Microsoft CRM for the Legal Market

    March 2, 2005

The Microsoft Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution can easily be tailored to address the specific needs of the legal industry, helping firms maintain client and prospect information required for effective marketing and rainmaking and facilitating more accurate operational analysis for improved productivity and profitability.

However, while CRM solutions have been adopted broadly in other industries, law firms have been slower to accept full CRM implementations as potential solutions.

There are many possible reasons for the legal profession’s delayed CRM implementation rate. It’s fairly well accepted that legal firms are not among the early adopters of new technologies; preferring to wait for proven and mature solutions. For example, ethical walls and client confidentiality issues are a concern that impedes some attorneys from embracing CRM; an objection that can be overcome by solutions such as the Microsoft CRM which features flexible security capabilities that allow users to block portions or all information about a contact from general consumption.

In fact as CRM technology has become more advanced, the overall solution fit with the legal industry has grown extremely strong. Yet law firms still resist – a phenomenon that most likely has little to do with product features. Firm-wide CRM systems are designed to maximize an organization’s collective knowledge about its clients and relationships. However, the notion of collective knowledge is inconsistent with how firms reward lawyers. And until this paradigm changes, many law firms will be challenged to reap the full benefits that CRM solutions provide.

The Microsoft CRM can centralize a firm’s collective knowledge, wisdom and experience about clients and contacts, and makes it available to all authorized users – from attorneys and marketing professionals to administrators and secretaries. Every client interaction becomes an opportunity to market additional services, provide better client service, or simply reinforce a relationship. And with flexible security features it is easy to protect confidential information – whether it’s the entire relationship, or specific information such as private phone numbers or notes from a privileged conversation.

The Microsoft CRM works throughout all areas of a legal firm:

Lawyers get the information they need to focus on client retention and satisfaction

Marketing teams can work together to more efficiently manage the firm’s new business development efforts

IT managers have a dependable, easy-to-deploy solution that can integrate with other key applications

Administrative personnel have an easy-to-use interface that enables easy data entry and maintenance, and most importantly, saves time

Microsoft CRM can be integrated with, and leverage the power of, Microsoft Office 2003. Word, Excel, Outlook, and InfoPath can access and utilize Microsoft CRM data providing end users with a powerful solution. For example Integration with Microsoft Word Mail Merge lets users import Microsoft CRM data into Word and easily create and print communications to prospects, clients, employees, and partners. Additionally Microsoft CRM data and reports can be exported to Microsoft Excel for sorting and analysis. This ensures consistency of data across teams and departments, streamlines processes, and empowers employees with a complete, accurate view of customer information. This frees employees from time-consuming data entry and increases their overall efficiency.

A successful, firm-wide CRM system is the embodiment of the concept of the “collective”: the idea that everyone, working together, will create something more valuable than what any individual lawyer could create working alone.

If CRM is to work, law firm management teams must decide – and inculcate – that teamwork is the key to the firm’s success. Lawyers, and firms, must break long-standing habits that reward and reinforce individual practices over cooperative efforts. In essence, this means that culture change is required to make CRM work in law firms.

A common problem of new business generation in a law firms is where the interests of two individual partners are pitted against the good of the organization. What is an individual partner’s incentive to share, to seek an outcome that is best for the firm overall?

Without a lot of information about the individual benefit of a better team outcome, plus a consistent, repeated experience of collective gain, not much. Without a larger context in which individual merit is defined by a combination of individual and collective achievements, cooperative behavior among professional practitioners might be unnatural.

This leads to a potentially powerful hypothesis. Maybe one of the reasons that fewer CRM installations exist in the legal world is that CRM is not being viewed in a broad enough context. Maybe the concept of “client relationship management” is not extensive enough to do justice to the notion of collective benefit, a dynamic that needs to be in place for CRM to really work.

Given that premise, it is imperative that firm management begin to view (and ultimately accept) the Microsoft CRM as a tool that can concretely improve not just the firm’s bottom line, but each individual lawyer’s bottom line. This concept goes way beyond “contact management,” and takes full advantage of CRM’s ability to improve firm-wide operational analysis, productivity and client retention. And it requires a change in the reward systems that reinforce the individualism that permeates many firms.

Without doubt, it is more cost effective to retain and grow existing business than it is to develop new business. And clearly, most firms have harvested their low hanging fruit. Microsoft CRM – especially when integrated with a firm’s financial and firm management solution – is the best way to maintain accurate data and use firm-wide intelligence to grow the net worth of a client-base. Getting the most out of the Microsoft CRM package, however, is dependent upon the belief that the whole firm is indeed greater than the sum of the individual parts.

I have had a dynamic 11-year career reflecting pioneering experience and record-breaking performance in the IT and MIS industries. I am currently the Director of Microsoft Solutions for OnX Enterprise Solutions a publicly traded company on the Toronto Stock Exchange.