Welcome to Season 2, Episode 3 of Legal News Reach! NLR CEO Jennifer Schaller talks to Chris Fritsch, founder of CLIENTSFirst Consulting, about how law firms with thoughtful and successful integration of customer relationship management systems, or CRMs, into their day-to-day operations—increasing contact management, business development and customer service in the process. .
We’ve included a transcript of the conversation below, transcribed by artificial intelligence. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Hello, and welcome to Legal News Reach, the official podcast of the National Law Review. Tune in for a discussion on the latest trends in legal marketing, SEO, law firm best practices and more.
Thank you for tuning in to the Legal News Reach podcast. My name is Jennifer Schaller, Executive Director of the National Law Review. In this episode, I’ll be speaking with Chris Fritsch, who is a CRM and marketing technology success consultant and founder of CLIENTSFirst Consulting. She’ll be talking to us about CRM technology, specifically how it’s impacting law firms. Chris, would you like to introduce yourself?
Glad to do it! I’m Chris Fritsch, I’m actually a CRM success consultant. And no, that’s not an oxymoron. For the past 15+ years, my team at CLIENTSFirst has helped hundreds of top companies succeed with CRM and related and integrated technology. I’m actually a bit of a recovering lawyer and that’s kind of how I got into the business. And it’s only been 15 great years working alongside top law firms.
What made you start CLIENTSFirst Consulting?
You know, that’s a good question. I actually worked at a CRM company years ago and those companies are great at building and selling and installing and implementing software…not necessarily as great at being able to take the time to get to know each law firm to really understand the needs of the firm, the requirements, the culture to really help them succeed with the technology. So I saw that there was a real opportunity to be able to help clients succeed. The company is called CLIENTSFirst. And so we’re really focused on sharing information, ideas, best practices for success from years of experience doing this, and it’s been a great 15 years of growth. And the most important part is that we get to help the customers.
So what are the main reasons law firms implement CRM systems?
CRM systems are about communication, coordination and customer service. And of course business development. Law firms of all types and sizes are really focused on these areas. So I think that’s why CRM has been such an important part of technology over the years.
What is the most common use of CRMs in law firms?
Use in most companies starts with contact management and list and event management. These are some of the basic features that CRM systems provide. You know, in law firms we write, we speak, we do events and webinars and seminars. There is a very big need, and CRM fills that need very, very well. These are things that may not be exciting, but essential. So it is to create a centralized archive of information that can be clean and correct and easily updated. This is usually where businesses start. Being able to have marketing build and manage the list to be able to get all the events done and managed, to be able to have attorneys or assistants update lists, and just basically make sure that clients and prospects and other contacts get information that the lawyers and the law firm need to post there. You know, because as lawyers, if we can’t share information about our experience and our expertise and changes in the law and capabilities, then it makes it really challenging to grow the business. And that’s where CRMs start, but what we’ve seen lately is a focus on more advanced features for business development. Business development has taken a little longer in legal than in some other professional services, but I think we’re getting there. So we’re seeing a lot more emphasis on these tools right now. Many people right now are actually switching CRM systems because they want to get a few more of these advanced business development features.
What are some of the features that law firms should implement but are underutilized, in your opinion? Or does that sort of piggyback on business development stuff?
Yes, that’s a big part of it. The big thing is activity tracking. It’s one of those things that everyone agrees on, it would be incredibly valuable to know who’s taking who to lunch, who are we proposing to? Who do we have phone calls and meetings with? But the challenge with that is that they have to be entered manually. A lot of things in CRM we’ve been able to automate, but there’s something you can’t really do because the information lives in the lawyer’s head, right? So it has to be done and you can’t have computers or even assistants doing it very well. But everyone wants the information. So I think it has been a big challenge. Probably one of the biggest fixed challenges is getting lawyers to function that way and think like salespeople, whereas outside of legal, you know, you can mandate behavior and report on activities. In a professional service, specifically, in a law firm model that is a bit more challenging, there is a kind of hesitancy to impose something. So we have challenges with that. It’s like adoption. You know, that’s always been a challenge as well. In a law firm, time is money, literally. And so anything they have to do in terms of technology that takes away from serving the customers and frankly, billing time, there’s got to be a lot of value there. All the functions that require them to do data entry are going to be challenging because we’ve taken a little longer to focus on business development. There are really advanced pipeline capabilities in many of the CRMs, outside of legal, and now in some of the vertically focused ones for law firms, but getting lawyers to feed data into a pipeline is likely to be challenging, and it’s perhaps not the highest and best use of his time. And so many companies that are doing implementation pipelines, they have internal business development resources that actually do the data entry and then just get the information related to reports and pitches and things. Let them give that information to the lawyers to use when they need it.
