Turn Technology into a Competitive Marketing Advantage

The good news is that rainmaking will always require good, old-fashioned human relationships. The better news is that technology offers new tools that make marketing easier, faster, more effective, less expensive, and more.

Marketing is not limited to the process of reaching out to prospective clients: Rather, it encompasses a range of activities that are often described in the marketing textbooks as the four "Ps" – product, place, price, and promotion.

For law firms, "Product" refers to the variety and quality of the work product. "Place" refers to the location of offices and methods for delivering services. "Price" refers to pricing strategies and the fees charged. "Promotion" refers to methods for reaching out and selling legal services.

Product: The variety and quality of the work product.

A key component of successful legal marketing is the perception of the work product. A quality work product builds a public image, creates stronger client relationships and stimulates referrals. But perception of quality requires more than quality alone. Many clients are not really able to judge the quality. What all clients can judge is the experience of interacting with the lawyer -- how it feels and looks.

Certainly, technology can enhance the perception of the work product. A technological orientation differentiates a firm from its low-tech or no-tech competitors and makes it appealing to otherwise inaccessible clients.

Charles McCowan Jr., a management-committee member of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, firm Kean, Miller, Hawthorne, D'Armond, McCowan & Jarman comments, "Kean Miller represents a large number of Fortune 100 companies. Attracting these companies to a Baton Rouge firm is a challenge because of the tendency of in-house counsel to feel that only ‘big’ firms in large cities are equipped to handle major matters. So we tout our technological capabilities for handling environmental regulatory issues and major litigation involving thousands of claimants."

High-tech capability to enhance the work product can be costly and require analysis and expertise to choose the components. But installing the appropriate hardware and software is not enough. Lawyers must have the ability to use it.

According to McCowan, "There is no substitute for a good training system which will teach the hardest learners around -- lawyers who are often set in their ways. Our aggressive training efforts and rigorous technological standards required that we train our paralegals and attorneys in: MapInfo; Imanage; Envoy; Corel Quattro Pro; and Concordance for Windows. As a result, we're able to produce a technologically sophisticated product and it definitely gives us the ability to compete at the highest level."

Quality hardware, software, and the ability to use it all still fall short of the requirements for positioning a lawyer as technologically up to speed. Lawyers must be familiar with and demonstrate a sincere interest in the ways that their clients use and profit by technology. Then lawyers must incorporate the high-tech vocabulary of their clients into their conversations and work product. Without a complete technological orientation, in the eyes of the client, the work product could be perceived old fashioned and subsequently, inferior.

Technology also impacts the perception of the work product by keeping the client up-to-date on the status of work. According to Judd Kessler, founder and president of Abacus Data Systems which markets Abacus Law, the first and one of the most widely-used case management software products in the United States, "The client will be satisfied if you communicate you know exactly what's happening. With case management software, clients can get immediate access to the status of any matter from anyone in the firm."

Another technological enhancement to the work product is access to the prior work product produced by the firm. Through the use of technology, firms can create intranets -- internal Web sites that store vast amounts of information with rapid recovery capability.

According to Steve Barrett, director of practice development at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, "Smart firms have to be able to share their intellectual capital in a point and click, Web-enabled environment. With an intranet, an attorney can find the first draft of a document as easily as you and I could go online and order a book from Amazon.com. In the next five years, that will be the new service paradigm."

In addition to its own database, firms have access to information through the use of proprietary, online research firms.These databases can be accessed on demand or structured to provide continuous, moment-to-moment reporting of information as it occurs -- a process known as "push technology." Push technology reports via e-mail or intranet.

The marketing director at Latham & Watkins, Jolene Overbeck relies heavily on this kind of research.

"With this technology," she says, "our firm can obtain an instant and continuous stream of the most recent news, court opinions,verdicts, and settlements across the [United States] relating specifically to the needs of a particular client. Having that additional insight is tremendously valuable when acting as high-level business counsel."

Another aspect of offering a quality product is providing"value- added" services. One of the most high-profile high-tech mechanisms for adding value is a website. A common use of websites is to provide clients with access to articles written by members of the firm.

