Technology and Marketing: The Profitable Marriage

by William J. Flannery, Jr. and Wayne J. Lovett

What would you do if you were offered an extra hour, every day of the year, to use as you please? That would be an extra $73,000 more a year in billable work for those who bill at $200 an hour; or two full weeks of additional vacation or of time for a neglected hobby or interest; or 90 four-hour client development dinners or seminar presentations.

Suppose further that not only would these benefits cost you nothing in lost opportunity, but that you would be operating more effectively in those hours in which you did work?

If you were a lawyer, you would flee from this offer as you would from the plague.

How do we know this? Because this offer has been on the table for a number of years, and very few attorneys have seized it. We're referring to the fact that technology has unquestionably reach a point beyond the initial hype where it truly enables you to fit more into the 24-hour day.

Law firms have seized this opportunity in certain areas, such as billing and timekeeping; but in their marketing programs they're still playing with an abacus. As competition continues to tighten and marketing requires even greater effort, this problem will grow exponentially. While law firms search for ways to recoup technology costs, they resolutely ignore a substantial opportunity at their feet.

The ultimate goal of marketing is to increase the firm's bottom line. Part of the marketing process is the exchange of information between the law firm and the buyer. Traditional marketing activities include: brochures and newsletters; open house receptions; visiting clients; and presentations for business. Marketing is also responding to RFPs (Requests For Proposals), communicating with clients using technology, tracking the firm's marketing efforts and analyzing the financial results of the firm's marketing efforts. The sad fact is very few firms are using technology to communicate with clients, make presentations or track the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. The business case for using technology to market legal services is a significant return-on-investment.

A few leading-edge firms are using personal computers to create databases to use for RFPs. These firms also create slides, overheads and multimedia, business development presentations using specialized presentation software. They are using the Internet and powerful laptop computers equipped with overhead projection displays (LCDs) to make business development presentations. Such users are also using technology to effectively manage client relations.

Managing Client Relationships

E-Mail can be an effective tool to transmit the firm's marketing message as well as handle routine communications with the firm's clients. Many of the larger firms have given selected clients access to the firm's E-Mail system to speed up the flow of communication, to foster contact and to utilize electronic billing. Communications with clients can also be made through organizations such as CompuServe, Lexis Counsel Connect and America On Line. On-line services are also a good source of business information on prospective and existing clients. Where communications are confidential, documents can be encrypted to insure that they are not read by the wrong party.

Project management software can be used to schedule complicated tasks such as initial public offerings, commercial loan transactions and litigation. Such software allows the user to readily make modifications to reflect changed conditions in the project such as schedules and responsibilities. Project management software coupled with electronic spreadsheets allow the lawyer to run sophisticated "what if" scenarios to help the client pick the optimal course of action. This is especially useful in evaluating litigation strategies and the economics of the matter.

Project management software coupled with client contact software can be used by the firm to track the firm's marketing efforts and results. To be effective, the firm must know what efforts are bearing fruit and devise appropriate rewards for the attorneys whose efforts are successful. Failure to reward successful marketing efforts will guarantee a marketing campaign which will be dead on arrival.

Document assembly software, which allows the practitioner to quickly assemble a single document to a group of related documents, constitutes another way the computer literate practitioner can maximize the return on technology. With clients increasingly demanding more innovative billing arrangements and more productivity from their service providers, document assembly software properly used can make the practitioner more competitive on smaller matters.

A Case Study

To understand how to apply technology, a quick case study can put things into perspective. Assume that an important client calls and asks that the firm be prepared to give a proposal and oral presentation the next day in a new practice area. Can you respond quickly? How can technology help?

The steps for creating any marketing proposal and presentation are:

  • Planning and Research,
  • Create Proposal,
  • Create Presentation,
  • Rehearse, and
  • Present Capabilities.

Planning and Research

On-line information services are readily available and can be accessed to provide up-to-date business information on the client. Information such as recent public filings, press releases, and industry analyses are all available on-line from a variety of service providers. Legal services such as Lexis/Nexis can also be a provider of business data as well as more specific up-to-date information on any legal issues which need to be addressed. An additional source of information is Lexis Counsel Connect (LCC). This service provides a forum where counsel can communicate in an informal matter on issues, locate other attorneys who have specific expertise and provide a central location for team members to communicate electronically. For instance, LCC allows users to set up secure electronic conference and mail centers in which users can share documents and information.

Software products such as Lotus Notes are now available which allow the practitioner to share documents and spreadsheets across various types of computers. If the information is available, it is likely that it is accessible electronically and can be incorporated into the user's work product. All members of the client team should be tied together by E-Mail to insure prompt communication of information. The ultimate goal of this process is to know as much about the client's business as the client does before making the presentation and to insure that this information is shared in a timely manner with the entire team.

Create Proposal

Once the team has been identified and the relevant information gathered, the team can begin to assess what the outline of the client proposal should be. The Client Proposal should be tailored to meet the perceived needs and wants of the individual client. Have the attorney and staff biographies, previous firm experience, pricing and office logistical administrivia on-line will save production time. The proposal should be designed to show the client the level of the firm's interest in gaining the business and developing a relationship with the client. The proposal should include specific information on how, when and for what cost the firm can meet the client's needs. The proposal should also include information on how the firm will use the available technology to meet the needs of the client and add value to the relationship. Lotus Notes is useful when multiple locations of the firm are involved in creating the proposal. Clients are seeking a balance between fees, value and service. The presentation should clearly show how the firm is going to handle these issues.

Create Presentation

Once the details of the proposal are outlined, the firm can then look at how the information can best be communicated to the client in the form of an oral presentation. The presentation should include the following:

  • A list of the firm's previous successes in dealing with the client's problems with companies which are close in size and structure to the client;
  • Attorney and staff capabilities;
  • The legal issues facing the client;
  • A summary of how the firm will address the issues as well as a time line for doing so;
  • The cost and fee structure to be used by the firm; and
  • How the firm is going to use technology to give the client up-to-date information and access to information so that the client can feel like it is part of the firm.

The key here is the differentiation and value which is added to the firm's services to the client by integrating the client into the firm's information flow. For instance, in complex litigation and IPOs the firm could create a private database for the project which would include current drafts of documents, project time line information and cost data. Allowing the client access to such a database gives the client a feeling of being part of the team. It also gives the in-house attorney up-to-date information in areas which are important for internal reporting purposes. Clearly, for this concept to work the database and access rights needs to be tailored to the individual needs and desires of the client.

A successful 30 minute presentation will generally require ten (10) hours of preparation time. It should be rehearsed three (3) times by all participants in the group. It is helpful to have members of the firm who have not been involved in the preparation of the presentation come in to play the role of the company's officers. This is important because the presentation should not be a static talking head, one way flow of information. Rather, the successful presentation will create a dialog between the presenters and the client's representatives. Lawyers frequently worry about creating presentations which are too slick. However, the average business client is used to giving and receiving presentations which make full use of available high-tech multimedia capabilities. It makes sense then to use the methods of communication which the client is used to and not worry about being too slick. The presentation should leave the client feeling that they have participated with the firm in arriving at workable solutions to the client's legal problems.

Conclusion

Today's technology can not only provide the means in which the firm can produce work products, track expenses and prepare client bills, but it can also allow the firm to differentiate itself from the competition, provide tailored solutions to the client's legal needs, improve the flow of communication between the client and firm and increase the profitability by using technology in their marketing efforts.