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The Future Landscape of Client Relationship Management
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The Future Landscape of Client Relationship Management Janet Accardo, Silvia Coulter, Lisa Gianakos
The Future Landscape of Client Relationship Management

There is no question the legal industry in 2009–2010 is undergoing a transformation. The law firm of the future will look vastly different from that of today. The changes are being driven by a number of dynamics affecting the industry: (1) legal professionals—the talent of tomorrow has different expectations about their careers and about how they will shape their destiny; (2) buyers—the demand side of the industry is pushing back and having impact on a number of things including the rates, the legal services, and the client-facing aspects of the practice (e.g., case management, billing); (3) technology—technology will have a dramatic impact on the way in which legal services are created and delivered, and firms will continue their investment in technology. Some say the practice of law will never be the same. We agree. In fact, technology is likely to have the most impact on the transformation, and this article discusses one area we believe will be seriously impacted—client relationship management (CRM).

Fox Rothschild's chief knowledge officer, Catherine Monte, puts it quite well when she says, "In order to retain current clients, law firms will always need to exceed expectations of service, and part of that equation is to strive to enhance the client experience." She follows with three questions the firm considers for current and future planning with respect to the CRM systems her group continues to develop: "1) what information do clients want?; 2) how do they want to access the information?; and 3) how do they want to connect with the firm and its professionals? The client-facing considerations will be key factors in future firms' ability to differentiate themselves from competitors and align more closely with clients to add value to the relationships." Reed Smith's CRM systems manager, Victoria Gregory, believes that all the relationship tools including Facebook, Outlook, LinkedIn, and others will be "encompassed in one firm system working in conjunction with traditional CRM data to deliver very rich intelligence about individuals and the varying relationships they have with others." Harris Tilevitz, chief technology officer at Skadden, Arps, cautions that "these CRM systems will complement, but still not substitute for, the basic rules in sales and marketing, which are to know the needs of the client and how to service them. Business development comes from building and leveraging business relationships." We certainly agree that some aspects of that will not change in the future. Robert Davis, applications developer/data specialist at Varnum Riddering, adds, "Paying attention to existing clients will still provide the best bang for the buck. Sharing the information that you have for those current clients within the firm will minimize duplications."

All these changes to a broader inclusion of data about clients (and therefore a better handle as suggested above on the "client experience" aspects of the firm's relationships) will clearly involve a significant people and training factor. As Gregory predicts, "Law firms will need to learn ways to expedite behavioral change among their professionals and staff in order to adopt new technologies with greater ease, and thus meet the challenges of keeping up with the rapidly changing, technologically driven environment we find ourselves immersed in, even today."

The ability to utilize the tools together and with one "dashboard" viewing is already commonplace in some firms. Ayelette Robinson, practice resources attorney for Morrison & Foerster, agrees and adds, "We connect our CRM information with information from our various systems including content management (documents and e-mails), time and billing, personnel. This allows the firm's practitioners to understand the full picture of each contact, from matters we've handled for a client, to areas of law, to who worked on the matters, to who has connections with these individuals. All of this context can be viewed in a dashboard-like format, and users can click in any section to dig deeper and access more detailed information." Many firms believe that the firm of the future will have all of this information available at professionals' fingertips through handheld devices connected to all data dealing with clients and client work.

So, 10 years from now, what will the picture look like? Where are we with database tools and enterprise relationship management systems? Web 2.0 seems to be the most common response when gazing into the crystal ball at the year 2020 law firm. "That, coupled with the cultural shift that will occur when Gen Yers move up into positions of power," points out Robinson. "Today's buzzwords will no longer be buzzwords." Gregory's instincts are telling her that "it will be encompassed in one system, which will be supplied via SaaS (software as a service), where the firm simply selects which third-party systems and tools they want to include in their bespoke system." Robinson's vision of the future includes those technologies that also marry with the client experience—"an organization reaches client service nirvana when it knows what its customers need not only before they need it, but also before they know they need it. And technologies that support this level of client service—aggregators of business, professional, and personal information about your clients and tools that bring your service to your clients within their own environment and in real time—will be the tools supporting the front of the pack." Adds Tilevitz, Skadden's chief technology officer, "Provide a good product and good service and you won't lose business. Has that concept changed in 100 years?" We agree it hasn't, and add that the technologies supporting the "good product" and "good service" coupled with relationship building will help to ensure that firms retain clients.

How do we get from here to there? We see firms' business professionals continue to build bridges across their functional areas to support the complex web of technology, data, client feedback, and the human element involved in all these areas. Project teams will be formed to assess what's working well and where there is drag on the system so it can be improved and operate efficiently. The professional development programming will continue beyond continuing legal education, and will integrate modules on CRM to help facilitate learning (even for those tech-savvy Gen Yers). And, the client experience will be vastly improved due to the efficiencies on the delivery side that continue to add significant value to their relationships. We look forward to the future!

We'd like to thank the following professionals, who contributed their opinions for this article:

Robert Davis, Applications Developer/Data Specialist, Varnum Riddering Schmidt & Howlett

Victoria Gregory, CRM Systems Manager, Reed Smith LLP

Catherine Monte, Chief Knowledge Officer, Fox Rothschild

Ayelette Robinson, Practice Resources Attorney, Morrison & Foerster LLP

Harris Tilevitz, Chief Technology Officer, Skadden Arps

This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of Practice Innovations.

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