Analysis: Why signature scraping means CRM systems are now capable of delivering real transformation

Neil Cameron explores how signature scraping technology has transformed increasingly inaccurate client relationship management systems into hugely valuable data repositories that are capable of capturing  every form of interaction with a client and analysing the strength of relationships within an organisation. 

Only 10 years ago many law firm CRM systems were suffering from a so-called “data death spiral”. This came about because since their inception, the use and utility of CRM systems lived and died by the completeness and accuracy of their contact data. Unfortunately, that data relied heavily on the ability and willingness of lawyers to capture and enter, or arrange for their secretaries to enter, that information.

Lawyers are always busy, and either the importance of this key task, or their willingness to engage with it – evaded them. Enterprising secretaries would occasionally gather business cards that they found on fee-earners’ desks and entered the information in the CRM systems themselves, but this was not enough.

Lawyers expected the information to be there without themselves having to do anything, and when it wasn’t there, they moaned and complained about the completeness and accuracy of the information and refused to engage with the system or the process. As a result of which they used the system less and less, and got even worse at providing the much needed data. And so on…

The development in CRM-related technology that finally broke this impasse is not particularly sexy; it is invisible and works almost completely behind the scenes – nevertheless, it is almost single-handedly responsible for a radical transformation of the quality and quantity of law firm contact data, and thereby the adoption of law firm CRM systems.

CRM systems have come an astonishingly long way over the last 25 years, in ways that mean that they enable firms to build increasingly accurate (as opposed to increasingly inaccurate) data repositories. They also have a range of new functionality some of which provides analysis of who-knows-whom, and others which have transformed the management of contacts and new business opportunities.

These developments have been nothing less than radical game-changers in the adoption and effectiveness of modern generation CRM software to law firms; insofar as they were admittedly useful (if implemented properly) hitherto, they are now increasingly regarded as indispensable.

The first radially beneficial aspect was originally known by the somewhat unassuming and prosaic title of ‘signature scraping’ which by no means reflects the earth-shaking significance of this relatively simple concept. This software delves into every email received by the firm, and ‘harvests’ key contact data from the signature line. This will normally contain, together with the header, accurate and complete, items of contact data in the form of:

  • email address
  • name
  • job title
  • employer organisation
  • telephone number(s)

It will often also include Web address(es), personal and/or corporate social media handles, a full physical address, global office locations, assistant contact details and – if you’re lucky – the sender’s preferred personal pronouns.

All this information is gathered and compared with the existing contacts database. Changed data for existing contacts, as well as all data for new contacts, are processed and channelled to data stewards or other BD staff, who can review them and incorporate them into the database.

Before this, if lawyers and support staff did no data inputting or cleansing, the data set simply got more and more out-of-date and therefore increasingly useless. Nowadays, with this technology, even when the lawyers and support staff do no data gathering, as is their wont, the data just keeps on getting better and better.

Many of the current generation of CRM systems have such a facility, but some do not, and thus several vendors have brought specialist ‘point solutions’ CRM modules to market which will integrate with other full range CRM systems to provide this functionality. Gwabbit, now owned by Intapp, was one of the first of these point solutions, but other more recent entrants to this market include Client Sense and Introhive.

It is worth noting here, that there has been a trend recently towards the creation of very imaginative ‘non-standard’ job titles especially among Generation X C-Suite staff; examples might include:

  • Chief Data Officer (CDO)
  • Chief Product Officer (CPO)
  • Chief Budget Officer (CBO)
  • Chief Happiness Officer (CHO)
  • Chief User Experience Officer (CXO)
  • Chief Storytelling Officer (CSO)

Most modern legal CRM systems have the ability maintain and use these quirky titles, and also to attach a ‘normalised’ job title for the purposes of comparison and analysis.

Having an automated, self-maintaining contact database means that the other recently developed advanced areas of functionality in CRM systems all become so much more powerful; such as:

  • ERM: Enterprise Relationship Management
  • Relationship Strength Analysis
  • Sales Funnel/Pipeline Management
  • Opportunity / Gap Analysis
  • Referral Management & Analysis
  • Offboarding / Succession Planning
  • BD Project ROI: Client and Matter Profitability Analysis
  • Multi-Jurisdiction Data Protection

ERM: Enterprise Relationship Management

Taking ‘signature scraping’ as one form of data capture, ERM functionality then augments the basic contact information by additionally, and automatically, capturing every form of interaction between that contact and anyone at the firm. Depending on the degree of application integrations available these interactions could include:

  • emails
  • meetings
  • Zoom / Teams VC sessions
  • phone calls.

