By Michael Warren, VP, Client Development and Intake

Part two in a six-part series on developing a successful client-centric culture and how to address the resulting operational implications.

Many firms will have probably spent a lot of time over the last few months doing two things. Firstly, working out what to do with the shreds of paper leftover from ripping up their 2020 strategic plans, and secondly reflecting on what a good year for revenue and profit 2020 surprisingly turned out to be.

However, even though most wisely managed law firms have once again proved that they will thrive come what may to the market, this does not mean, from a firm strategy perspective at least, that 2021 will be a year of more of the same.

Firms will be considering how to continue with their pre-pandemic growth strategies whilst at the same time leveraging the changes that COVID brought about. For example, reigning in expenses, increasing daily billable capacity due to less travel, and furthering the growing independence of billable staff necessitated by working from home. But increasingly, firms are looking to adjust how they go to market with a much greater emphasis on being client-centric, enhancing the client experience, and reducing the impact of the firm’s operational constraints on how they interact with clients.

To adopt a more client-centric culture, not only are firms having to think differently about how they manage their businesses, but they are also having to re-evaluate the way they manage their data and their systems. Firms will need to grapple with some significant challenges to respond to what is happening in their markets. To that end, we predict that firms will fall in to one of two categories.

  • The Integrated Firm – sees data management in terms of a business process, not a system. It removes humans from the definition of data ownership and has a clear understanding of the importance of understanding the systems of origination, the systems of truth, and the systems of control for all of its significant data objects and attributes.
  • The Disconnected Firm – sees data management in terms of operational integration goals and will continue to see replication as the primary means by which data that is created in one place but needed in another is delivered.

The changes in the industry can be summarized as follows:

In the short-term, what that means for firms is that they will need to address the following:

  1. Breaking down the silos between systems and departments, for example between business development and client intake. With the continued adoption of tools that manage pricing, contracts, and terms, there will be a shift to gather more information during the pitching and proposal process. Client on-boarding will focus on regulatory compliance to create a more seamless experience for both clients and staff as new business is won and onboarded.
  2. Preparing for the journey to the cloud, including selecting the right vendor to assist the firm with the replacement of deprecated platforms. In the Integrated Firm, finding the right partner should not be a game of musical chairs against the clock as time runs out to move off retiring technologies. It must be about finding the right partner who not only understands how to implement the increasingly interconnected technology that firms have, but also understands the firm’s business.
  3. Harnessing the power of data to deliver real-time self-serve insights to professionals using technologies such as Power BI to enable better decisions based on accurate information.
  4. Managing clients that are more demanding and that also expect to share in the cost savings enabled by technology. This will necessitate client-centric data management strategies and laser-focused segmentation to understand the investment to revenue relationship for all clients.
  5. Driving adoption of business-critical applications to support all of these challenges, so that the firm can leverage its experience and institutional relationships with its clients to innovate and exploit new opportunities and drive profitable growth.

For the Disconnected Firm the processes for winning new business and onboarding that business are siloed. However, for the Integrated Firm, as the heads of the business operations departments start increasingly to align their business plans, the approach to system implementation and information management will be more business-process focused. This will be particularly obvious and potentially bring about more profound changes in client development and intake than anywhere else.

What this means, simply put, is that rather than implementing systems to achieve specific business functions, e.g. CRM or risk and conflicts, firms are looking at the business processes across the business and the data needed to support them. By taking this approach, increasingly as part of a firm-wide master data management strategy, firms are identifying weak links in the chain when it comes to data capture. This is enabling firms to re-think integration strategy based on how data moves around, who needs it and when, rather than which discrete systems need to be linked to suit an ad hoc objective.

This shift, in turn, could lead to a more profound review of the roles and responsibilities of support staff. For example, should a single team focus on managing the firm’s conflicts data and CRM data rather than having those as two separate groups? At the end of the day, they perform many of the same tasks and firms are starting to realize how important it is to join the dots between this information.

Ultimately what firms are trying to do is identify where data exists across repositories and where it can be used elsewhere. The advantages of this approach are many:

  • Reducing the number of times data has to be entered, ultimately moving toward a zero data entry model with the emergence of AI and machine learning.
  • Moving away from gated approaches to data capture wherein users cannot enter data without passing validation tests. By understanding the journey from lead-to-opportunity-to-matter-to-experience, firms can design data capture mechanisms that make sure that data is captured by the right people, processes, or systems at the right time and in the right way.
  • Filling in information gaps by delivering data to those that need it at the right time. For example, immediately before or after a client meeting, users are more likely to provide important pieces of information rather than being required to log in to a system to provide it later.

At Wilson Allen, our recently formed Client Development & Intake Practice is a combination of specialists who understand the customer journey across the practice lifecycle. This practice brings together our collective knowledge of marketing and business development and intake, risk, and client acceptance with data insights and governance. One Integrated Team for the Integrated Firm.

We have seen an evolution of the way firms use data to provide insight into clients, targets, and opportunities. It’s becoming much more of a multidisciplinary effort, drawing data from a wide array of systems. The Integrated Firm is much more focused on using data to make smarter decisions about how to run the business whereas the Disconnected Firm is still focusing on trying to hook up the technology.

One of the most impactful ways in which we have seen firms take steps toward better integration is actually through a greater focus on the outputs that they want to achieve. The huge growth in focus on providing information to those who run and manage the business, through data visualization tools like Power BI and Tableau, which allow for rapid and iterative development of reports and dashboards, has demonstrated just how incredibly valuable it is to connect the dots between systems and data points that have historically been kept apart.

In the next blog in the series, Analytics as a Discipline: Boosting Your Maturity Model to Be Better Connected, we will examine this more specifically and discuss where this could ultimately take the Integrated Firm.