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Financial Planning > Trusts and Estates > Estate Planning

A Lawyer Became an Advisor. Now He Runs 2 Firms.

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Talk about wearing two hats: Registered investment advisor Michael Garry is owner of Yardley Wealth Management and Yardley Estate Planning, two separate firms operating in the same office suite — and ever the twain shall meet.

In an interview with ThinkAdvisor, he discusses the benefits and challenges of helming these individual but complementary practices.

Previously an attorney with two Philadelphia law firms, the CFP, 53, switched to financial advisory when he joined Merrill Lynch some two decades ago, then moved to Global Investment Management, an RIA, as chief compliance officer for five years.

In 2007, he resumed practicing law upon opening Yardley Estate Planning, a year after he launched his RIA, the FA’s primary business.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, however, he has seen more estate planning engagements this year than in any other since forming his estate planning firm: A rising number of people are requesting such services, the preparation of wills, in particular.

With $115 million in assets under management, Garry focuses on pre-retirees and retired professionals with investable assets averaging $800,000-$900,000.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed the estate planning attorney, who was on the phone from his Pennsylvania home. The two businesses are based in Yardley, a Bucks County township not far from his native Philadelphia.

Garry actively prospects for advisory clients using social media — and nothing but social media. “The internet saved me,” he says, elaborating on how digital communication is ideal for this socially reserved FA.

Here are highlights of our conversation:

THINKADVISOR: What’s the biggest benefit to having both a financial advisory and a law practice for estate planning?

MICHAEL GARRY: Estate planning is a big part of what all advisors talk to their clients about. I can do it in a little more depth than most, and that’s helpful. It’s a nice service you can add.

How does it serve you as a business owner?

Most new clients need both services. So it helps to attract people. It’s hard enough for them to find a financial advisor or an attorney they like, and usually people will interview a few. A lot of clients have told us that going to one location for both services was a big part of their reason for looking into us and hiring us.

On a personal basis, what do you like about having the two practices?

First, I like the intellectual challenge. Staying on top of both things keeps me active, busy and thinking. Also, I didn’t practice law that long before I became a financial advisor. So this assuages a little guilt I feel about borrowing all that money, spending all that time going to law school and passing the bar exam, but then not practicing law for very long.

What constitutes most of your estate planning work?

Preparing wills. We mostly do basic documents. People need wills, and usually within them are trusts for kids and grandkids. Occasionally, someone wants a standalone trust. Now that the estate exemptions are so high, many fewer people need real complicated tax planning.

Amid the pandemic, have you had more clients that want to do estate planning?

Yes — and it’s the clients who have initiated it. We’ve already had more people that had estate planning engagements this year than in any other year — [especially] more people than usual who aren’t our financial advisory clients.

Do your advisory clients ever employ your attorney services on a one-off basis?

Yes, when something in their life changes or the law changes. It’s a normal thing. For the most part, 70%-90% of the law firm’s clients are ongoing or new financial advisory clients.

What’s the biggest challenge to having these two firms at the same time?

Trying to keep up with everything — the work, regulations. It adds a big layer of complexity. And there’s [lots of] time involved in meeting with [estate-planning] clients — doing the documents and making sure everything is OK. There’s also time needed to keep my licenses active and for taking continuing education. So there’s definitely a cost to it, but it’s been 13 years now — and so far, it’s been worth it.

Did you always plan to start an estate planning firm along with your financial firm?

No. But almost a year after I opened my advisory, a friend said to me: “I don’t know why you haven’t started [a law practice] too. It makes so much sense.” I thought, right, it was something I could do — so why not do it?

How do you prospect for advisory clients?

Social media is all we do — especially newsletters and blogs. Both firms have Facebook pages, and I have personal Twitter and LinkedIn pages. We send out some of our content and other articles that we think are interesting.

Why do you favor digital prospecting?

I’m not an outgoing guy. If you were to meet me, you’d probably think I’m more the stereotypical quiet lawyer who reads a lot than the stereotypical outgoing financial advisor. I’m not ever going to ask somebody for business unless they say something to me first.

So social media prospecting is clearly helpful, right?

The internet saved me. When it came along, I sent out a lot of stuff, paid people to [revise] my website — and got a lot of visibility.

Do you feel more outgoing when you interact online?

It may be a bit easier for me to communicate that way: I can take a little time and write something rather than going up to somebody. The initial meeting is the hard part. Whenever we have [in-person] conferences again, you’re likely to see me with a sandwich in my hand looking at my phone, not talking to three or four people.

You were a practicing attorney before you became an FA. Bearing in mind your reserve, why did you switch to financial advisory?

After law school, I worked in two law practices. At the second one, they gave me a bunch of workers’ comp cases. I knew nothing about [the subject], and I hated it: An employee fell off a roof and never wanted to work again — the employer wanted them back that afternoon. Nobody was reasonable. It was just awful and very stressful for me.

Why did you then decide to join Merrill Lynch as an FA?

I met a recruiter at a networking event. One of the things that [appealed to me] was that if I went to work at Merrill, I’d know pretty soon whether I’d be able to be financially successful.

After Merrill, you were VP and chief compliance officer at Global Investment Management, an RIA. What was your next step?

After four-and-a-half years, I decided to hang out my own shingle and be self-employed. That was scary for somebody in their 30s with two kids at the time. But it turned out to be the best thing I ever did.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, are more clients asking for help with retirement planning?

Yes. It’s people who are going to retire or have retired earlier than they planned to. Some teaches, for example, were fearful of going back to in-person work. Others didn’t want to make the long commute into the city.

When the pandemic hit, how did your advisory clients, in general, react?

People were very, very scared in March and April, when the market was really challenging. They were afraid of [portfolio decline] as well as getting really sick or hospitalized.

What did you do to try to help them?

From March into June, we did a lot more reaching out. About twice a week we sent them a lot of material, like newsletters with Snappy Kraken pieces [customized content for FAs]. They required very little editing on my part to give clients the feel that [I wrote them].

How else did you connect with them?

Some clients got personalized emails about what I thought they’d be most concerned about. Others got phone calls, if that’s the way they prefer to communicate. Some people don’t like to think about it when things are bad financially — so I didn’t reach out to those in any particular way. They just got emails that we regularly send to everyone.

As diversion from your two businesses, what do you do for fun? 

I work out almost every day, and my wife and I golf nine holes several times a week. We walk. I have no problem with activity!

I know that you’re very athletic: You’ve completed marathons, bike-a-thons and won the Clydesdale division — men over 200 pounds — of a 71-mile half-triathlon. Two years ago you completed an Ironman triathlon in Maryland. What was that like?

You have 17 hours to do it. I took 16:53:09. I just made it. Crazy!

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