Whit McIsaac in the hot seat
Taking advantage of his recent visit to the UK, we asked Whit McIsaac, the president & CEO of leading independent legal software vendor Client Profiles – best known outside the US as the developer of the CRM4Legal system, ten questions about his company's relationship with Microsoft and the prospects for an alternative to LexisNexis in the CRM space…
(1) What is the current state of CRM4Legal?
Very healthy business operation and the fastest growing business unit under the Client Profiles umbrella: 150% growth in revenues + 180% increase in staffing + Third version of the product is very stable and full featured + Fourth version of the application will be released in November/December.
Vital statistics include: 51 Active Installations/12,500 seats of CRM4Legal + 9 implementations in process/3100 seats + 4 Projects in the queue awaiting scheduling. Also Client Profiles named Microsoft Worldwide Partner of the Year – Professional Services (2nd year in a row) + Named Microsoft US Software Developer of the Year + 17 of 21 head-to-head wins against the competitors in 09/10 + Preparing to make several high profile announcements on new enhancements and modules + Positioned to have a super next stage of growth
(2) What kind of problems has the large-scale failure of early products created for CRM software vendors?
Tough environment – firms are very skeptical + CRM is clearly a four letter word in the legal marketplace + The sales cycle is very long and often difficult + Firms have invested in CRM technology and have not had success + Firms have tried to “restart” or “jump start” their installations without success + Firms do not have an appetite for traditional CRM solutions, o matter what platform or from what vendor. On the other hand – firms have been receptive to a new approach/ new technology. Firms understand why the previous generations of systems had difficulty gaining user adoption: systems were built for marketing and business development departments, with lawyer participation was an afterthought and Outlook connectivity was an afterthought. Despite the large-scale failures, law firms have a need for systems to support their business development, new opportunity and relationship management requirements + Firms have a huge need for contact databases and lists: clients, matters, practice groups, industry teams, deal teams, expert lists, referrals management tools, etc.
(3) Many law firms that invested in early generations of CRM purchased expensive “shelfware”. What has Client Profiles and Microsoft done to ensure they won’t make the same mistake twice?
It has been important to understand the firm’s business development initiatives and to make sure that the recommended configuration compliments these initiatives. Older solutions did not offer this flexibility + firms had to adapt their efforts to fit the system (rarely worked). The Microsoft Dynamics platform offers extensive flexibility: We have the ability to reconfigure and customize the system + We have the ability to build-out (inexpensively) solutions, including workflows that support the firm’s marketing and business development efforts.
Despite this, we have implemented lots of “pilot” and “proof of concept”. Phase 1 on almost every project is a proof-of-concept. Once we abandoned the “same old law firm CRM approach,” we began to see major traction – Client Profiles has embraced the approach that Microsoft and their other vertical partners have used to be successful, including: Very easy to use/Outlook based tools + Harvesting of data from Outlook contacts + Capturing and synchronizing data from other systems, databases, practice management systems, conflict of interest databases, new business/new matter intake systems. The approach is to “giving more than we take” to provide a reason for fee-earners to go to the system.
(4) CRM4Legal is experiencing great success worldwide. Why are so many firms selecting CRM4Legal versus other products?
There is a combination of factors that have contributed to the success that the CRM4Legal group is experiencing: The marketplace and the economic landscape are driving law firms to invest in business development and they need systems to gauge the success (or lack of) that they are having with new initiatives. + Law firm clients are doing everything possible to reduce their spend of legal work. + Firms are becoming more specialized and communicating this degree of specialization to companies and organisations that need this focused expertise. + The law of supply and demand applies to the legal market – there is a larger supply of legal resources, that there is a demand in the market. + Competition is fierce. + Companies are driving for new/creative fee agreements. + The fact that the legacy vendors were “plump and content,” now their technology is old and their approach is not effective. + Lastly, we are fortunate because we have the Dynamics CRM platform to build on and we have been able to deliver a powerful and flexible system, that offers and easy to use desktop for the fee-earners, and integrates very well with other systems.
Ultimately, the CRM4Legal system fits the environment of the law practice. Another note, Microsoft has educated their field sales teams, solution specialists and partners on the CRM4Legal solution, so this has driven a large number of opportunities with law firms that are already Microsoft clients. The combination of these factors has driven the success of the CRM4Legal system and created a phenomenon that I have not seen in 25 years in the legal technology business
(5) What steps have you taken to win over CRM’s greatest skeptics – the lawyers and fee earners within the firms?
Again, the market conditions and advancements in technology have helped us with this effort. A basic premise is very tough to argue: “If the fee-earners are not going to be communicating, marketing and/or selling to their existing contacts – someone else is.” If it isn’t someone else from the firm, it is going to be another firm. From a technology standpoint, there is a high probability that a fee-earner’s contact is going to make it into the marketing/CRM/relationship management database – it makes sense for the fee-earner to be connected and related to that record. + Integration with time & billing, practice management and new business intake software. + Integration with conflict of interest databases. + Other fee-earners' contact lists in Outlook + Lists of client teams, practice group contacts, industry lists, deal lists.
The job of the CRM4Legal team is to educate the fee-earners on how the contact will be protected and their private data will be secure. On another note, we have a “relationship intelligence” module that allows fee-earners to see the value of contributing their contacts and how this information will deliver a better understanding of where relationships exist. Lastly, we don’t really care if the fee-earners actually use the system, we just need to make sure that their data is contributed and the relationships are captured: this can be done with auto-contribute tools, this can be done by the legal secretaries or PAs, this can be done by practice group associates.
(6) Why is CRM4Legal any different from any other product that requires lawyers to share information in their Outlook address books & Filofaxes etc with the rest of the firm?
