Practice Management

What lawyers should know about customer relationship management

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Ari Kaplan

Ari Kaplan. (Photo by Tori Soper)

Ari Kaplan recently spoke with Todd Miller, the CEO of TRĒ, an artificial intelligence-powered customer relationship management platform.

They discussed what lawyers should know about CRM, how TRĒ differs from traditional CRM and how CRM is evolving.

Ari Kaplan: Tell us about your background and the genesis of TRĒ CRM.

Todd Miller: I am a serial entrepreneur. Intapp acquired my previous company, gwabbit, an enterprise relationship management solution, in 2019. Having worked with CRMs for many years, I’ve identified several issues with how these tools are used and how they are purchased. CRMs were originally made for sales and support professionals, rather than lawyers, but attorneys don’t become salespeople. Often, they just want to practice law, and we should think differently about how to serve them in this area.

Ari Kaplan: Who uses CRM at law firms?

Todd Miller headshot_400px Todd Miller is the CEO of TRĒ, an artificial intelligence-powered customer relationship management platform.

Todd Miller: Marketing and business development professionals are the main users of CRM in law firms. MBD professionals are the unsung superheroes at law firms. They use the CRM to manage the firm’s contacts, business relationships, lists, eCampaigns and events. A problem is that even though list management and campaign management are at the heart of what these colossal CRMs systems are used for, they don’t do contact and list management very well. Contacts are typically sourced from attorney address books, which are often out of date. Buying an expensive CRM, then filling it with address book contacts is like buying a 24K gold bucket, then filling it with something you wouldn’t want to drink. This is a crucial concern since the success or failure of a CRM tool rests on the quality of the data it uses, so the hardest part of list management is cleaning the data. TRĒ uses well-placed AI to ensure that the data is pristine. We have also streamlined the platform to offer a simplified interface that is robust enough for business development professionals to use but straightforward enough to accommodate lawyer preferences. The result is a much more compact and affordable product that rivals much more expensive options.

Ari Kaplan: What should lawyers know about CRM at law firms, and how it has changed?

Todd Miller: I think lawyers should know that they don’t use CRM. This will likely not come as a surprise to most attorneys. An irony is that the success of CRMs in legal is largely gauged by attorney adoption, yet most attorneys don’t use CRM. Lack of adoption is blamed on the application, but it’s really the concept that is problematic. CRM was originally developed for sales and support staff. Though attorneys are required to generate business for the firm, attorneys didn’t go to law school to become salespeople. They went to law school to become lawyers. The relative few rainmakers in the firm that use CRM would probably make the rain fall without CRM.

Ari Kaplan: Do traditional CRM tools help lawyers enhance their business development?

Todd Miller: I don’t think so. If you look at how lawyers generate business, they still apply a 19th century model based on networking. Simple technologies, like telephone, email, text, and to a significant extent, social media, have helped them expand their reach, but the process is still fairly similar. While traditional CRM tools are designed to drive top-line revenue growth, hundreds of millions of dollars and decades of experience have shown us clearly that CRM doesn’t move the needle in terms of top-line revenue. It primarily drives cost to the bottom line. What we’ve done is jettison the parts of standard CRM tools that are untouched and emphasize those that provide value to the user.

Ari Kaplan: How does TRĒ disrupt traditional CRM usage in legal?

Todd Miller: The disruption comes in two parts. The first is fundamentally rethinking the product concept of CRM in law firms, focusing CRM on what it’s actually used for in the firm and who actually uses it. In place of lawyer adoption as a gauge of success for CRM, we focus on enhancing the value to marketing and business development professionals, who use TRĒ’s AI to source pristine, enhanced contact and relationship intelligence, then put that content to work creating high precision lists and campaigns TRĒ’s artificial intelligence engine ensures that their effort reaches their target audience and succeeds. We have also disrupted the way CRM is purchased. Traditionally, CRMs are very large and expensive technology platforms that can take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to deploy. We deploy the solution rapidly at a low price point and allow firms to conduct a trial before purchasing to test our system and content. In the process, we have shifted the risk of purchasing CRM away from the firm and consolidated it with TRĒ, taking full responsibility for the quality of the data and the system’s performance.

Ari Kaplan: What best practices would you recommend for lawyers to empower their business development in a competitive environment?

Todd Miller: TRĒ does not convert attorneys into salespeople. We think it’s OK for lawyers to be lawyers. Even so, if attorneys are going to continue marketing their services, the tools their firm provides need to be passive tools that empower them, rather than active tools that add administrative responsibilities to their already-busy schedules.

Ari Kaplan: How do you see CRM evolving?

Todd Miller: We are trying to break traditional CRM into two parts, emphasizing the content component that law firms use by providing AI-driven contact and relationship intelligence. Law firms want to leverage that intelligence for practical activities, like creating precise reports and lists for digital marketing campaigns. Like any other business, lawyers should collaborate with dedicated sales and marketing leaders to help them grow their practices, rather than assume responsibility for each aspect of the process. We also need more passive capabilities that empower, rather than burden, users, such as tools that offer suggestions about potential opportunities based on unique intelligence compiled from studying experience, news and client interaction.

Listen to the complete interview at Reinventing Professionals.

Ari Kaplan regularly interviews leaders in the legal industry and in the broader professional services community to share perspective, highlight transformative change and introduce new technology at his blog and on iTunes.

This column reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of the ABA Journal—or the American Bar Association.

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