I have had more than a dozen conversations with AmLaw 100 and 200 firm leaders starting in Q4 2011 and continuing through January 2012. They identified cross-selling and revenue growth as their top priorities for 2012.
As resolved as they are about that, they also admitted that they aren’t entirely sure how to increase cross-selling success. After all, lawyers have tried cross-selling since my first in-house legal marketing position in 1987 (and likely before then) – and at its most successful, it has had tepid results.
We all understand the obstacles to cross-selling. A well-conceived experience database can’t fix all of them, but done right, it can fix these two age-old complaints: “I can’t cross-sell, because I don’t know what my partners do.” Or, they say, “I don’t trust the data.”
One more thing on the minds of managing partners that causes them to lose sleep at night: How can they fully integrate the lateral partners they’ve hired over the last year (read: so they can be profitable as quickly as possible)? In 2011, we saw 60 law firm mergers, up 54% over 2010. Every one of the partners who changed firms brought Excel spreadsheets and other documents filled with matters they’ve done, hoping their deals and cases would quickly be incorporated into the new law firm’s experience coffers. This past January, in less than a two-week period of time, five U.S. mergers were announced. If we keep up this pace, we’ll have more than 130 mergers this year (source: Altman Weil).
In the short lifetime of these experience management tools, they have gone from being an IT-only project, then they moved to the knowledge management team, then on to the marketing/business development department – and now, to the law firm’s executive office. We hope this means that the project teams will get the resources (people, time, technology) to do them right.
Results from the ILTA Experience Management Survey
To prepare for a January 31, 2012 International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) webinar on experience databases (It’s worth listening to the recording of the entire webinar on the ILTA website - with Lisa Simon and Kathrine Cain, it was excellent. ), we conducted a short survey. We wanted to know:
- Where are firms in their experience database life cycle? Of 48 respondents, 29% were in the implementation stage, 23% were in each of the planning or maintenance phases, 17% were upgrading/replacing their systems, and 8% were still at the very beginning – thinking about it.
- Will they build it or buy one from an outside vendor? 53% said “Buy” and 45% said, “Build.” The “Buy” group noted primarily two companies as their vendor, Hubbard One and Content Pilot each received seven votes, two other companies were mentioned once or twice, and several said they were still investigating options or “unsure.”
- With what systems will they integrate? “Financial” had 70% of the responses, with conflicts and records receiving 23% and 30% respectively. “Other” received a high percentage of responses, and included systems such as CRM, website, ERM, proposal tools, document management systems and HR databases.
- Who is the content owner of your experience database? Marketing and business development were the two largest groups, scoring 77% and 40% respectively. The IT department only received 4% of the votes and knowledge management (KM) received 6%.
Is this a big firm only initiative? It doesn’t have to be, but 63% of the respondents were in firms 350 lawyers and larger. 37% were in firms 50 to 349 lawyers.
Your Tool is only as Good as the Content
Given the promotion of experience management from back-office-tactical to strategic, what’s the best way to ensure the trusted nature of your content? One over-arching answer is to start your planning in the right place. (That sounds like an over-simplification, but we regularly see firms with messes on their hands because of no strategic understanding of the project and its objectives, and ultimately poor planning, start to launch.) Whether a brand new system, a refresh or upgrade, or just adding new practices – start with these questions:
- What data gathering processes and workflow already exist?
- What data are already accessible in documents or other databases? How clean is it?
- Who will input new matters and how often?
- How many fields per matter are too many – and therefore a barrier to entry and use?
- Post-launch, how much lawyer time will be required for each new matter?
- Who is the ultimate owner of the database and who will ensure the ongoing efficacy of the data?
Knowing the answers to these questions before you start building the tools is imperative to your successful launch and the ongoing vibrancy of your system. The answers will dictate your strategy and the choices you make. After launch, it’s often too late.
I can't stress enough that successful technology implementations are equally about people, process and technologies. Often in experience database projects, strategy is missing entirely, and people and process get short shrift.
Given that it’s taken us a good 10-20 years to get where we are today, what’s next? All the lawyers and marketers to whom I’ve spoken about this agree that for cross-selling success to improve, lawyers must learn to strike while the iron is hot. Meaning, when lawyers are with clients and prospects at a conference, at lunch or having a drink, or riding together in a cab and the prospect asks, “Do you have anyone who does XYZ in the software industry?” – the lawyer must be able to facilitate a relevant conversation around that topic. Right then and there.
Waiting 24-48 hours for responses to the in-office email, “Does anyone handle XYZ in the software industry?” is not going to grow firm revenue. The opportunity is long-gone.
Therefore, trusted mobility is next. Look for a mobile app that integrates with your experience database and that is instantly accessible on your Smart Phone or tablet. Clients and prospects think this is cool; consequently lawyers will think it’s cool, too. Learn more about Content Pilot’s mobile app, Velocity™.
I also predict greater investment in these tools by law firms (in people, processes and technologies), and that there will be increased pressure from the top rung of leadership for lawyers to use them. Hopefully daily.