Russell Thomson (pictured), Chief Business Executive at Eclipse Legal Systems, in an exclusive interview with LSN’s Briefing magazine.
The future of client relations will be about involving them more in the process of legal work, keeping them better and more regularly informed, allowing them to input directly into the work process, and providing greater visibility of work progress. All this comes down to better communication.
How will you do that?
To win new clients, keep old ones and stay ahead of the competition, law firms need to capitalise on the information they already have to make better, more meaningful connections and interactions with both existing clients and prospects.
The legal sector’s approach to BD is evolving as more firms realise that BD, sales and marketing are, in fact, incredibly important. This realisation has come not just as a consequence of the downturn – it’s also been driven through a variety of regulatory changes, from the axe falling on referral fees to new entrants to the market, most of which understand how to cross-sell and leverage customer information extremely well.
When I speak to law firms, it seems many are at a crossroads: they have to decide whether to shut up shop, or rise to the business challenge. There is no middle road. The focus for everyone, therefore, must be on business development.
A central perception that needs to change is the client experience. Consumers (and some business clients) often expect a horrible experience in dealing with law firms. They complain of not being able to stay in touch easily, opaque processes, limited visibility of how a case is progressing and poor guidance around the processes involved from the outset.
Better transparency into the client’s legal work can fundamentally change all this, and it’s key to making clients feel at ease. They need to see what their firm contacts are doing. Their journey is really important. Often, particularly in consumer business, clients don’t understand the amount of work that goes into their matters – even with a simple conveyance.
Making contact and maintaining communications with clients also has to be made easy to do, and, crucially, through the client’s preferred channel. This means breaking down barriers and providing new channels.
Bringing clients into the process
This can all be done by rethinking process management in the firm. Until relatively recently this was an internal thing – legal processes happened inside the firm. But by extending thinking about processes to the client/consumer, a lot of the transparency and communication work happens automatically.
The widespread use of Case Management Software (CMS) and Practice Management Software (PMS) solutions means that law firms today are sitting on huge amounts of useful, searchable, usable electronic data – more, in fact, than many sectors. It therefore makes sense to use it, to push it out to clients via an online, device agnostic, always-on platform to bring clients into processes and make them more involved and comfortable – using the internet channels they use and already feel at home with.
This allows the publishing of elements of the case to help clients understand what’s going on, makes it easy for clients to make contact anytime, and lets them submit documents via the web. These seemingly small things add great value, create differentiation and drive up satisfaction. This also needn’t cost the firm much in return, and a great online journey also means less direct client interaction, saving fee earner time, increasing revenues and cutting costs.
We’re so convinced that this is what clients want that we have built Eclipse TouchPoint, which can influence and make work happen behind the scenes in a programmed and automated way that the client can be involved in, self-serving at specific points in the process. As a law firm manages a case through a CMS, it can push information out through TouchPoint and then pull client information back in.
TouchPoint also gives vital BD and marketing information back to the firm – pulling in data around a client journey or mixing case management data from our Proclaim CMS to analyse enquiries vs sign-ups. Culturally, some firms don’t want to open up their work to the client. But it’s nothing sinister, and many firms are already going down this road.
There will be a new level of client access to information and ease of interaction, and I think it will be a central way for firms to differentiate themselves and win business in the future.