How do you value your contacts? (first published in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers)

Sue Bramall explains the importance of client data management and how to use it effectively in your law firm.

Occasionally we help new law firms to set up from scratch and a partner once asked me if I found the branding the most enjoyable part of the project. He was surprised when I said that the really satisfying aspect was getting the client data management right.

With a new firm, every contact and piece of work is valued immensely as survival depends on successful management of the pipeline of work. It is easier to build a culture of recording client information “right first time” amongst a small team. With high quality data captured from the outset it is easier to produce meaningful management reports to inform marketing decisions. Once partners recognise the value in this information, get used to quality reports and start seeing the results of highly-targeted marketing, it becomes part of the culture to truly value client information.

At the other end of the spectrum, in a firm that was established several decades ago or more, it is not uncommon to find client data in a mess, a prevailing culture of “the database is not my job”, systems that do not speak to each other and poor management reporting. Fixing that is much harder!

Client relationship management

Although I have covered client relationship management (CRM) before in the Newsletter, it still seems to be an area that few firms have truly embraced successfully. To implement a contact management system effectively, you need to address three key areas:

  • people – culture and skills;
  • data – standards, monitoring and reporting; and
  • the system – implementation and development.

CRM is often thought of as a project for the technology team. But for it to be successful you also need to bring together representatives from the firm’s leadership, marketing and human resources teams.

The human element is most frequently neglected, and this is one of the main reasons for lack of success, although this is invariably blamed on the technology.

Ford Harding, in his book Rainmaking, describes the five key attributes of rainmakers. His studies prove that, contrary to popular belief, you do not need to be an extrovert to build a great book of business, but you do need to:

  • value your contacts over the long term;
  • be systematic about managing those contacts;
  • be tenacious in building relationships;
  • be optimistic about opportunities over the long term; and
  • be an active listener & build empathy.

Take a moment to think about your own personal approach to business development: does it tick all these boxes? If you actively manage and nurture your clients and contacts over the long term, you should not need to spend a fortune on attracting cold prospects. So what does this mean in practice? And what role does the technology play?

Case study

To illustrate how it can work well in practice, here is a case study based on a small firm. Abba Law was set up by Bjorn and Agnetha and specialises in the bio-tech sector. Bjorn is a corporate and commercial lawyer and Agnetha specialises in IP and technology law. They left one of the top 50 law firms, with 10 live client files and a one year non-solicitation agreement.

An audit of their contact data (valuable intellectual property in any business) reveals data in a variety of formats: client files, a box of business cards, in Outlook, on LinkedIn, and a few spreadsheets that had been researched for targeting projects in the past.

The first step is to pull all the contacts together in a single spreadsheet in order to achieve four things:

1) De-duplicate where the same person was held multiple times.

2) Clean the data to ensure formatting is consistent and data is complete.

3) Structure the data to suit their marketing plans.

4) Quarantine the contacts that were protected for twelve months.

Spending time thinking about how you structure your contact data at the outset is time well spent. It is important to keep it as simple as possible, and avoid creating lots of categories that you are unlikely to remember to complete. If a field is rarely filled in, you will never be able to pull off a meaningful report.

The most critical categories to tailor are:


  • status/relationship – is this a client, a contact or a target; and
  • business activity – accountant, bank, biotech company, media, lawyer (agree a list that is relevant to your firm).


  • known by: who do they know at Abba Law?
  • role and areas of interest; and
  • source: how did they first make contact.

Once the companies and contacts has been categorised appropriately, they are able to really analyse the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in their contact list. This analysis allows them to agree some short term priorities, and agree a list of target contacts that they would call over the next few weeks.

Of course this approach soon results in appointments for coffee and lunch, and it takes a bit longer than expected as work intervenes, but at the end of the first month they have made contact with most of the priority contacts.

At this point a spreadsheet is no longer adequate as they need a facility to record notes and add reminders for call backs and follow up actions. They also want to pull off a weekly report of all conversations, so that each of them can see who the other has spoken to and how opportunities are progressing. Most importantly they want to monitor their pipeline of new business opportunities to ensure that none slips through the net.

What about existing systems in the firm?

What about the firm’s existing practice management or case management systems? Can these provide what is needed? In my experience with many firms, the CRM modules that come with a practice or case management system simply do not provide the features required. I repeatedly come across common basic problems, such as:

  • no field to record company name separate from the contact name;
  • no facility to link companies in a group;
  • no facility to record multiple contacts with different roles at the same company; and
  • no facility to attach different contacts in the same organisation to different partners in the same firm.

There is little point recording someone’s birthday or sporting interests if you cannot record their business relationships accurately.

CRM systems on the market

There are many CRM systems on the market, ranging from Interaction (which last time I asked was tens of thousands of pounds) to free solutions which you can find by searching for “free CRM”.

Most of the big name CRM systems have been developed for very large organisations, usually with a dedicated sales team and call centre, perhaps structured over territories and with an inventory or a complex sales cycle. They therefore come with many features that you do not need and can be off-putting to a lawyer who is not familiar with sales methodologies.

Fortunately there are now a number of cloud-based CRM systems available. The advantage is that they allow you to start small in terms of the package features and number of users; and you can grow in size and sophistication as your firm requires and becomes more ambitious.

An independent review of all the leading CRM packages can be found on G2 Crowd which includes lots of useful information on these systems as well as extensive reviews from users of the products. I am glad to see that our preferred solution, Salesforce CRM, still leads the pack by a clear margin.

Salesforce CRM

We have been using Salesforce to manage our own data for several years and we provide it to firms as part of our outsourced marketing service. We get consistently good feedback on it for a number of reasons:

The ongoing costs are very reasonable. We have started all firms with a couple of licences at Group level for £17 per user per month.

We now have a standard base configuration for law firms which means that we can have a firm set up in a day; this compares with many CRM consultants quoting for several days work to scope the project and implement software.

It is very easy to tailor; once the base configuration has been set up, we can focus on working with the law firm to tailor to their target markets and marketing strategies.

Lawyers find it very intuitive, as we have been able to hide all the features that they do not need.

You can have different levels of security and access to data.

Reporting is fantastic and you can create any report on any data easily and quickly. There is no need to ask the company to write a bespoke report.

It can be accessed via your mobile phone.

If this if your first attempt at implementing a contact management system then do not be swayed by persuasive sales executives who promise you the earth. Make sure you clarify the costs of consultancy and installation (this can substantially outweigh the costs of the software). Purchasing a state-of-the-art CRM package might be like buying an Aston Martin Vantage that you can only drive at 70 miles per hour.

But the technology is the least important aspect of the process. Everyone in a firm needs to understand the importance of data quality and accuracy. Standard protocols are required for searching and recording names to avoid duplicates (eg HSBC or H.S.B.C.), processes are required to monitor data and help staff to improve. All this requires time and commitment, and that commitment needs to come from the top!

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