Technology and Client Retention

The use of technology for client retention by law professionals in today’s world, where it’s easier than ever to have access to one another, seems as if there should be no issues. We asked some LTRC board members their thoughts on technology and client retention. This is what they had to say. 

Our Panelists

Dennis Kennedy (DK), Steve Embry (SE), Allison C. Shields (ACS), Natalie Kelly (NK), Nerino Petro Jr. (NPJ), Sofia Lingos (SL) and Dan Pinnington (DP).

In what ways do you see lawyers using technology to retain clients? (e.g. social media, e-newsletters, websites, etc.)

DK: For corporate clients, participation in e-billing platforms, such as Serengeti, is very important. Extranet sites for clients can please and help retain clients because of the convenient access to information, files, and other resources they give. Extranets also raise the bar for a competitor firm that wants to try to take away business. An excellent email newsletter is often pointed to by clients as something they appreciate from a firm.

SE: I see a lot of activities with e-newsletters, webinars, blogs, and websites. I am not sure how effective it all is. The market is clearly saturated and to stand out, content is still king. In my posts, I try very hard not just to report on a development but to offer insight as well. I also use the LinkedIn group functions to try to better focus efforts. For existing clients, I try to offer short concise materials and emails on new issues again with an eye toward insight and not mere reporting.

NPJ: For most firms, I find it is a bit of a hit or miss proposition. Some see the value in electronic communications and have user-friendly websites filled with helpful information, as well as blogs and electronic newsletters. Others use Facebook to a limited extent, and Twitter. Those that have someone designated to marketing and social media tend to do a better job.

ACS: I have seen more and more lawyers using all of the above to retain clients, although I think adoption of these technologies for purposes of retaining clients, as opposed to marketing or acquiring new clients, is still relatively low. Social media, e-newsletters and websites can all be good sources of information for existing or former clients about issues that are important to them, helping with retention. But there are other technologies than those listed which offer opportunities for client retention.

For example, the use of client portals to allow clients direct access to information about their case or matter, including a calendar with upcoming dates, the ability to view documents and see billing history, can be tools for client retention because they help clients to understand the work that is being performed and the progression of their matter from intake to closure. They can also help keep clients informed at the client’s convenience without having to call the office.

The use of billing software that sends automated invoices or billing statements to clients and allows the client to pay online or with a click of a button may help retention by eliminating some of the problems with billing such as late invoices. Any technology that helps make the client’s life easier, helps with client communication or helps to automate workflow is a technology that can help with client retention by ensuring that client work gets done on time and that clients are kept informed along the way, and that billing is as simple and easy to understand as possible.

NK: Lawyers are using technology to market their firms as leaders in understanding and utilizing the latest technology solutions for securely and efficiently processing legal work for clients. The ability to allow clients access to matter information via tech that includes client portal access for instance may be of huge benefit to a global client, and just the thing to keep them on your firm’s roster of clients. Lawyers are also becoming more savvy with their online marketing so that their social media channels and online outreach helps to retain clients by keeping them abreast of issues and news affecting their representation. These online marketing technologies also aid clients with simply knowing what’s going on in the firm.

SL: Technology has the ability to increase and multiply lawyers’ visibility. The creation of digital content, and publication through social media, can promote one’s expertise to a mass audience and keep our clients engaged. In a Google survey conducted by Moses & Rooth, more than 34% of potential clients began their search for counsel online. Therefore the need to utilize technology to attract and subsequently retain clients is rapidly increasing. Once the relationship has been established clients want to know that you’re always thinking about them, so by providing targeted newsletters, relevant information and other value adds at no cost, we can increase client satisfaction and therefore retention.

DP: Different strokes for different folks. It depends on the area of practice and clients. Not everyone is using technology as effectively as they should. Lawyers should strive to build a client relationship that is deeper than a single matter. To do that you need to know what the client needs and wants beyond the single matter you are working on for them. Think beyond doing a fast incorporation for the new business at a low fee (a fee that the price-sensitive client probably asked for or even demanded). It should be the incorporation for the new business that is going to grow and will require other legal services. Anticipate what they will need, the issues they might face, and highlight how you can help at the start and on an ongoing basis.

With technology and more traditional methods (i.e. face-to-face, telephone, snail mail letter, etc.) communicate and touch the client frequently. But technology is not a substitute for direct and personal contact. At every chance you get remind the client and provide them with information that is relevant and of interest to them. On the technology side everyone should have a decent piece or real estate on web—this is how they find you via Google and it is a credential most clients will look for. A professional looking website or blog will do. Use a technology channel that will reach the client—that might be one of the social media platforms, a webzine or an email (a blast to many or an individual email). Social media might work for younger clients, a different approach will probably required for boomers. Quality (content that is relevant to them) is far more important than quantity.

What technology seems to work and what doesn’t for client retention? What’s been most effective for you?

DK: As an in-house counsel, I’m technically on the client side these days. Participation in e-billing systems is a huge factor. In fact, any use of technology to make it easier for clients to pay you and manage your bills would be effective in retention. Using technology to deliver relevant, current and practical information is also a differentiator, whether that be by blog, email newsletter, podcast, webcast, social media or even videos. Great content delivered in convenient ways to consume will always be a winning strategy.