As mentioned previously, we don’t really care if the fee-earners actually use the software: we want them to mark their personal or private contacts. We have workflow tools that can assist with gathering more valuable pieces of information on contacts, clients, matters, companies, etc. This workflow can be handled by legal secretaries, PAs, or associates. The technology can harvest the contact data, connect it to the fee earners and build the relationship tree. What we can show the fee-earner is how this information can be used to identify where relationships exist and help them understand how to leverage this data. From a technology standpoint, the weight of the CRM4Legal Outlook client is flexible, so we can limit the icons, folders, screens and tabs to deliver “just enough” of the software to fit the individual users. Additionally, we are aggregating information from a number of other systems, so we are not asking the fee-earners to contribute the majority of information – we are getting most of the data from other databases
(7) What return should a law firm expect when selecting CRM4Legal versus the others?
Great question and often very difficult to quantify. First thing we need to do is assign a currency to the term “return” – how much value is created by finally having “good data” to handle marketing and business development tasks + we are communicating with the right people + we are also communicating the right message to these people based on what we know about them + we are not-communicating to the wrong people.
If we can save 10% to 20% on marketing campaigns – this creates a real savings to the firm. Having detailed relationship data to leverage cross-selling opportunities. If I can generate a small legal engagement with an existing client, rather than seeing that work go to a competitor, how valuable is this to the firm? If I can bill two (2) extra hours a year, I pay for my portion of the CRM4Legal system (licenses for myself and my PA, the implementation services, the integration efforts, and the maintenance). If I understand where opportunities exist within my existing client’s legal needs, can I leverage that by introducing new practice groups/partners of my firm?
Having a collaborative workspace to organize, manage and report on client team efforts, practice group and/or industry team business development efforts is a huge win for law practices. If my marketing, business development and database resources are able to focus on pro-active efforts to support my practice, rather than fixing data and managing data steward activities, how can I quantify the fact that these people are putting me and my practice group in the right position/s to win new business
(8) Where is Client Profiles today with its international partner program and have the Alphawest redundancies had any impact on APAC operations?
It took about two years for the CRM4Legal partner channel to develop and mature, at this point, we have nine (9) international Dynamics partners. Some are law firm technology vendors. Some are Dynamics professional services CRM vendors. Others are consulting organizations with specializations in legal. We have partners in: UK, France, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Sweden, Austria and Lithuania.
APAC has been a great market for CRM4Legal, and fortunately, we were not affected when AlphaWest scaled back their staffing. AlphaWest was never ramped up with the CRM4Legal solution. On the other hand, we have two (2) of Microsoft’s top Dynamics business partners representing CRM4Legal in Australia and New Zealand. These groups understand law firms and can implements solutions with very little assistance from Client Profiles. There are 5 active installations in Australia and 2 currently in the implementation process. There are 4 active installations in New Zealand with 3 more in process or awaiting scheduling. We also have a pilot/proof-of-concept installed and being tested in Hong Kong.
(9) You and Microsoft were ahead of the curve marketing a solution that functions directly within Outlook. Tell me what’s next on the horizon?
Another great question. While the other vendors are trying to catch-up and retro-fit their technology and engineer their business processes, we have some very exciting news to share with the market. Client Profiles has not been sitting idle, we have four or five major announcements to make between now and New York Legal Tech, including:
• Next generation of CRM4Legal – we have been part of Microsoft’s TAP program for CRM v5 (Dynamics 2011) that is due for release at the end of this month; this technology is much more powerful and much more flexible that the current CRM v4 platform.
• Enterprise Matter Management – Client Profiles has developed and will begin installing in November an “Enterprise Matter Management” or “Enterprise Case Information Tracking” system that is built on top of the MS Dynamics CRM 2011 xRM platform, essentially, this is a new layer that can be added on top of the CRM4Legal template for Microsoft CRM. This product is designed for firms that have legacy custom applications and need to replicate this functionality on a production system. Also, firms that are interested in having a CRM solution that is more closely slanted towards a case management system will appreciate the new modules and functionality of this system.
• CRM4Legal for the Cloud – the CRM4Legal group will be announcing and releasing the industry’s first hosted CRM system as a software-as-a-service solution. This system has been built by Client Profiles on top of the new MS CRM 2011 platform. We may be a little early for the market, but Microsoft has invested with Client Profiles to build a system that will support the requirements of a firm that is interested in hosting their CRM4Legal or Enterprise Matter Management system. The licensing for this solution will be based on a set of new SaaS licensing models that have been jointly developed by Client Profiles and Microsoft.
• SharePoint Native Integration with CRM4Legal – another benefit of the new MS CRM Dynamics 2011 platform is the direct and native integration between CRM4Legal and SharePoint 2010. The Client Profiles team has been working with clients and SharePoint partners to integrate CRM4Legal with these SharePoint initiatives.
(10) Do you see any other Microsoft 'generic' products emerging as legal market specific 4Legal applications, such as DMS or PMS?
From the Client Profiles standpoint, the announcement and delivery of the Enterprise Matter Management (EM2) solution is very exciting and takes advantage of an untapped “white space” in the large firm marketplace. We have seen and heard a lot of legal technology vendors talk about global/enterprise level case information/front-office systems, but too many times, these announcements turn to lackluster tools that deliver little real functionality and end-up supporting the back-office time & billing systems.
The CRM4Legal solution represents a combination of the Client Profiles front-office case management technology (installed in 1,400 law firms), the CRM4Legal matter tracking module, and the new xRM utilities available through MS CRM 2011. In addition to the production application modules that are built into this solution, law firms will have the ability to build their own application modules, customizations and integrations using the Dynamics CRM/xRM application development framework.