United States: Gaining A Competitive Advantage: Putting A CRM System To Work For Your Law Firm

Last Updated: September 11 2017
Article by Joy Long

In a very competitive landscape, law firms have found that implementing a Client Relationship Management (CRM) system helps them to provide a consistent prospect and client experience. CRM systems can help firms deliver a variety of communications – from monthly blogs and newsletters to client alerts and event invitations – delivering and tracking content has never been easier than it is with a CRM system.

In addition, many CRM systems offer add-on tools, such as business development modules to track the sales cycle, enterprise relationship management (ERM) tools to scrape contacts from users' email accounts, as well as other third-party products, such as company intelligence and automated content delivery, to enrich and provide additional value to the firm and its lawyers.

While this all sounds great, the key to implementing and maintaining a successful CRM system rests on the following five things:

  1. Know what you want your CRM system to do;
  2. Have a plan for implementation;
  3. Create a solid training curriculum for lawyers and staff;
  4. Put staff in place to maintain the CRM and its data integrity; and
  5. Have a plan to track and measure its success.

Without these five pillars in place, a CRM system is destined to fail.

What Problem is Your Firm Trying to Solve?

Before you jump on the bandwagon, however, it is important to know what problem your firm is trying to solve or what value you hope to bring to the firm by purchasing a CRM system. Are you looking for a way to share contact information among the firm? Are you looking for a way to track business development activities? Are you looking for way to send out firm newsletters, blogs and seminar invitations? Perhaps you are looking for all of these things and more.

In order to have a successful implementation and peak usage, you have to understand what it is you want the CRM system to do and how you will track its progress. If you know what you want to track, you can set expectations and measure success.

Implementation Plan

When it comes to CRM systems, many fail because of a failure to plan. Arguably, planning is the most crucial step to the successful implementation of a CRM system. Why? Think of it this way: You can easily implement the system and dump all of your contacts and mailing lists into it – garbage in, garbage out, right? Wrong! Identification of crucial data throughout the firm along with users' contacts and prospects is like putting together a puzzle – a very, very large puzzle.

Start by taking the time to identify all of your important data centers, such as:

  • The information in your accounting and other systems;
  • Practice and industry group mailing lists;
  • Excel spreadsheets stored throughout your network;
  • Individual user's email accounts; and
  • Other random sources that are currently unknown to you, such as other software within your firm that stores client or personnel data (i.e., human resources and alumni data).

Once you consider all the sources that can contain stored data, determine the quality and accuracy of that data. Does one system's data override another, thus producing the most accurate data; or, more likely, do you need to look at the data and "layer" it into a pilot system to produce the most accurate information? Take the time to locate all of your data and prioritize the way you will merge it into one source. This is important because you want to save the most up-to-date data. Remember, what you are trying to avoid is the proliferation of inaccurate information about your clients and prospects.

Schedule time to work with your individual attorneys, staff and departments to cleanse and update data prior to bringing it into the CRM system. Only after you have done this legwork should you work with your CRM provider to create an implementation timeline. Many CRM implementations go awry because a firm fails to look at their data before creating the timeline.

It is important to note that, depending on the size of your firm, a data cleaning project can often take several months or longer, if done in-house by staff. If your firm already has an implementation timeline in place that does not take this into account, you need to know that it can easily throw off your launch by months. And we all know that putting a project on hold or delaying it by months does not look good for anyone.

When it comes to implementation, it is best to run a pilot program within your firm to work out the kinks prior to a firm wide launch. Select those who are open to change and looking for ways to gain operating efficiency. They can often identify adjustments and best practices prior to your firm wide roll out. Also, they will become your firm's best assets, continually extolling the virtues of the new system.

Creating a Training Plan

The goal is to get everyone on the CRM system because the more information everyone shares, the richer the depth of information that can be achieved. When everyone participates, we all win. To be successful, you will need to designate a key trainer (or hire a trainer) that can provide not only routine training to staff, but also provide ongoing training to promote the benefits of the CRM system.

It is important to create a training program that:

  • Explains the value and benefit of using the CRM system.
  • Concisely teaches users the basic how-tos of the CRM, such as adding a contact, searching a contact and deleting a contact, as well as how to avoid adding duplicate contacts.
  • Keeps your basic training basic. The goal is to build a solid foundation, not show users every feature available. The more you show, the less they will use the system because it will be perceived as too complicated.
  • Provides lawyers and staff with frequent updates on new features and rolls out new training courses to show them how to use those features.

Finally, you will need to decide how often you will want users to update their information and provide them with a road map of what that maintenance will look like so they don't feel ambushed with data cleansing tasks later. The benefit of providing ongoing training helps to maintain data integrity while helping the firm to promote a culture of sharing information for everyone's benefit.

Maintaining Your Data Integrity

Data integrity is the name of the game when it comes to a CRM system. It is unreasonable to believe that you can ever have a CRM system that is error free. However, there are many things you can do to maintain your firm's data integrity.

Before you launch the CRM, you need to have a solid maintenance plan in place. Will your firm's marketing department maintain the system? Will administrative assistants help? Or, will it be a combination of both? No matter the answer, your firm needs a database manager and a clear plan of action because a CRM system needs constant, ongoing attention. It is essential that someone is in charge of maintaining data integrity and there is the possibility that an additional person will need to be hired. Is your firm ready to make a commitment to expand staff to maintain data integrity?

If you do not have the staffing resources within your firm, there are a number of firms that can assist in both the initial data cleansing process prior to implementation, as well as perform the ongoing weekly/monthly maintenance to help your firm maintain its data. Though it involves additional cost, using an outside company to help with this arduous task can often prove more cost-effective because you have data experts at your fingertips when you have questions and they are not sidetracked with other marketing tasks.

Tracking and Measuring Success

What does success look like to your firm? Every firm will be different. In some firms, just having an updated mailing list to deliver blogs, newsletters and invitations is enough. Other firms will say success is growing awareness by increasing the number of contacts receiving content, while still others will want to go further and faster, using the system to track business development activities and provide users with company intelligence reports. No matter where your firm lies on this continuum, you will need to decide that before you launch your system.

Again, if your firm can determine what problems you are solving or what value you are adding, you can then track and measure success. Make sure to work on this piece of your plan directly with your firm leadership and the CRM provider. All CRM systems provide a multitude of reporting features that can usually be tweaked to your firm's needs.

Like any other software housed within a law firm ecosystem, you can only succeed when everyone knows the mission and gets on board. A CRM system has the potential to create a culture of information sharing, provide lawyers with a wealth of information about their clients and prospects, and provide value and efficiency. This is not something that will happen overnight, but with enough planning and patience, the payoff is worth the work.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Joy Long
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