SE: Generally speaking, emails with posts or articles attached worked pretty well. Also, I try to summarize very concisely in the email what the material is and why its relevant.

NPJ: For our firm, email and electronic newsletters seem to have the best impact. Facebook has not had any realizable impact on retention.

ACS: It is difficult to determine which technologies work and which do not unless the clients specifically comment on the fact that they like a certain technology, such as receiving a law firm newsletter or having access to a client portal. But the client may not be aware of technologies a firm is using internally that improve the client experience, such as the use of technology for document collaboration and exchange through secure portals or technology that improves workflow.

NK: Lawyers utilizing my department’s services have indicated that they have been successful in keeping their client’s attention when they have targeted information that is not self-focused or directed. For instance, a lawyer recently lamented that their new client told her that they liked their website, but would like to see more news about changes in the law versus what the firm was highlighting there. Ultimately, when a firm takes the time to approach online technology from the lens of the client, they tend to have better results when it comes to retention.

SL: Creating unique content on a public blog and promoting it via social media outlets seems to be the most valuable use of technology for marketing and maintaining relationships. Once you’ve attracted the potential client, utilizing technology for online intakes, digital execution of engagement letters and providing online payment options affords clients with the ease of entering the relationship in ways they’ve grown to expect from other industries. Technology has a major role in accessibility and availability which can only strengthen the client relationship. As many lawyers are slow to adapt, providing these options can make the difference between converting a client or not. However, we must be sensitive to non-tech savvy clients and have all options still available for them as well.

DP: Don’t send clients links to information that is behind a pay-wall or requires a registration and login of some sort. That will just tick them off, and most won’t bother looking at it. Be very careful with automation. It can help with keeping your online or social media presence active—an important thing in itself—but it is so easy to cross over into blasting people with too much irrelevant information; something that will alienate them.

Do you find it easier or harder to retain clients compared to years past? How has technology contributed?

DK: It’s far easier to find and comparison shop for lawyers and firms than ever before. Blogs, podcasts, LinkedIn, social media, and other communications channels make it easy for clients to find expert lawyers outside their historical firm relationships. Data analytics and other services help clients find better rates, alternate billing arrangements, and appropriate staffing as well as identify the best lawyers in relevant categories. Great content strategies and well-designed extranets can really help keep a client with a firm, but data analytics are going to make law firms work hard to keep clients.

SE: I don’t know that it’s harder or easier but it is different. Today, clients have access to so much information about lawyers, results and costs so that retention is not just based on historical relationships as much but on results. Certainly the trust factor is and always will be part of retaining clients. It’s just now, there is an analytical aspect to the relationships that was not there before. So we as outside lawyers have even more pressure than ever to achieve results at an acceptable cost.

NPJ: We have found it to be about the same.Technology has not had a significant impact on this as our clients are still primarily focused on results and cost containment. Technology has helped in that NetDocuments has mde it easier to store and share documents and email has increased the speed of communications.

NK: The general expectation of the consuming public for lawyers to have websites and some online presence has made it necessary for firms to be online, and because the access of information online is so prolific, it has consequently made it more difficult to retain clients who are selecting firms based on their online interactions and access alone. However, it is always important for firms to monitor and leverage their retention efforts by ensuring they include direct input from the clients themselves.

SL: It depends. Clients now have access to an overabundance of information and have increasing expectations of how and when legal services should be provided. Maintaining client files in a paperless office makes it easy for them to obtain their file and transfer to another attorney that they can quickly find online if you do not exceed these expectations. Additionally, clients are no longer constrained geographically as so much representation can be done virtually opening up their options to anyone licensed in the state. Alternatively the use of technology can assist in clients satisfaction through inter-connectivity and the ability to meet their needs quickly.

DP: I think it is harder to retain clients than in the past. In many areas of practice the market for legal services is much more competitive. In many areas of law there are websites and/or non-lawyers offering to do work that is or once was the sole domain of lawyers, usually at a lower cost. Clients are very price-sensitive, and more likely to shop around for the cheapest option. Thanks to social media and online news and gossip we have all been conditioned to accept as normal quick and spontaneous virtual interactions involving few words and little or no opportunity for back and forth discussion.

But buying a book online or a trinket from eBay is not the same as getting a will, or at least it shouldn’t be. This is the challenge—and the opportunity—for lawyers. They must work to show to their clients how they are different and better. Communicate with clients and explain how professional and more in-depth legal advice is truly helpful for them and worth the extra cost. This is how the legal profession needs to distinguish itself from lower-cost alternatives. Most client don’t understand you get what you pay for—and don’t assume they will see or understand how the extra work you did truly helped them—explain it to them during a consultation and in a reporting letter.

How does your strategy and use of technology differ between retaining clients and trying to attract new clients?

DK: Again, I’m not active in this space, but I have plenty of ideas and opinions on this topic. The audiences and needs are so different between retaining clients and gaining new clients that step one has to be a deep recognition of the difference of those audiences and the needs of those audiences. Most of the same technologies will actually work in both settings, but the focus, the content and the delivery must reflect and respect those audiences. If you use one-size-fits-all approaches, you will lose now, and increasingly so in the future.

