By Norm Mullock, VP, Strategy and Michael Warren, VP, Business Development Practice, Wilson Allen

Originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Peer to Peer, ILTA’s quarterly magazine

We feel your pain. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on all of the news affecting the legal technology community, another major announcement drops, and you need to adapt. Consider the most recent topics gaining attention. The sale of LexisOne to SA Global, speculation about the roadmap for your PMS, the sunsetting of your CRM, and the launch of the latest and greatest pricing tool – what’s next?

In addition to all of this breaking news, firms are still dealing with the remnants of the Great Recession. Flat demand, alternative providers, and the use of in-house legal counsel are putting intense pressure on firms to win profitable new work.

Because of these market forces, making decisions about your technology investments to enable the long-term success of the business has never been trickier or more nuanced. Firms need to balance competing demands across functional areas like finance, HR, IT, and marketing with the requirement to drive profitable growth while trying to anticipate how the software landscape may change.

Maintaining your footing amidst all of this upheaval can be quite challenging. However, there are some things you can do to mitigate risk. Through the right technology planning and taking a unified approach to technology decisions, firms can serve the functional needs of the business while supporting its strategic goals, regardless what the news of the day may bring.

Mitigating risk through better technology planning

The use of technology in the legal industry has exploded. Firms need to contend with the usual suspects – practice management systems (PMS), enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence (BI). Now artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), integrated risk management (IRM), and advanced security protocols are taking center stage. It’s an alphabet soup of software offerings, all vying for limited resources and changing all the time.

How on earth are you going to keep all of this straight? Are you going to invest in training to keep your people up to date on all of the latest and greatest development in this space? That’s not an option for most firms, especially for teams who have day jobs beyond technology planning and investment.

You could turn to your software provider for advice and guidance. But the reality is that instead of one trusted software vendor who could get you the most from your technology, you now have many vendors. The challenge is figuring out how to get everyone to play nicely to determine if their roadmaps align with strategic plans. If not, then the problem is to find suitable alternatives.

Getting expert guidance

The obvious answer to address this challenge is to work with a trusted technology partner that understands your business and has experience across all of the areas where your firm has invested. If the partner doesn’t have direct experience, then it should have strong relationships with those that do.

For example, if you’re thinking about how to organize your data architecture for the future, if you’re thinking about changing the way the data flows in the organization, if you’re thinking about a more holistic view of people and clients, there are a lot of factors to be considered and pieces to be brought together. Be sure the people on your team – both internal resources and external partners – all understand this and appreciate the potential complexities it may introduce. To deal with this complexity your team needs to have foresight and expertise to address your entire ecosystem in a unified way – which bring us to the next point.

Taking a unified approach to technology decisions

Law firms have historically prioritized the PMS over other solutions. The focus has been on getting the PMS up and running so people could enter time, open new matters, and onboard new clients. It was about analyzing matter profitability and so forth all from a PMS-centric point of view. Firms need to move beyond this view or the technical functionality of reporting widgets.

The compelling imperative firms are now facing is to pivot to a new way of working and thinking about the business. Firms will have to spend a lot more time thinking through the relationships they have, client needs, how they deliver on those needs, and the profitability of that work.

Pivoting successfully around these priorities will have implications on the way firms organize data, the systems they implement, and how they address change management. For example, when you do business acceptance projects, there are implications for your PMS. When you do PMS projects, there are implications for your business acceptance and CRM processes. The consequences grow exponentially the more systems that you have.

Connecting the technology dots

What this all means is that technology decisions cannot be made in isolation, just as business decisions cannot be made in isolation. Firms must bring it all together and treat the software landscape and the data it generates as a connected system.

What’s needed is insight into a broader data set to inform strategic decisions. Yet for many, the focus is only on specific silos like finance. The market needs to appreciate just how important it is for firms to break down the silos between finance, risk, IT, HR, marketing, and business development and gain a wholesale view of the client matter life cycle. Firms need to start asking themselves the following questions increasingly:

  • In which businesses should they be investing?
  • Where do they best drive valuable client outcomes?
  • On which sectors should they be focusing?
  • What clients should they be targeting?
  • How do they win those clients?

Using CRM data more effectively

The marketing folks have traditionally been seen as the “coloring in” department. In all fairness, they’ve focused on stationary and brand management and have good analytics around e-mail campaigns and website visits. But firms don’t typically use CRM data to understand the best way to close a deal or identify how many face-to-face meetings it usually takes to convert a client.

There has been an incredible proliferation of technologies in the client life cycle space around experience management, pitch management, CRM, IRM, and the connectivity between business development and business acceptance.  Firms still think about data in terms of systems from where it originated and not about processes. Firms may (or may not) manage opportunities in the CRM system, matters in the PMS, and the experience in an experience management system or an Excel spreadsheet.

The real imperative that we see in firms is how to pull all of this data together, analyze what’s going on, and determine how to use that information to win more business.

Dealing with a proliferation of data

In most firms, having the data is not the issue. Most firms have more data than they need or could use. The real challenge is having access to the right data and getting access to the systems that hold it. It’s also about understanding when the right time is to gather data throughout the client life cycle and determine from where the data will come.

What we have seen is that tiny adjustments in data collection processes upstream can have a hugely beneficial impact on what’s going on downstream. Being able to take referral tracking information, for instance, and gathering it at the point of client intake can help people in the CRM world manage their information better. Similarly, in considering additional downstream benefits: how could our business development team benefit by having access to the output of our detailed entity research in business acceptance?  These are just a couple of examples of why a firm-wide information strategy – but also technology that breaks the silos between data repositories – is so important.

Making small changes to yield significant impact

It’s clear that the way firms analyze the business needs to evolve, the way that people organize their data needs to evolve, the way that people are thinking about their IT projects and the people that they partner with needs to evolve. Where do you begin? Take small steps.

The Japanese manufacturing industry has a concept called kaizen which is about making small improvements over time to create big change. What we’re talking about in terms of your technology decisions and data management journey is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or fundamentally relaunch your software infrastructure completely. You need to look at making minimal changes that you can make in various parts of the firm, implementing the technology that can help you plug the gaps between silos, and identifying resources who can tap into multi-disciplinary expertise. The more you can take this approach rather than pursue a complete and total rip and replace or huge relaunch – the better off you’ll be.

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See page 51 to read the article in the Spring 2019 Peer-to-Peer:
Peer to Peer magazine – Spring 2019