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I sometimes find it hard to believe that I started work on my first law firm CRM project 20 years ago.  It was for a single office London based firm called Wilde Sapte.  The firm was over 200 years old and fairly traditional in many respects but they were ahead of the game in many others.  They had their own marketing database and were deciding to replace it with an exciting new American product built specially for law firms called InterAction.  Of course as we all know, Wilde Sapte merged with Denton Hall in 2000 and then Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal ten years later and since that time have merged and acquired others to become the largest law firm in the world. Now I am not suggesting that CRM was entirely responsible for this massive transformation.  A great deal has changed in the last 20 years which has had an impact on Dentons and of course many other firms, but in many respects whilst things have changed a great deal has stayed the same. InterAction® is still the market leader amongst law firms, but now significantly has a number of competitors challenging for market share.  The expectations that firms have from their CRM system have developed significantly.  Running marketing events—which is what most firms wanted from their system—is now rapidly being replaced in the list of “must-have” functionality with much more sales driven requirements.  That in itself is a major change.  “Sales” is no longer a dirty word in most firms. As we embark on a new era of change and increasing commercialisation and competition, what can we expect from our CRM technology and how will firms adapt to the new challenges that they face when it comes to managing client relationships?
<< In the 1990s firms were suddenly faced with the prospect of having to do marketing for the first time and to compete for clients.
We REALLY need to do some marketing then!
<< This was something that for many law firms—who had been around for literally hundreds of years—were not entirely prepared for!
Perhaps we need some sort of system?
<< Technology for managing marketing began to emerge in the 1990’s.  Firms realised that they needed a “database” to manage their marketing effort.  InterAction® emerged as the market leader, but most firms saw this as making a decision purely about technology and not about data, training, communications and most importantly, change.
Our CRM System is not working!
<< As firms had not really thought about what their system was for, they weren’t able to determine if it had been successful.  As data wasn’t cleaned, users weren’t trained, these systems quickly fell into disrepute.
There was a wave of initiatives to re-launch CRM systems.  Lexis Nexis® bought Interface Software®, Thompson Reuters® bought Contact Net® and the big players started to face-off to dominate the market of CRM technology.  However firms still were not managing to convince their lawyers that there was something “in it for them” when it came to CRM; it was still a very technically-lead project designed primarily for the benefit of Marketing and Business Development.
Maybe we need a new CRM system?
<< Most firms still didn’t address the key change management issues however so for many the relaunch didn’t work.
A number of new players began to emerge in to the market as we moved in to a new millennium.  Companies in other sectors were quick to adopt Salesforce® and Microsoft Dynamics® and seemed to be generating significant success from their investment. As the “DotCom” bubble expanded, the idea of “Big Data” started to become of interest to firms. We started to ask ourselves questions:

  • “Wouldn’t it be great to understand why clients buy from us so that we can find more like them”?
  • “How about understanding which clients are only working with one practice area, so we can cross-sell other services to them”?
  • “Where are the really strong relationships that exist between our firm and our clients so we can work out how best to nurture and develop our clients”?
Let's work out what our system is meant to do!
A new way of thinking started to emerge at firms.  Basically that the “tail should not be wagging the dog”.  Rather than trying to mould the behaviours of users to meet the design of the system, firms who were successful with CRM started to work out how to position the use of the system as a way to support those programmes and initiatives that users were already bought-in to.  For example developing key clients, tracking referrals, anything that was of interest to busy lawyers.
Technology has also moved on dramatically over the last 20 years.  I mean who ever thought of Signature scraping?  Who thought up the fact that you could automatically score relationships based on activities and emails? We now have systems that complement CRM, for creating and tracking proposals, managing experience and credentials and all of this can now be delivered in Outlook®, on your mobile and your tablet.
Wow our CRM System is a SUCCESS!
It’s been a pretty interesting journey over the last 20 years of legal CRM and it’s true many things have indeed changed. However in many respects nothing has changed.

  1. Data stills keeps on getting dirty. So implementing a clear plan for managing data and deploying tools and resources is critical to success.
  2. Most users are too busy to come to training courses. The increasing pressure on lawyer billable hours means we have to work out strategies for using “dead” time for client relationship management and move further down the road of passive data collection.
  3. Our clients and potential clients are increasingly wary and frustrated with being over-communicated with and legislation is changing to increase their rights. Therefore making sure that you can categorise contacts by their areas of interest and their level of engagement with you is fundamental.

We all know what it takes to be successful when it comes to law firm CRM but it has to start with the most important question of all:

Why are we doing this?

In order to sell CRM to your users you have to be able to answer that question yourself.

As for me, I’m looking forward to the next 20 years in legal CRM. Or maybe not. Perhaps I should go and do something a little easier, like managing Brexit!