"The key to a valuable site for your clients is to upgrade it with your most recent articles on a continuous basis," says Fred Ungerman, chairman of the Labor department of Coolidge, Wall, Womsley & Lombard in Dayton, Ohio."That way, clients always have access to the most current information. Free access, on an ongoing basis, helps the clients feel connected and, of course, more informed."

Free access to articles is only one aspect of value-added services on a website. The firm of Proskauer Rose has developed a sophisticated website. Each department provides an array of interesting facts and a remarkable list of additional resources.

"We provide links to other resources on an industry-by-industry basis and a service-by-service basis," says the firm’s director of business development, Susanne Mandel. "For example, a click on 'HealthCare' on our Resources page produces agency and association links including the American Medical Association, the New York State Department of Health, and the National Center for Healthcare Statistics."

The Health Care links on Proskauer's site also include directories, databases and access to articles from medical journals, a drug index for information on prescription drugs, and a link to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

At Proskauer, this extensive access is similar for each service area and also offers more general information.

According to Mandel, "The site also offers full-text court opinions and links to employment, government, business, and financial resources (including stock prices), Martindale Hubbell, and law school directories. The site even links to a tutorial on how to start your own Web page and secure a domain name."

Place: The location of offices and the methods for delivering services.

Part of marketing is having a location that is accessible to and convenient for clients. Therefore, high-tech marketing could include opening an office in a high-tech territory such as the Silicon Valley or in the hundreds of other technology innovation centers popping up across the country.

While branch offices may not be the right move, one of technology's most significant impacts on the delivery of legal services is the ability to create virtual offices via the Internet. Firms are now able to offer online, interactive access for their clients to information regarding all open matters.

Victoria Spang, marketing director explains how McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen does this. "Using website technology, we can create private locations for our clients to visit. These sites, known as extranets, provide secure access and 24-hour, instant interactivity. With extranets, documents can be simultaneously shared, altered, stored and printed by all parties. This process dramatically reduces costs such as Fed Ex, telephone time, copying, and faxing. Everyone can be working on the same version at the same time, minimizing confusion and duplication. Our clients are starting to demand this."

In addition to locations, whether real or virtual, "place" refers to how services are delivered. One high-tech method that McCutchen uses for delivering legal services is laptop computers.

"Every one of our attorneys has his or her own laptop," Spang explains. "They can quickly accommodate the needs of our clients right on the spot and check for e-mail messages."

Technology has also allowed lawyers to deliver legal services from their homes. In a January 1999 ABA Journal article, author Hope Viner Samborn accurately documents the advantages of delivering legal services from the home, otherwise known as "telecommuting." The article states that currently about 10 percent of U.S. lawyers do it full time, and as personal needs continue to change, that number is expected to grow.

Clients prefer lawyers to have access to technology -- especially e-mail, which compared to "snail mail," is faster, more convenient, and less expensive.

Irv Hepner, who at Loeb & Loeb was chairman of the Technology Committee, is general counsel to Westfield America. He agrees with Samborn’s assessment: "We have a relatively small legal department and, therefore, most of our documentation is created by outside counsel. It must be received in an electronic form to review, manipulate, store, and retrieve.

"Technology enables me to work the way I want to work. I travel a fair amount and carry my laptop," he continues. "I can pull down documents everywhere I am. At this point, I would only work with lawyers who effectively use technology, unless they had some otherwise unavailable expertise."

Price: The pricing strategies and the fees charged.

As technology increases productivity, it is possible to reduce prices. This, however may not be the best maneuver. One of the worst dilemmas for any industry is when competitors "buy" business by lowering fees. That's what creates price wars.

Instead, it makes sense to use technology to justify higher fees. Firms that offer advanced technology and specialized expertise coupled with increased communication capabilities should be positioned as more desirable and therefore worthy of a premium.

Promotion: The methods for reaching out and selling legal services.

Promotion can be broken-down into four basic categories: targeting, target management, outreach, and relationship building.

1. Targeting

Targeting is the process of determining the most fertile prospects. The first high-tech targeting issue is considering which prospects have high-tech needs. This is a huge market. Just about every company uses computers that produce high-tech legal matters. E-mail creates security and confidentiality issues. Websites create security and commerce issues.

