The marketing possibilities that technology offers start with hosting on-line seminars on your web site, continue to using extranets to cross-sell other firm services and end with intranets that walk lawyers through the new business proposal process. Two marketing experts spelled out the latest that technology has to offer at the recent ALA national conference in Baltimore, in a program entitled, "The Marriage of Marketing, Client Service & Technology."
"I am not a techie," admitted Maggie Watkins, Director of Marketing at Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps, a 200-lawyer firm in San Diego. "However, I've learned that most, if not all, technology decisions have a direct impact on marketing and client services." She is a former national president of the Legal Marketing Association.
Corporate clients are much more demanding of their law firms, and many are several years ahead of their firms in terms of technology. It is critical to bridge this gap for a firm to remain competitive in today's fast-paced legal market.
As a full-time practicing lawyer and CIO of a 250-lawyer firm, John Tredennick further emphasized that technology must be an integral part of marketing. "Technology and marketing can go hand-in-hand to distinguish your firm from the pack. Being on the cutting-edge is one way to market your firm, and a firm should not be afraid to show off its technology if it's doing something unique or different."
Studio connected to reception area
Take for example, Tredennick's own firm, Holland & Hart. They have built a moot courtroom with high-tech video gadgets for filming and critiquing potential witnesses and a graphics studio that can develop litigation-support animation on-site. The marketing "kicker" is that the courtroom and graphics studio are connected to the reception area of the office, which showcases the firm's technology strengths and can often be the extra edge they need to win over new clients.
Watkins and Tredennick further stressed that the use of technology at a firm should focus on the most basic client services notion: to better serve clients' needs. You must concentrate your efforts on how you can help your client with technology solutions, and, in turn, bolster the relationship between the firm and that client. It all begins with understanding each client's needs, then thinking creatively about technology. Watkins added that "If you don't have the resources or technical expertise to develop technology solutions within the firm, don't be afraid to use outside consultants who may be able to provide ideas and technical know-how."
The client was thrilled
However, there are firms that have taken a different route and have developed technology solutions in-house while simultaneously developing successful spin-off companies. Holland and Hart's support of Tredennick's CaseShare Systems, LLC is a powerful example. When one of Tredennick's major clients approached him with a pressing need to organize and manage his company's large number of labor disputes, Tredennick went to the drawing board with one of his in-house programmers. They developed a complex, yet easy-to-use, labor management database that was housed on a server at the firm. The client was thrilled to have his problem solved, but more importantly, the firm is now indispensable to the client because all of his labor and contract disputes are now housed on the law firm's server.
Creative? Yes. Technologically advanced? Definitely. Feasible for other firms? Possibly. It all depends on finding out what your clients need and value, and then using technology as a tool to satisfy their needs.
New twists on technology
The importance of technology can further be seen when it comes to promoting critical information about the firm, both to outsiders and insiders of the firm. Watkins and Tredennick offered some new twists on some technology mainstays.
- Web Sites: Web sites have much more potential than simply being on-line marketing materials, and many firms around the country are tapping into the business development and recruiting potential of web sites. Firms are now hosting on-line seminars for clients with registration and payment capabilities right on their sites. Other firms have set up databases that track their referrals, receive and manage request for proposals, and capture client feedback through on-line forms. As technology has advanced, simply having a web site is not enough. A firm must learn to use its web presence to create and capture new business and recruits.
- Extranets: More and more corporate clients are asking their law firms to provide secure extranets where they can access their documents, billing statements, and other information pertaining to their relationship with the firm. Client extranets create a very powerful marketing opportunity for cross-selling other firm services and can build stronger relationships with the client. One other type of extranet that created a buzz was the alumni extranet. It is essentially a database that allows alums of a firm to update their personal information, access other alumni profiles, and receive targeted information regarding seminars and upcoming firm events. The potential for referrals and new business is substantial.
- Intranets: Through the successful implementation of its firm-wide Intranet, Luce Forward's marketing department reduced the amount of time spent promoting and presenting critical information to partners and staff within the firm. Not to mention that they won a National Legal Marketing Association award for their creative and comprehensive technology solution. One feature in particular caught the audience's attention: Luce's Proposal Center, which walks attorneys through the pitch/proposal process, including proposal templates, "Beauty Contest" preparation tips, and success rates.
- Client Relationship Systems: Maggie Watkins explained the significant business development benefits of pulling together the sum total of a firm's knowledge, e.g., contacts, best practices, top documents, printed resources, mailing lists/client databases, financial information, and HR information, into one shared relationship management system. However, she also cautioned that the sharing of information is a very scary proposition for many attorneys and often requires a firm-wide cultural shift. It is critical to understand how your staff and attorneys work now, so if and when you implement such a system, they do not have to stop work to be re-trained.
Developing a Technology Strategy
While each firm's internal culture and specific client needs and demands are different, Watkins and Tredennick outlined some key steps all firms can follow to develop a workable technology strategy:
- Perform a technology assessment that is tied to the firm's overall business and strategic goals: No matter the size of your firm, begin by asking "Do we need to do some of these things now?" The answer may be no, but you must still pay attention to what other firms are doing to remain competitive in the future.
- Understand your firm's culture: Is your firm the type that needs to move in increments to gain a certain comfort level with technological advancements? Then try creating a long-term technology plan that is divided into phases. The key is understanding what technology battles will be worth fighting.
- Stick with what you know: Focus on what your firm does better than anyone else, then use technology as a tool to monetize it.
- Identify champions of the project/strategy within the firm: Institutional change is a big challenge. Don't attempt to do it on your own. Try to get buy-in from key partners at the top of the firm hierarchy.
- Use consultants if you don't have the resources: Don't let the size of your marketing and/or tech staff hold you back from better servicing your clients.
- Remain flexible with deadlines: Development of new technologies at your firm can take time whether it's a new web site or a client extranet. Be sure to allow for programming and implementation delays.
- Keep a positive attitude: Marketing and client services can be difficult enough without including technology into the mix, but the positive synergies that can come from a "Marriage of Marketing, Client Services and Technology" can make it all worthwhile.
Janice Ugaki is the Co-Founder and COO of Firmseek (www.firmseek.com). Firmseek is a technology and new media company based in Washington, D.C. that specializes in helping law firms maximize their business development and recruiting efforts through the use of technology. Firmseek's services range from comprehensive web site development (www.design.firmseek.com) to providing firms and corporations with RFP-management tools. Before joining Firmseek, Janice practiced corporate law at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP in New York City. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (202) 429-9200 x204.
This article first appeared in the LawMarketing Portal, www.LawMarketing.com.