By Michael Warren, VP, client development and intake
With data and insights becoming ever-more significant competitive advantages for law firms, Michael Warren, VP for client development and intake at Wilson Allen, says the ways firms measure success – and how they surface those metrics data – could have a big impact on how clients perceive the value they derive from the firm.
It’s no secret that the pandemic has shifted how legal professionals interact with their colleagues, clients and utilise tech. Specifically, surfacing information and data, and how that informs interactions with clients, has been on the agenda for Michael Warren, vice-president of client development and intake at Wilson Allen, for some time due to the recent global disruption. “Lawyers have had to develop intentional strategies for finding information – and firms have realised they come up short in that area, more often than not,” he says.
The need for a different approach has also played into Warren’s thinking on which metrics law firms build into their business model in the first place. A focus on billable hours, for instance, lends itself towards a “performance-focused” outlook in law firms, which necessitates metrics around leverage, utilisation, and efficiency. By contrast, he identifies a new trend: the “value-focused” model. “It represents a broad shift in emphasis towards more client-centric metrics – what are the things that drive loyalty, what drives clients’ perception of value, and which fee arrangement works for them?”
Instead of looking at maximising utilisation or having a blend of partners and associates working on a matter to maximise leverage, for instance, what the client thought of the experience plays a larger role in the value-focused model, he adds.
Though there are potential tech tools, such as deal rooms and client portals, that can enhance the client experience, Warren adds that enhanced client feedback mechanisms can, in themselves, create the perception of greater value – and so can collaboration. Feedback he’s received direct from lawyers, Warren says, often says clients see value in having legal teams share information with their colleagues better, as they feel there’s a “team in their corner”, not just one star lawyer. “’Softer’ practices and behaviours like this are starting to have an impact on the share of wallet – perception of ‘value’ goes beyond just the firm’s technical knowledge of the law.”
However, proving the value of these initiatives is still a hurdle. “If you’re ever going to get a lawyer to do anything that puts pressure on their billable time, you need to demonstrate to them how it’s going to generate more money,” he says. Both in order to justify those collaborative activities, and to better understand clients and the value they derive from the firm – which is often more profitable than winning new clients, he adds – firms need to take a closer look at the data they gather and how they surface it.
Breaking down silos
One front in this battle is breaking down the data silos between processes and teams, particularly business development (BD) and client onboarding teams. “The two have always been seen as completely different and firms have used separate systems. Now, some are mapping out the journey of how data needs to evolve and be processed over time across them.” Marketing and BD, client feedback, and risk all touch on these datapoints over time – which requires a common dataset. “They’re the same thing at different stages of the lifecycle: a matter is an opportunity you’ve won and a piece of experience is a matter you want to credentialise,” he adds.
To support law firms’ journeys towards bringing information into one place, Wilson Allen created its client development and intake practice in October 2020, with one team focused on intake risk conflicts and another on marketing, BD and client relationship management (CRM). “The practice is there to support firms with the full lifecycle, from pitching through to leveraging the knowledge you learned from doing that piece of work.”
On the topic of surfacing useful data, Warren adds that CRM systems themselves are also beginning to be seen as valuable for what they can do for firms outside of purely marketing and BD purposes. “They’re increasingly human capital systems, helping to allocate work or clients when partners retire. There’s a wealth of information in CRM data that really helps to manage firms.”
However, he adds that CRM isn’t all about tech. “Firms should be asking themselves how they pull data together and surface it to lawyers. Often, it’s not captured in the way marketing and business development people think – it’s unstructured notes and intelligence gathered during a meeting.” But, creating that bridge from behaviour to data is something firms need to consider more closely – including incentivising lawyers. “At the moment, there’s no direct correlation in terms of data collection and reward for that behaviour. And that’s the change management project firms need to go through.”
Though he sees a need for change, Warren also sees potential for firms to steal a march on the competition in this area. “New technologies will play a huge part in this change, and there are tools out there already like Coveo that lets you surface information from anywhere within the organisation – and even outside it – and embed it in your CRM.” With attitudes changing, Warren says there’s a movement towards valuing CRM more as a strategy and as part of the value-focused model – and what that should all add up to is more value for clients and better results for firms.