Investing in Your Law Firm’s Client Relationship Management

Providing an outstanding customer experience is crucial for both bringing in new clients and building new business. And customer experience means more than the quality of the legal advice your firm provides. It extends to the ways you interact with them and the efficiency of your internal processes, which includes all of your firm’s technology tools. Classic law firm client relationship management tools are becoming obsolete, falling behind the power of more complete, integrated practice management solutions.

Integrated client relationship management

End-to-end practice management (PM) systems allow you to take your customer relationship management (CRM) to a new level. Going far beyond the classic CRM, they allow you to offer necessary services such as collaboration, document creation, secure data storage, invoicing and payment, and more in one location. What’s more important, they will enable you to build these services around the client relationship. Everything about the client is centrally located and perfectly integrated, making your attorneys’ days simpler and giving your clients quick access to everything they need to know about their matters.

And the survey says… 

Results from a recent AboveTheLaw survey on legal technology usage reinforce the importance of law firm client relationship management. It delves into how integrated practice management solutions can ratchet up your BD efforts.

  • Over a third of all respondents — 35.29% —  indicated that improving BD and client relationship efforts was a key driver behind putting their existing practice management solution in place. 
  • Among those looking to implement new technology, this issue was even more critical, with 40.34% of all respondents citing BD/CRM as a task they hope to improve through technology.

One last significant data point from the survey is the ways firms currently handle their CRM needs. 

  • Nearly half of respondent firms still use an ad hoc collection of applications to deal with their legal technology needs – e.g., Outlook or Slack for communications, Microsoft Office for document creation, email for document collaboration, etc. 
  • A little less than 50% have moved from the ad hoc approach to a hybrid arrangement, including a PM solution supplemented by additional applications.

Both the ad hoc and the hybrid systems suffer from inefficiencies and technical difficulties, including the need for duplication in data entry and the failure of the miscellaneous applications to communicate well with each other. Despite this, less than 10% of firms of all sizes have chosen a fully integrated PM solution.

In short, the survey makes clear that firms and attorneys want and need legal practice management tools that improve their CRM efforts. What they do not yet seem to be doing is implementing them in the most effective ways.

Building better client relationships by stepping beyond a CRM

Although various industries, including law firms, have used CRM systems for years, many attorneys still do not fully understand the purpose of CRM functionality or how it can benefit their practice, notably when they feature a fully-integrated PM solution. Many attorneys still think a contact card and an email client (think Microsoft Outlook) are the best tools for managing client relationships. 

But by doing so, they miss out on an opportunity to become more efficient and provide their clients better service while also developing better processes for bringing in new clients and new business from existing clients.

End-to-end PMs extend the power of CRM tools far beyond just knowing how to reach a client. Instead, they manage the entire customer relationship, from client development to intake to communications to collaboration and more. They provide analytical tools to help firms optimize their sales pipelines and conversion rates. And they help firms strengthen and extend existing relationships.

A single source of reality improves internal and external user experiences

A good law firm client relationship management philosophy is about using your practice management tools effectively to provide an outstanding client experience. PM solutions accomplish this in several ways.

  1. First of all, a well-implemented PM solution centralizes all of the firm’s information about a client in one location, from the client’s contact information to who is working with them to the best communication method to reach them and how often. Centralization allows attorneys to coordinate their efforts, improving the overall likelihood of generating a sale. It also solves the problem of multiple attorneys attempting to contact the same client repeatedly without knowing what the other is doing, potentially annoying and alienating the client. Internally, fully functional PM systems offer high-end analytics to help firms assess the effectiveness of their business development efforts. They can help you understand individual client needs, the desirability of specific industry segments, the profitability of particular types of clients, and more. And because these systems integrate many standard functions (e.g., client intake, accounting, matter management, etc.) into a single package drawing from a shared data source, they are far more effective than relying on a suite of individual applications that may or may not talk to each other. Good PM tools help you become more efficient by avoiding duplicative data entry and unnecessary logins into multiple systems when responding to a client request. More efficient work means that your attorneys can spend more time on billable work, which means more revenue and better profitability for the firm.
  2. CRM tools in PM systems can also facilitate cross-selling across multiple practice areas. Indeed, they can highlight opportunities to generate different types of business from an existing client that firms may miss because only one or two attorneys have enough knowledge about the client.

But just as importantly, if not more, end-to-end PM solutions improve the law firm client management experience, particularly when compared to the limited features of classic CRM tools. By offering streamlined communications, effective collaboration tools, easy access to billing and invoicing information, comprehensive calendaring and more, PM systems give you and the client a central, holistic view of the progress on their matters. And by applying automation tools across functions, you can improve the customer experience even more.

In short, PM systems help firms leverage the entirety of their collective knowledge about a client to deliver the best possible client experience while also building knowledge bases about clients and their industries for future business development efforts.

Getting attorney buy-in for PM systems is a no brainer

Have you had far too much experience with attorneys moving into objection mode when faced with a new tool? Are you expecting to hear common mantras like:

  • It takes too much time and effort to learn a new system.
  • I already have an address book that works, so I don’t need a new one.
  • I’m afraid I will lose my data during the transfer from one system to the next.
  • It’s just another cost that will eat into my profit.

Never fear — these are the simple concerns to address. The best response is to retool your message. 

What to say and how to say it

Don’t lead off with a post-implementation training session that drags your team through every feature of the tool. Instead, get out in front of the issue and generate excitement by telling them how a fully-featured PM system makes their lives easier, followed by how it improves their bottom line. After you get them invested in using the tool, then you can train them on the specifics of how to use it.

A more complex issue for firms is a lack of trust among attorneys, particularly in firms where compensation relies on older traditional definitions of originations. Frequently, attorneys in these firms do not want other attorneys to have access to their client information out of fear that they will lose their clients and thus their originations.

It takes more effort to overcome the trust hurdle, but the solution again involves reframing how you sell a PM tool. Make clear that the point of the PM system is not to let every attorney start going after every firm contact. Instead, it is to promote more effective, coordinated business development efforts. And it is a two-way street. All attorneys can improve the efficiency of their business development efforts by knowing what others have done.

Taking your law firm client relationship management to the next level

Your clients deserve the best experience that you can give them. And you and your firm deserve the business development benefits that naturally flow from the relationships you build. Happy clients generate repeat business, and even more importantly, new referral business. Usefully integrated practice management solutions with robust client relationship management tools deliver the best experience possible for you and your clients. 

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