SE: I am not sure how different it is. In both instances, you have to provide good solid legal advice to have any chance. With new clients though there is the added hurdle of getting recognized as a possible supplier of legal services. The proverbial foot in the door. With existing clients and particularly those with whom you are handling active matters, there is always the connection and ability to communicate that is not there with new clients. But in both cases, I use social media as a vehicle to demonstrate expertise in a particular area. By doing so, I get the chance at least to get noticed by new clients and enhance my stature with existing ones.

NPJ: We are updating our website to include blogs and articles as well as presenting what we do in a more consumer friendly fashion for both potential clients and existing clients.

ACS: [As a consultant, my experience is a bit different than the experience of the attorneys] There are some things about the use of technology for both the acquisition of clients and the retention of clients that is the same. For example, providing quality information about issues that are important to those clients or potential clients and demonstrating expertise or insight into the areas of law that affect them, through things like social media posts, websites, e-newsletters, etc. But even these technologies can be used differently to focus on different audiences and to place emphasis on different issues depending on whether those technologies are being used to reach potential clients and referral sources or to reach existing clients.

NK: I don’t know that the strategy will differ very much between retaining clients and attracting new ones. Creating useful content and sharing appropriate amounts of information will likely be paramount of firms who want to do both anyways.

SL: Our firm highlights the integration of technology throughout the process, so though there are different tools that we are able to employ once we’ve engaged a client our strategy remains the same; to identify and integrate technology into our process to create an open and streamlined approach that adds to the experience instead of overwhelms the user.

Fast forward five years. How do you see lawyers using technology for client retention at that point? What’s on the way out, and what’s on the way in?

DK: Things happen so fast that in five years we might already be hearing that using virtual reality for client communication and marketing is old hat and boring. It’d hard to predict. Great content will always win. Delivering your content in the channels and the devices your clients use, whatever that may be at the time, will be vital. Making it easy for your clients to pay using technology and to meet with you using technology also will be important. Please let me be right in predicting that email will be out, especially email with attachments. Real-time communication (instant messaging) and real-time collaboration (take a look at Slack) are on the way in, as is anything mobile and, increasingly, anything video. The pace of change is just getting faster and learning how to adapt creatively to technology changes will be what matters.

SE: I think data analytics will play more and more role in client decisions and in the relationships with lawyers. I think we will see clients demanding that we better use technology and that we use technology to do tasks that we once got younger lawyers to do. While lawyers won’t be replaced generally, only those best able to harness technology to drive an efficient result will thrive. I also think we will see more and more partnerships between lawyers and non-lawyers to achieve results on given matters. E-discovery for example is already an area where we see these sorts of partnership. I think we will see more and more of this and it will expand.

NPJ: Increased use of client portals for sharing information including documents and billing. Web tools to gather information and produce documents as well as increased use of electronic tools for communications, conflict checking, scheduling and payment. Static websites will hopefully be a thing of the past.

ACS: The recent pace of technology has been such that it is difficult to predict where things will be even two years in the future, let alone five years. But I think there will be more adoption of technology within law firms for communication with clients, use of technology to exchange and collaborate on documents, and more. Online meetings or conferences with clients in remote locations will likely increase, and billing and payments will likely be handled largely through technology.

Hopefully lawyers will become more proficient at using technology for the internal processes in their office to improve the client experience and to improve their efficiency, if only to compete with the online service providers who can provide some legal services faster and more cost effectively than law firms today using outdated means of providing their services. Or technology in combination with a change in rules that allow some legal services to be provided by non-lawyers will reduce the demand for certain legal services so that lawyers will need to focus more on higher end legal services and will need to adopt technology in order to provide those services economically in order to meet clients’ changing demands.

NK: I think lawyers using technology for client retention five years from now will be more involved with communications portals and tools that make managing matters seem more like interactive group projects than a clumsy grouping of documents and emails being sent back and forth inefficiently. The online technology tools will continue to grow and the means of meeting clients’ and potential clients’ continued desire for always-on and always-up to date information and access to their lawyer will probably rule the day.

SL: The number of players in the legal tech field continue to increase, even though the industry hit its funding peak in 2013. Unfortunately, there are innumerable products caught in the idea stage without the ability to progress unless they attract the eye and are acquired by some of the leaders. That means that our future is really in the hands of a few unless we begin to take a more interdisciplinary approach. I think in order to maintain our relevance if we can use technology to provide packaged solutions without assuming that legal is stand alone, it will be an ongoing advantage in client retention.

DP: For better or worse, smartphones and apps will allow us to become even more connected. The communications paradigm will become even more “social”—think quick and spontaneous interactions. The wider array of technology tools for connecting and communicating with clients will remain important in terms of picking the one that will best reach a particular type of client, but these tools should be used in conjunction with traditional client communications and marketing. Quality over quantity will become more important for connecting as information overload and noise will get worse.

Thank you to all who participated in this roundtable discussion. If you’re interested in writing for Law Technology Today or have topics for future roundtable discussions, click here!

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