How to Use Customer Relationship Management Tools in the Legal Space

Topics: Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Client Relations, Data Analytics, Law Firms, Legal Innovation, Legal Managed Services, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, Small Law Firms

CRM

We’ve all heard catch phrases like “The customer is number one” or “The client is always right.” Tough to disagree with either of those golden oldies because they’ve both withstood the test of time.

But, in practice, does a law firm always understand how to meet client needs? As we know, the business world is a dynamic place. One day profits might be top of mind, the next day it could be growth, and a third perhaps the state of the R&D pipeline. Generally speaking, comprehending client needs certainly sounds simple, but in reality, it’s not as straightforward as it may seem. For most law firms, at any particular point in time, their clients mix contains a set of priorities spanning attributes like cost, service, quality, diversity, culture, and most likely a few other items especially unique to a particular litigation or claim.

Like many problems posed in today’s society, technology — while not the entire answer, in and of itself — can help sort some of these issues out. More specifically, systems such as customer relationship management systems, often known as a CRM, can help tackle these issues. What exactly is a CRM? Well, according to SalesForce.com, one of the leading players in this space, a CRM is technology platform for managing all your company’s relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers.

So, how can a CRM help? Obviously, employees within a law firm interact with clients, prospects and referral sources on a frequent basis and for a wide array of reasons, big and small. There are meetings, court dates, depositions, e-mails, strategy sessions, social engagements, conference calls, and a host of other types of interchanges. During any of these, a client might expresses some sort of new challenge, emerging need, or other valuable piece of feedback. Capturing this information and being able to share it with other lawyers on the team is one of several benefits of a CRM platform.


A law firm who infuses into the culture of employees the trait of careful listening, and then documenting findings within a database, has created a strong foundation for a CRM project.


This idea — bringing opportunities back for discussion within the firm — is the first key opportunity presented by CRM technology. A law firm who infuses into the culture of employees the trait of careful listening, and then documenting findings within a database, has created a strong foundation for a CRM project. Raising awareness of customer priorities and positioning them for firm-wide discussion is a huge win. This is because, in those instances when “the listener” might not be able to help with a specific issue, there is a far greater likelihood others within the firm are able to help once the customer’s goals are bandied about for discussion.

So, now that we understand why this process is vitally important, let’s shift our attention to how law firms can make this work for them. Like most areas, there are several excellent software tools in the marketplace which can help with this function. However, I think it is safe to say that a law firm (and especially a boutique law firm such as the type of firm I work for) is fundamentally different from companies like Pfizer or Apple, who have thousands of sales reps calling on many more thousands of customers every day. More specifically, it is probably fair to hypothesize that, in many instances, an application suite that’s a bit more tailored in scope and scale to the industry can be a better fit for some firms.

What might that application look like? Perhaps software which is easily customizable to law firms’ specific data points, such as the desire to focus on particular industries, types of contacts, types of encounters, and defined practices of law.

So, how would this work in real life? Let’s consider one encounter as a mini case study: An attorney at your law firm speaks with local trial counsel at a deposition of product-specific expert witness in an asbestos litigation. The trial counsel tells your lawyer that he believes a company in one of your law firm’s targeted industries has a need for a resolution counsel specialist to provide strategic guidance on some emerging litigation. Could that insight be helpful, if logged into a CRM interface and flagged for a future discussion at the firm? I believe the answer to that question is a resounding “Yes!”

Now that we understand the value of a CRM and how something tailored to the legal industry can provide a utility to a law firm; how can we implement such a system? Well, the legal industry is probably not all that different from many other professional service organizations in that regard. One important step is understanding how the discipline of project management and effectively linking functional employees with technology professionals is an important connection necessary to improve business processes. Thankfully, the legal industry is on-board in this area, increasingly integrating the framework of Legal Project Management throughout various common processes and workflows.


In whatever manner the CRM journey is navigated, the desired end result should be crystal clear: A culture where law firms listen to clients and have the tools to share needs with leadership, melded together with an existing mechanism to develop outstanding approaches to meet client goals.


Attempting to clear the next hurdle, technical implementation, law firms are then charged with the task of overseeing application development projects designed to build software to meet these business needs. Traditionally, law firms have relied on external parties or consultants to help with projects of this nature. However, in recent years, law firms are seeing more value in creating some internal expertise. This can be in the form of an innovation unit, a technology incubator or doing what my firm did many years ago, creating a unit, Xerdict Group, designed to build applications to meet legal client and business needs. Any or all of these will work, and there are certainly multiple pathways to success.

In whatever manner the CRM journey is navigated, the desired end result should be crystal clear: A culture where law firms listen to clients and have the tools to share needs with leadership, melded together with an existing mechanism to develop outstanding approaches to meet client goals.

A CRM is, without a doubt, an awesome strategy to support a law firm taking the necessary steps to be sure the client is both always right and number one!