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Stephen Brown

IT Consultant, Lodders

Quotation Marks
A CRM is no longer a ‘nice to have’ option but is central and pivotal to a firm’s business plan

Managing client relations

Managing client relations


Customer relationship management systems are increasingly the beating heart of client engagement, says Stephen Brown

A critical part of a law firm’s client relationship strategy is the type of law-specific IT systems the firm has in operation. Alongside is the well-documented challenge of how well these IT systems communicate with each other – from the practice or case management system, to the billing platform and the customer data management system. If client data, information and intelligence is managed via an excel-based system, in which fee earners work from their own spreadsheet of clients, not only will the firm probably be in breach of GDPR, but the client will feel that their law firm doesn’t know or understand them. This is a huge missed opportunity for business development and cross selling of the firm’s portfolio of legal services and practice specialisms.


A robust customer relationship management (CRM) system is an integrated, data-driven software solution that genuinely improves how a law firm interacts and does business with its clients. CRM is the foundation of how a firm manages, maintains and indeed enhances client relationships, and how it targets and tracks marketing activity and communications. Ultimately, it aims to deliver actionable data, outputs, engagement, quality connections – and an opportunity to generate fee-based work. GDPR has reinforced the importance of an effective and ‘live’ CRM system.

A CRM system uses and capitalises on the clean, up to date, GDPR-compliant client data, and is a platform on which progressive law firms can future-proof their marketing automations and firm-wide client relationships. A CRM is no longer a ‘nice to have’ option but is central and pivotal to a firm’s business plan.


There are a number of important, fundamental points to consider and identify about a CRM system to establish its suitability for a firm:

—— Right fit – both the firm’s technology and its culture have to be right for CRM to work. CRM is notoriously difficult for law firms and lawyers to embrace and understand, and all too often it is wrongly considered expensive for what it does. A CRM system can be moulded so that it exactly fits a firm and its objectives, but my advice is avoid making it too bespoke as this will make it difficult to maintain.

—— Data flows – understanding how data flows throughout the firm is vital for a CRM system to work effectively, and master data management (MDM) is the method used to define and manage a firm’s critical data to provide a single point of reference by using robust data integration (and not a spreadsheet). While MDM can work pretty well alone, a CRM system will work infinitely better with an MDM ‘primary system’ in place.

—— Trust – CRM will wither on the vine if users don’t trust it. A commitment to diligent and accurate data inputting is essential for CRM to gain and maintain trust throughout the firm.

—— Staff adoption – during the procurement and roll out of the CRM system, make sure you keep adoption at the centre of your process. Mobility, automation and integration will all aid adoption in the firm.

—— Project management – for a CRM project to work, success criteria must be discussed and agreed. Active discussions before you begin, to identify and agree precisely what the firm wants and needs from its CRM, will make the difference between whether it works, or fails. Once agreed, stick to this plan and don’t accelerate it beyond the firm or the initial aims – if you try to make it do more than was agreed at the outset the CRM system will become more complex and difficult to maintain, and this is where the value versus expense debate really kicks-in.


Referrals: After using the CRM to track referrals into and out of a firm, at least four new businesses were identified as providing numerous prospects. Importantly, this also revealed that these businesses weren’t showing as valuable referrers, nor being cultivated and nurtured accordingly. Utilising this discovery, the CRM data allowed the firm to manage the referring businesses and further develop the relationships. Integrated campaigns: Integrating and coordinating its CRM platform with a LinkedIn campaign initiative generated new matters worth over £200,000 for one law firm. The power of CRM is evident in integrated online campaigns, as it can harvest and collate all website activity, social media engines activity, and link into AI systems and client and firm information and systems. CRM can track web activity per individual user and data record, to provide a 360 degree view of a client and its contact touch points with the firm, their spend, what they read about, and so on. This enables even the broadest direct marketing campaign to be tailored to individual clients, so that they can experience real relevance and considers that the specific information and overall contact from the firm is unique and personalised to them. Prospects: Tracking prospects via CRM and across digital channels – email, social and web – directly led to one business increasing its turnover by over 20 percent. Furthermore, the CRM identified a number of areas on the firm’s website where prospects abandoned online forms and the approach went cold. Using the intelligence harvested by the CRM, the online experience was improved so that prospects visiting the website were kept engaged and weren’t lost. High adoption: Firms that link CRM entry to expenses being paid have a higher adoption curve and yield improved CRM results. Marketing engine: Data is a big differentiator and whatever the size of a law firm, big or small, CRM delivers the scope to personalise every single piece of marketing material.


Take-up by law firms of CRM certainly paused during and immediately following the recession, but the last few years has seen a resurgence in firms adopting CRM technology.

This could be due to a number of factors –

—— A greater number of available cloudbased CRM systems.

—— GDPR forced law firms to review and refresh their data and make it work harder and more efficiently than just as a Christmas card list or names to invite to events and seminars.

—— Rising competition among law firms as the legal landscape evolves, spurring firms into action to ensure they protect and nurture client relationships. —— Artificial Intelligence – as the adoption and use of AI continues to climb, then so the demand for clean data increases.

—— Costs – the price point for a CRM system has shifted downwards, as cloud-based systems make CRM more accessible and financially affordable and viable. We have seen many law firms replacing from scratch all manual data systems with a new CRM system, often driven by a centralised marketing function and off the back of the introduction of GDPR last May.

Anecdotally, many law firms admit they struggle to track referrals, both those that bring new clients and prospects into the firm, as well as external referrals made to other advisers. Understanding the flow of referrals is a central part of business development, and CRM ensures time and money is invested in the right areas. Apathy is another driver for the updating or replacement of a CRM system. Many law firms, particularly those without a centralised marketing or data management function, quietly admit that no-one is using or updating the data or CRM system. Knowing that CRM is beneficial and supportive of GDPR compliance, some are at last investing in a new CRM system, which is impacting overall take-up statistics.


For those law firms that aren’t using CRM they are losing ground to their competitors. If their client engagement is poorly lacking, they run the risk of losing clients to a law firm that better communicatesk and engages with them with and about relevant information and updates.