There also exists an incredibly large number of established and start-up high-tech companies that manufacture, sell, distribute, or service high-tech commodities such as computers, chips, and software. These companies require extensive high-tech legal expertise in patent, trademark, and licensing.

To find the most appropriate targets, lawyers can use online research to identify industries, companies, and individuals -- and the needs of each. These searches can be implemented through the Internet or proprietary resources.

Online research provides access to targeted mailing lists within industries. Search engines offer sites with mailing lists of companies that could be prospects. These lists often include the names of the officers and in-house counsel.

In addition to online access to databases, law firms can purchase databases through a different technology: CD ROM. Dunn & Bradstreet is well known for this technology. Mailing lists on CD-ROM can be manipulated on-site for remarkable specificity. Firms can create an ideal profile of a prospect's net worth, annual sales, location, and number of employees and then print the list in their own office. Technology enables users to manipulate demographic data without relying on a mailing list company.

Once target companies are identified, online research provides the ability to learn about the needs of the company and stay abreast of their changing needs with updates of articles about them, financial information, annual reports, executive profiles and industry trends. This information is particularly valuable when making a proposal.

According to Paul Hastings' Barrett, "All things being equal, a prospect will be pleased with a firm that shows it can collapse the learning curve. Also, prospects are much more impressed when you can project your interest in their business with a pre-existing knowledge of all aspects of their business instead of asking, 'So what does your company do?'"

2. Target Management

As firms develop their target list, technology provides the ability to store and manipulate information for future use with database software. Prospect databases are the backbone of a marketing effort. When it comes to the personal marketing skills required to be a successful rainmaker, the ability to develop and maintain a quality computerized database of contacts is clearly one of the most important. Since most successful marketing is based on developing relationships, it is crucial to control the process by maintaining an accurate inventory of those relationships.

Building and reviewing a quality database creates an awareness of the value of each prospect. Database maintenance creates a marketing awareness that makes attorneys more conscious of marketing opportunities as they appear. Each new contact requires a decision about whether or not to be included in the database.This "moment of truth" requires only an instant of time but could ultimately produce a life-long client.

In addition to providing an inventory and an awareness, databases allow for manipulation of data that is particularly helpful. For example, if an attorney were to plan a trip to Chicago, a quick search by location would provide a comprehensive list of all of the potential and existing clients and referral sources in the geographic region. A letter or call to each regarding the pending trip could produce profitable appointments.

Another database search could be implemented by industry. A list of all bankers or CPAs or real estate agents could be created for a letter about some recent development.

Databases can store extensive information about each contact. An attorney can keep records on the hobbies, mutual contacts, organizations and special needs for future reference. One firm in Los Angeles made a search of its contacts and prospects and determined that a huge percentage enjoyed tennis. As a result, the firm implemented a tennis tournament which brought clients, prospects, current and potential referral sources, and lawyers together for an extremely successful event.

Coupled with database technology is contact management technology. Contact management software contains both a contact database and the added ability to monitor the pursuit of each prospect in the database with action plans and calendaring.

As each name is reviewed, the lawyer can consider the next action to be taken. Then the lawyer can choose a deadline for implementation. While some lawyers believe that this technology is cumbersome, those who give it a serious try inevitably find it becomes second nature.

Usually the failure to market is not due to a lack of skills or a lack of time. Rather it is due to a failure to focus on one name and make a decision about the best way to pursue the relationship. For example, a lawyer in Beverly Hills had created a list of prospective referral sources. He occasionally looked at the list but he failed to give each name enough attention to consider a reasonable strategy. As a result he failed to take action.

However, upon learning contact management technology, he had a system that supported the process of carefully analyzing each name one at a time. In doing so, he created individualized marketing activities that were comfortable and achievable. He also gave himself deadlines for implementation of his marketing actions. As a result, he moved from stagnation to outreach. Now several of the prospective referral sources are referring business while the others continue to have greater potential.

Without contact management, marketing feels like a black hole. It appears to take so much time and effort. The reality is that organizational skills play a major role. Contact management technology makes marketing a controllable, structured process.

In addition to off-the-shelf contact management systems, firms can install elaborate relational contact management systems that interface with accounting and conflicts software such as Interaction. This provides the added advantage of a single-entry process and contact information available to all. Finally, intranets can also be used as a method of contact management with the added advantage of access to all the information accumulated about the contact.