Relationship Strength Analysis

Given all these interactions that ERM software can capture, this current generation of CRM systems can provide very sophisticated analysis of the relative strength of relationship links between all of the firm’s staff and all of the firm’s contacts. This has proven to be a very useful information tool and greatly exceeds the level of utility than one might initially imagine it would. Most CRM software can now show and rank the relative communication volumes between lawyers and contacts and identify who actually has the deepest level of relationship with each contact and who thus might be best placed to leverage that relationship for the benefit of the firm.

Historically, ‘ownership’ of contact data in law firms usually went with the most senior partner who claimed that contact as theirs. It may be that they were the original introducer of that contact to the firm, but over the years things change, and many other senior, and more junior, fee-earners will often have much more frequent interactions with that contact. On that basis, they may now ‘know’ them better than the original partner.

Sales Funnel/Pipeline Management

A new business opportunity may come into a firm from a range of different sources and directions: non-clients, current clients, referrals, web site enquiries, telephone calls, social media interactions, meetings at conferences and so on. With the best will in the world, in busy law firms, some of these opportunities will go by unnoticed, some will be handled by the wrong person, others will be mishandled or dealt with too slowly and they will fall away.

Modern CRM systems have specific functionality that ensures that all potential opportunities are identified, qualified, passed to the most appropriate person, and thereafter attached to workflows that ensure that the right actions (down to proposal generation etc) are taken by the right people, at the right time – in order to put the firm in the best position to win the work.

Opportunity / Gap Analysis

Some vendors call it ‘white space’ reporting. This refers to the ability of a CRM system to review the relationship analysis previously mentioned, against the parts of the client organisation that contacts work in, against the range of work provided to that client and can compare the range of legal work undertaken by other divisions of the client to legal services provide by the firm that are not currently provided to the client. The overall result of this analysis is to provide a way to navigate the current gaps in service and seek to fill then by cross-selling activities.

Referral Management & Analysis

Law firms accept work referred to them from other law firms and professional organisations, and refer work out to such bodies, all the time. In the case of other law firms, domestic referrals are often due to a conflict of interest or the absence of special expertise in-house. In the case of international referrals, it will be due to the absence of significant representation in specific jurisdictions.  In either case, in some jurisdictions there may be referral fees involved.

Non-law firm referrals may be to, and from, bodies such as clients, merchant banks, property agents, accountants and so forth.

In any event, law firms need to keep track of these transactions in order to ensure that they deal with their referrers on a broadly reciprocal basis, otherwise the firm runs the risk if upsetting a good referrer and losing future work.

Let us say that a firm in the United States is getting a constant stream of high-quality referrals from a law firm in France, by high quality we mean plentiful, high fees and high margin. To start with the US firm reciprocates, but after a few years the partner in charge of that relationship retires, and with no-one senior looking after it, the referrals to France slowly start to decline. Three years later, the American firm realises that this source of work has slowly dried up, as the French firm notices – and acts on – the disparity. At that point it is hard to rebuild such a relationship.

A good referral monitoring system will monitor all incoming and outgoing referrals and provide general analysis information, and explicit warnings of any specific referral relationship that is out of kilter; not just by the crude mechanism of counting cases, but by comparing the quality of the work – including fees and, crucially, matter realisation. By this mechanism the ongoing reciprocity of important referral relationships can be managed – and protected.

These are just some of the capabilities of modern law firm CRM systems, none of which would be possible without the ability to build and maintain a comprehensive and accurate source database of all of a law firm’s contacts -which has been enabled by the comparative simple facility of email signature scraping.

Taken together it is no hyperbole to say that all of the developments outlined above that build on top of email data collation have revolutionised the range if benefits that firms can reap from CRM software, when properly implemented.

Bringing this wide range of advanced functionality together, if a modern CRM system is implemented with proper change management, process configuration and training, the financial benefits it can have on the growth of high-quality work can far outweigh the costs involved.

Apart possibly from improved matter costing, there is probably no other single form of IT investment that can being about as much direct financial benefit as a well implemented CRM system.

If you have yet to download our extensive analysis of the CRM market, you can read the 54-page report here:

LITI Launches 2023 Legal CRM Software Report