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Legal Tech

CRM 101: The Basics of Client Relationship Management Solutions

By Scott Winter

What do law firm CRM systems do — and do you really need one?

Clients are the lifeblood of your law practice. That’s why many firms have adopted client relationship management (CRM) solutions to help improve relationships with current clients, attract new ones and transform the way they do business. But if you aren’t currently using a CRM, you may wonder: How much will you have to pay? Do you need a system specifically designed for law firms? Is it worth it?

If you are considering a CRM solution, here’s what you need to know to find the system that is right for your law practice and, ultimately, your clients.

What Is CRM?

At the most basic level, CRM is about improving relationships. CRM solutions are designed to provide insight into your relationships with clients and leverage them in a more systematic way by highlighting connections, maintaining up-to-date information, and providing data and analytics that allow you to better serve the clients you have and find new ones.

At many firms, particularly smaller ones, the different processes for tracking and updating client information are often performed manually with tools ill-suited to the task. When firms use spreadsheets and other office productivity software to manage client information, the process can be extremely time-consuming and error-prone, and it diverts valuable resources from the practice of law. Effective, purpose-built automation can solve this problem.

How Much Does a Law Firm CRM System Typically Cost?

There are direct costs such as setup and monthly fees, as well as less obvious expenses for things like time spent on training users and managing the technology.

Most CRM systems charge a basic per-user fee, which can vary widely, and tiered plans, from basic to more advanced options, typically with more customizable features. The price per user may depend on the features you want and the training required, as well as the number of users in your firm. Note that if your firm is already paying for a case management system, basic CRM features will be included in your monthly user fee. Whether your lawyers are taking full advantage of those features, or whether you need to add more robust features offered by higher-level CRM tool, is worth investigating.

Along with costs, of course, it’s important to factor in return on investment. Some CRM solutions offer an ROI of more than 200% over three years, making them well worth the investment.

How Big Do You Have to Be to Use a CRM System?

You may also be wondering how big your firm must be to justify use of a CRM system. There isn’t a hard and fast answer, but it can be helpful to consider the opportunities you may miss out on — or be unable to follow through with — without having a CRM system in place.

Even if your firm is relatively small, it may benefit from a CRM system if:

  • You don’t have a centralized contact list.
  • You are manually inputting client data.
  • You lack analytics about current and potential clients.
  • You have trouble finding valuable information about clients, their businesses and the trends affecting their industries.
  • Your lawyers can’t share information and leads seamlessly.
  • You struggle to create targeted, segmented lists for email campaigns.
  • Data privacy and compliance keeps you up at night

Do You Need a Legal-Specific CRM?

There are many CRMs systems out there, ranging from familiar names in the legal industry to behemoths in the general business world. So, does your firm need one that has been specifically designed for law firms, or will a more general product do?

Because law firms have professional and ethics requirements around client confidentiality, billing and conflicts, a system designed for the legal services industry is a better bet. While other industries have their own challenges, law firms have a particular need to ensure the client data they manage is as secure as possible and their handling of it complies with all industry requirements. Also, a legal-specific solution is more likely to be designed to interact with other software programs commonly used in the industry, including matter and case management systems.

What Are the Roadblocks to Using a CRM System?

The challenges of adopting a law firm CRM system are like those for any new technology. This includes convincing lawyers to adopt it and learn to use it to full advantage. Getting the firm’s leadership to promote the use of the system is crucial. You can also make a strong business case, explaining how regular use of CRM tools helps lawyers become more efficient and successful, and helps you identify emerging business trends. Once they understand how it can help them and the firm, people are more likely to use it.

Ease of use is another benefit to convey to attorneys. Some CRMs can passively collect valuable information. For example, InterAction can integrate with a firm’s email system and automatically update contact details, so attorneys and staff don’t have to.

So, Is It Worth It?

A CRM system is generally well worth it for firms seeking to strengthen the relationships between attorneys and clients — and attract new business. What lawyer doesn’t want that? The key is to find a system that will make life easier, not harder, and that has proven ROI. Several systems for different sizes and types of firms are available now, so it’s likely the right solution is out there for you.

More Resources on Client Relationship Management:

In “Why Every Lawyer Needs a CRM System,” employment lawyer Andrew Lacy explains how he uses CRM to segment his email list and target his email newsletter.

The Smith.ai blog’s “Master List of Law Firm CRMs for Solos and Small Firms” lists case management software with CRM capabilities, law firm CRM software, and general CRM tools.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Scott Winter Scott Winter

Scott Winter is the CRM evangelist at LexisNexis InterAction and the VP of Client Development at Index Solutions. (Index). With more than a decade of CRM experience supporting professional services, Scott’s focus at Index is solving data quality and accuracy problems for LexisNexis InterAction clients, implementing best practices, and leveraging firm relationships to support business development strategies. After directing InterAction for over 10 years, securing over 70% of the Am Law 100, Scott continues to evangelize for InterAction as the market leader in legal CRM.

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