As featured in Bloomberg, February 8, 2023. Last year saw 46 completed law firm mergers, and according to Fairfax Associates, more are on the way.
For years, middle market pressures led large firms to expand and add new practice capabilities, while smaller specialist firms developed their own position in the marketplace.
We now face a second pressing, and smaller and mid-market firms are seeking new partners.
Such deals raise the issue of how firms consolidate and invest in their systems, particularly the marketing technology stack.
It is a misstep to address marketing systems—the customer relationship management system, deal and litigation trackers, and other marketing databases—at the end of merger discussions.
How a merger is communicated—at what stage in the process and by whom—is vitally important to its success.
A well-run system that denotes key clients, responsible partners, billings, and nuanced notes about the relationships is critical.
I often suggest to clients pre-merger that they consider all their constituents, employees, lawyers, clients, recruiters, vendors, alumni, and referral sources and plan to communicate with each of them in a timely manner.
For example, there should be plans to communicate with clients in person or by phone. When that is not possible, there are other ways to reach out so clients hear the news directly rather than learn about the move in the media.
Once it’s time to make an announcement and plan who should be connecting with which groups, marketing technology is imperative to a successful communications strategy.
Marketing tech solutions streamline client information and contact mining, and link with finance. Without them, marketing efforts will be scattershot at best, and tactics can be far off base.
Ensuring a rollout of the right technology that facilitates each party’s strategy is important to get right. This should take place before planning communications and marketing tactics. Here are some ways to hit the mark.
While introducing technology needs to be a collaborative team effort among various departments and partners, a single person or department should lead marketing operations or project integration.
Building a database or integrating a complex technology system within a firm may involve multiple groups, yet an individual or small team should drive the effort and be compensated based on the program’s success.
The ultimate responsibility should fall under the purview of someone whose fundamental duty is to seamlessly roll out the new configuration.
Critical influencers in the firm also have an important role to play in operational success. Partners with sway or significant books of business should be engaged early in the process. They can help facilitate collaboration and bridge gaps between departments.
Even the strongest and most tech-savvy cultures need the support of this network of influencers to accomplish essential operational changes.
It is important to define the universe of tech solutions that will be used and establish parameters for implementation. Careful problem-solving and purposeful use of technology to solve that problem is the best approach, combined with a clear mission, regular communication, and milestone deliverables.
In addition to firm influencers, senior leaders also should champion the cause. They must understand that technology purchases, rollout, and adoption can be expensive, but that operating without a good CRM system is like working with both hands tied.
Even with the best technology and professional staff to drive the adoption process, complex implementation and adoption only happens if leadership believes in the purpose of the work.
Communications and an eye toward change management are critical to the marketing technology process. In most cases, law firm partners aren’t tasked with doing their data entry on pitches, or even tracking their contacts.
In many cases, their assistants or a team in marketing are asked to play a significant role in recording or verifying information. These implementers need the right support to be effective.
The firm should facilitate others’ work in the process, and ensure that assistants are consistently trained and brought up to speed on new enhancements while being rewarded from both a morale and compensation standpoint.
It’s vital to demonstrate why the marketing stack should be in place and why it makes a difference.
The perfect cause-and-effect result may not happen for a while—for example, “We received a big well-paying client because we did this.” Yet smaller incremental results can be shown—for example, because x or y happened, one could say, “This is how easy it is for us to pull our GC alum list on these four states.”
Systems should talk to one another. In many cases, finance and marketing applications come from the same company, which brings firms five steps ahead of the game.
When one system works with data from another, that’s where the magic happens. Analytics often can point to big-picture trends and provide different views of various data points.
For example, if a company is a possible takeover target, and a law firm wants to see who they know at the company and if the organization has ever been a client, multiple databases and hours might have been needed for this work in the past.
Now suppose that a firm has technology that works together, and the technology is specific to that industry. That scenario will produce results and much faster.
Quickly procuring a complete view into the company and its relationships with the firm increases the likelihood of winning the business.