do that efficiently, in these areas of complex high stakes decisions, collaborating professionals need to have common systems and approaches to dealing with following, as needed:

  1. Common objective (Do we have a common intent to collaborate? What outcome is being sought?)
  2. Senior Management buy-in
  3. Organisational alignment (Do we know our place and role in the collaboration? Do we have service ethics alignment?)
  4. Organisational context (How does this approach fit within the operational domain of each organisation? For example, are you trying to fit the supply of a product into an overall collaborative engagement?)
  5. Do we have a structured approach to the engagement? (This is where ISO 44001 and the Institute for Collaborative Working can help)
  6. Do we have adequately articulated strategic objectives?
  7. Do we have sufficient personal skills across the organisation to fuel collaboration?
  8. Do we have right personal behaviours that can produce the collaborative outcomes sought?
  9. Do we have clear lines of communication between the collaborators and with the client?
  10. Have we established a viable environment for collaboration?
  11. Do we have common tools to facilitate collaboration?
  12. Do we have a flexible approach to executing a collaborative engagement?

This list can also be thought of as the attributes of effective business system level collaborators. Is it worth the effort to align organisations in this way? In our experience, the answer is always yes, where the collaboration allows entry into new markets and client segments, improvement in the production of work and the creation of new service bundles that can be more profitable for collaborators than their previous business models.

Starting to collaborate

The Institute for Collaborative Working encourages prospective collaborators to use their internal collaboration assessment tool available at

Using this tool can, for the sake of an afternoon’s effort, help resolve if a proposed professional or commercial relationship would be better characterised as a supply or referral relationship rather than collaboration.

The tool is focused on resolving points 1-4 of the collaboration attributes set out above. In our work with financial planners, an initial focus is on points 1-4 and then points 9, 11 and 12.

The adoption of collaboration as a business system is a necessary evolution of the culture and operation of the enterprise.

This requires business owner buy-in and sufficient power being given to staff to implement collaboration as a model. A collaborating business needs to anoint and empower its change makers and collaborators. ISO 44001 is simply a guidebook to inspire and shape the journey.

Collaboration between Lawyers and Financial Planners

Step 1 – It is the client’s job that is the subject of collaboration

Align the methods for information capture and transfer.

Align privacy and data collection policies.

Segment the work to be done in identifying the client and their situation from the work to develop options and present alternatives.

Step 2 – Implementing a relationship management or work plan that can be shared between all parties

Identify who is in charge of each step and the reporting expectations.

Regularly review the work pipeline and share any issues with client service delivery.

Step 3 – Use a common communications platform to facilitate collaboration

We use Microsoft Teams, Planner and One Note as well as ActionStep as a practice management system on the law practice side.

Evolving our technical infrastructure to support business system-level collaboration remains a work in progress.

Feedback so far from our collaborators

Clients feel empowered and appreciate the level of planning and communication we use so they remain engaged to the job.

Should things go wrong, we have a framework for service so we can go back to the client and keep them informed.

Pricing to the inputs of the job is accepted readily by clients as the pricing is aligned to what they want to get out of the job.

Last thoughts

Collaboration is not the be-all and end-all of how we work. This is simply a valuable addition to how we work with colleagues and clients when appropriate to the relationship.

Our ideas of estate planning have to be reset to respond to the evolving nature of people, families and society.

Estates Practice is an inherently multi-disciplinary professional practice field that is still working out optimal ways to efficiently deliver best outcomes for clients. This results in new firms like Autonomy First looking to implement business model support for this approach to working.

We are continuing to build fresh collaborations as the firm continues to evolve and appreciate the support of the Institute for Collaborative Working in the UK and Australia for our work in adapting ISO 44001 to local professional practice.