3. Outreach

With contact management capability in place, technology offers remarkable mechanisms for reaching-out and meeting new prospects. The most ubiquitous of these is the website. Since so many firms have developed one, just about every firm that hasn't is struggling with the decision to create one purely as a defensive strategy.

Many firms without websites wonder if these home pages really are worth the investment: In most cases websites are worth the time, effort, and money. Websites are relatively inexpensive to create: A few thousand dollars gives a firm a responsible presence. And websites can produce business – if the firm cites practice areas and expertise that attract Web browsers.

The key to making a website an effective outreach mechanism is the appropriate links. When prospects are in the market for an attorney, they will go to their favorite search engine. However, since there are so many attorneys with sites, sub-sites have been created to simplify the selection process. While the larger search engines can provide a link at no charge, the sub-sites often charge a fee.

Another outreach technique impacted by technology is the good, old-fashioned seminar. The difference today is that seminars can be transmitted via satellite, online, or (if you still consider the telephone high-tech) via conference calls.

High-tech presentations are the norm with seminars using software such as Powerpoint. Be careful, however, not to rely too heavily on technology with a live presentation. Technology does break down and your verbal skills need to be up to speed.

As seminars become high-tech, there are high-tech invitations to add to the image. Seminar invitations are now delivered via e-mail -- and research reveals this technique produces faster and larger responses. Some firms report a response rate of up to a mind-boggling 98 percent. This does not mean 98 percent attendance; it means that 98 percent of the recipients responded with interest in attending, or declined, or declined with a request to be kept informed of future seminars.This kind of interaction as a result of an e-mail invitation is clearly a revolutionary development.

4. Relationship Building

After establishing contact with prospects, the next step is furthering the relationship. Once again e-mail holds powerful promise. Relationships are built on communication and e-mail is a valuable, flexible, and convenient communication tool. While it cannot and must not replace telephone and live interaction,it does maintain the connection with prospective and current clients and referral sources.

One caution is appropriate here: Due to the incredible ease of e-mail, it is easy to abuse the privilege. Keep social notes brief and only send jokes to those who welcome them. Some prospects are receiving hundreds of e-mails a day and too much of a good thing can alienate allies.

In addition to individualized communication, technology makes available a variety of institutional relationship building techniques. One of them is newsletters. A process that used to be delegated to advertising agencies or public relations firms can now be easily implemented in-house. Desktop publishing software such as Quark Xpress or Pagemaker, can produce top-of-the-line graphics. Scanners easily install photographs and the entire production can be e-mailed to the printer. Newsletters can also be e-mailed or "scatter-faxed" directly to the selected prospects/client in the database.

One of the greatest obstacles to newsletters is the writing. Thanks to technology, online research greatly reduces the burden. Research material can be identified, downloaded, modified and laid-out with a few key strokes.

Another technique for building relationships is brochures. With the desktop publishing technology, brochures are now often created in-house and customized for the end user. Even antique word processing technology can create customized resumes and highlight individualized services.

Of course websites play a major role here too -- this time as an online, electronic brochure. The brochure aspects of websites range from the simple to the sublime. Experts caution that there is a great tendency to provide extensive graphics to decorate a website; however, users are often frustrated with the time to download. The current advice is to lean more toward making information helpful and easy to access rather than too glitzy.

Another relationship building technique, public relations, has also been impacted by technology. Online research of publications has become easier and quicker. Editors and reporters are all accessible online. This expedites press releases and article proposals as well as forwarding the finished product. Firms even send digitized photographs electronically to meet short deadlines. Online research also provides entre into trade organizations creating speaking and publishing opportunities.

With all this high-tech support, marketing has helped non-marketers become rainmakers and has helped rainmakers become more efficient. Clearly, technology can improve the marketing of any law firm.

Here's one final caution: With all of the capability of high-tech marketing, it is dangerous to believe that it can replace live interaction. High-tech supports high-touch. Clients still need to meet face-to-face and voice-to-voice with live lawyers. Human contact establishes trust and creates emotional connections that keep relationships in place. However, technology can rapidly and creatively enhance the ability to build stronger connections over great distances.