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Law Firms Utilizing CRM Systems to Leverage Relationships and Improve Business Strategies

As law firms become more sophisticated in the way they run their businesses, the need to efficiently capture and understand the various contacts and relationships maintained by individual attorneys throughout the firm becomes increasingly important. Additionally, as a firm grows, the need to centralize the information about these relationships and the opportunities they present becomes exponentially important. Like their business clients, law firms--large and small alike--see the value in using sophisticated technology programs to implement client or contact relationship management (CRM) systems.

At the April 25 Delaware Valley Law Firm Marketing Group meeting a panel of local marketing professionals discussed what CRM means and how law firms are using CRM systems to achieve their business goals.

Brad Miller, CRM Manager at Blank Rome, said "a CRM system is designed to reduce costs, improve business strategies, leverage relationships and provide a holistic view of clients and contacts at the right time to the right people."

In essence, CRM is all about knowledge management. This means capturing the information that currently resides in individual attorneys’ heads and their Outlook contacts so that the firm can better understand all the relationships and opportunities that exist with a particular client or referral source.

Implementation

Once a firm makes the decision to invest in a CRM system one of the hardest and most critical steps is the implementation. Members of the panel identified three critical success factors for implementation of a firm-wide system: people, processes and technology.

Miller said that in order for the system to be effective, "there must be a client-contact centric philosophy that permeates the organization and people at all levels of the firm must buy into the idea and the process."

Another panelist, Sharon Argentina, the Business Development Director at Blank Rome, added that it’s important to identify "champions" within the firm that can help sell others on the benefits of using the CRM system. She suggested that marketing professionals, "start at the rainmaker or management level and identify a few champions. Then share those individuals’ success stories with others in the firm."

Just as important as the people, are the processes. Before implementing a system, firms should take the time to think about what they want to achieve with the CRM system. Then, firms must evaluate their existing processes and either reengineer those processes, or develop and implement new ones that will facilitate the collection and use of relevant information.

The final piece is the technology itself. Miller said, "You need the right people to determine the best solution for your firm’s needs, since the technology you select will be what drives the processes that need reengineering."

Additionally, since there are multiple CRM products on the market, firms need to consider factors such as whether they need a system that will integrate with existing software systems such as time and billing, HR or alumni relations.

Gathering and Utilizing the Information

As firms begins to develop and implement processes for gathering and managing the data, they should also outline what they hope to accomplish by utilizing a CRM system. The following are seven common law firm business development goals and how a CRM system can be used to achieve those goals.

  • Leveraging internal knowledge such as who knows whom, the depth of a relationship or the various matters being handled for a particular client. Firms should start by putting the basic business card type information for each contact into the CRM system. The next step is looking at how the individual or company relates to the firm, such as what services the firm provides to the contact. Next, firms should gather and track personal information about the various contacts in the system, such as whether an individual contact received a client advisory or whether a contact attended a recent firm event. Finally, firms can use a CRM system to track personal information about a particular contact such as the individual's birthday or favorite restaurant.
  • Creating successful direct mail campaigns. A CRM system makes it easier for firms to build, maintain and update their various mailing lists. Additionally, since the system is usually integrated with the firm's email software, it is easy to record when a mailing is sent out and to track the effectiveness of the mailing, including the number of click-throughs on an e-newsletter or how many people downloaded a particular article.
  • Obtaining new business through events. Pat Purdy, Senior Direct Marketing and CRM Manager at Duane Morris, told the audience that a firm can use its CRM system to manage all the details for an event, including the attendance list, seating chart, menu selections and, most importantly, the follow up plan. Purdy said that because her firm tracks event details in its CRM system, she can print and distribute to the attorneys a list of attendees prior to an event and then assign different attorneys to meet with different guests during the event. She also uses the system to track event follow up.
  • Obtaining new business through proposals and pitches. The panel members said that they use their CRM systems to track opportunities and generate concise reports that forecast incoming dollars. By tracking new business opportunities in a CRM system, firms can establish a formal review process for all opportunities, such as how the opportunity is qualified, so that attorneys don’t waste time on an opportunity with little or no potential.
  • Cross-selling services to existing clients. A CRM system can also be used to manage the business plans for various industry or services groups, including tracking what team of attorneys is responsible for targeting a particular client or prospect. Within their CRM systems, many firms include information gathered from industry resources such as LexusNexus and "Who Counsels Who." Doing so enables them to gather a quick snapshot of the client, including the client’s organizational structure, what services the firm currently provides to the client, and what services the competition provides to the client.
  • Maintaining relationships with firm alumni. Many firms have found it beneficial to integrate their CRM and HR systems so that when an attorney or staff member leaves the firm, his or her information is automatically dumped into the CRM system. The firm can then easily access information such as the individual's job title or practice area, how long the individual was at the firm and who within the firm will be responsible for maintaining the relationship with the individual and his or her contacts. This information is especially helpful as more and more firms are seeing the benefit of maintaining a relationship with alumni, particularly if the individual is in-house at a company.
  • Tracking incoming and outgoing referral business. Firms are increasing seeing the value of tracking their relationships with vendors and referral sources in a more centralized and organized manner. For example, a CRM system can be used to track both inbound and outbound referrals, so that if an attorney needs to find an expert witness for a case, the attorney can quickly see if the expert witness has sent any work to the firm in the last couple of years. Firms' marketing and business development professionals are also using the referral information to identify which individuals or companies are reciprocating their firms' referrals.

Tips for Success

Members of the panel concluded their presentation with a few final tips about how their firms have successfully implemented a CRM system.

Argentina said, "providing ongoing training for the users is one key to success." She said that Blank Rome's business development and practice development professionals held brown bag lunches and conducted road shows to inform the attorneys and staff in each of the offices about the CRM system and its benefits. Once the system was implemented, she said the business development team continued to discuss the use of the CRM system at practice group meetings.

According to Purdy, firms must continually refine their processes. "The idea is to build firm processes around the CRM system so that you ingrain CRM into the firm culture. For example, we make our attorneys print out their activity records from the CRM system and attach it to their reimbursement requests. The idea is to make things as automated as possible so that inputting information into the CRM system doesn’t seem like another step."

Martha Hess is the Marketing & Business Development Manager with Buchanan Ingersoll PC. She can be reached at hessmj@bipc.com.

 

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