Friday, April 25, 2008

CRM in Law Firms

Andrew K. Burger has a story in CRM Buyer: CRM in Law Firms: The Jury's Still Out. Carolyn Elefant at Legal Blog Watch pointed out this story in her post: Law Firms Still Not Relating to Client Relations Management Software.

The Firm uses Interaction as its CRM. I find Interaction to be much better in theory than practice. I think everyone agrees at a firm level that the sharing of contact information and relationships across the firm is a terrific goal and adds tremendous value to the firm. In my experience, attorneys are willing to share contact and relationship information with members of the firm. Yes, they are cautious how it is used and want some some credit for the relationship. But that position is true for all knowledge sharing.

As Carolyn points out:
[T]he larger barrier to integration of CRM is institutional: Most lawyers simply aren't willing to take the time (or sacrifice the billable hours) to input critical data. Then, when CRM fails due to lack of lawyer commitment, lawyers blame the software and subsequently grow even more resistant to CRM efforts.
Knowledge sharing is a marketplace. If I am going to take time to contribute something, I expect to get something back in return. Increasing the knowledge resources of the firm is not enough. I previously wrote about this in Personal Knowledge Management and the Knowledge Market. A lawyer is more likely to use a new tool if it provides more functionality to them then an existing tool. Why should I enter information into a clunky public space instead of a persona space where I can organize the information in the way that makes sense to me.

I want the CRM system to make it easier for me to do my job. Contributing contact and relationship information into a public repository creates little or no marginal value to me. All of that information is already sitting in my email contacts, in my head and other local places. The current CRM system does very little to help me manage that information. I would spend much more time using Interaction if it provided much more functionality to me as an individual. All of its extra function is derived from collecting information from others, not in providing function to the individual.

Unfortunately, CRM systems only provide a small margin of additional benefit to the individual lawyer. That margin is too small to motivate lawyers to change behaviors or to learn the new tool.

This scenario is true of lots of first generation knowledge management tools. They put the emphasis on the benefit of sharing knowledge across the firm. They did not focus on making it easier for the individual to manage their own knowledge or the knowledge of a small group.

Perhaps there is some future hope for Interaction and CRM for law firms. The article in CRM Buyer has this quote:
"The foundation for incorporating Web 2.0 applications, such as wikis, blogs and other social networking tools, into InterAction are likewise already in place, and LexisNexis is moving in that direction, according to [Tracey Blackburn, LexisNexis product marketing manager]."
For now, InterAction does not even have a field for linking to a person's LinkedIn profile. That is a place where people are updating information about themselves and who they know. If InterAction could combine external information about people, with our internal information and give me a better way to organize and manage my contacts, that would make it useful for me.


  1. Doug,
    good post. One of the reasons I've been very intrigued with tools like ContactNetworks (recently purchased by Thomson) is that it mines existing e-mail and Outlook data and also integrates with external repositories. I remain very skeptical that traditional CRM packages wil work well in the legal environment without the incentives required to share information and keep data up to date. In my experience, a few partners "get it" and really use while the rest do nothing with it - making it yet another expensive software project that shits on the shelf.

  2. Guy -

    I think the concept of CRM is good; it just fails in the execution. The current crop of CRM does not add enough value to the lawyer to overcome the the investment in learning and using the tool.

    Maybe future systems will be closer to the mark.

    We are taking a look at Contact Networks next week.


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