These people bill their time in six-minute increments. What are some of the built-in features in CRMs that help law firms pick up on things that lawyers are reluctant to do other than… obviously there has to be a culture change. But what are some of the things that make it smoother?
So there’s actually a tool that I’m a big fan of called ERM, or enterprise relationship management. And it’s a technology most of the CRMs in the legal vertical have built in, but there are also some stand-alone systems. And what they do is they create the contacts from the signature blocks to the emails. So the lawyers do not have to deal with entering contact data and collecting and updating. In the past, the systems worked with a kind of Outlook synchronization process where the contacts flowed in, but lately people haven’t been using Outlook like they used to. I mean they still use it for email and for calendaring, but not so much address books. So the problem with address books was that people entered data but never removed it. And then you just ended up with more and more contacts. And you know, they’re not particularly relevant anymore. These ERM systems will make good contacts, because frankly, if you just got a signature pad, the information is probably good. And then you enter this data – it does it automatically. And then lawyers don’t have to enter data, which is great. But it also creates a who-knows-who relationship, which is something we really want to be able to capture. You know, if you want to pitch a client or make a connection at a company, you might want to know who in the company knows that person. ERM uses an algorithm based on the recency and frequency of communication to tell us not only who, but how well they know the person based on communication frequency and recency. There are also some calendar capture features available; I really think ERM is the game changer. Also being able to have connected e-mail and e-marketing and event management tools that allow data to flow seamlessly between the systems is incredibly important, because otherwise you end up with disconnected databases and double data entry, and I think e-marketing systems are also a real big deal.
Okay, wow, I didn’t know the depth of that. It is very interesting. One of the things you’ve been talking about is lawyers and law firms and culture and change, so how big, or significant, or established, does a law firm have to be to benefit from a CRM?
Virtually all firms can benefit from CRM, because again, basic communication coordination, customer service and business development are important for all firms. So they are different types of software for different sizes of firms. And I have worked with the largest companies in the world, and we help them find systems that meet their needs. But occasionally I will work with a solo or small firm and they have different needs, and of course different budget requirements. And then they have different types of products that make sense to them. But I think pretty much everyone from the biggest firm in the world to a solo can benefit from CRM.
Knowing that small law firms are not a homogenous group, meaning that intangible law firms or even a solo may have different needs than a family law practitioner, what would be some of the core features that even smaller law firms might look for in CRM systems, or should kind of have like, like, table stakes?
For a long time, smaller firms had challenges trying to implement CRM because they were licensed models, they required a lot of professional services to install and implement, and they required a lot of staff to manage, and that’s against the small firm model. Ideally, in a perfect world, they would have a less expensive option that doesn’t require as much training and ongoing care and feeding. And what has happened is that most of the software providers have gone to a subscription model because it makes it easier to budget the software over time, you don’t have huge upfront costs, and many of them have also moved to the cloud.
You’ve touched on a couple of different times about large law firms having multiple CIOs and dedicated CRM people, but smaller firms or firms that aren’t in the select 100 may not have those resources. What type of employees are required to be successful with CRM technology, or what tasks must be assigned to someone on your teams at a minimum to get it off the ground or to make it a viable option in your company?
The bigger the company and the more complex the system and processes required, the more staff and the more resources needed, the more training will be needed, the more communication and planning and strategy. It is always important. But right now we are working with a company that has a database of 7 million records. They collect information from databases all over the world, it’s a big task. While the most essential staff in larger firms with a larger implementation may need a CRM manager, a smaller firm with a smaller implementation that is less complex may not need a CRM manager, perhaps only needing someone part-time. However, the most important staff is in data quality, because data degrades quickly. And now with all the changes happening, people are changing jobs left and right. So data degrades faster than ever and you’ve made this investment in the technology. But as a lawyer, I can tell you that if the data is bad, then the system is bad and I’m not going to use it. So you definitely need to focus on this data to get a return on investment from the technology. And you know, companies don’t necessarily want to hire a data controller, but it’s super important to focus on.
So companies are stretched, and plus, you also touched on, everyone is changing jobs. So it’s very tough for smaller firms to hire, any smaller organization to hire. So how does the firm stretch the existing staff to implement or, you know, make a useful CRM system viable, because as you mentioned, it’s only as good as the data?
You know, one of the biggest trends we’re seeing is the move to outsourcing and that’s really escalating. You know, companies have been outsourcing data managers for decades, well, for at least the 10, 15 years that I’ve been around, because not every company has the luxury of being able to hire a data manager or an experienced CRM manager who’s done a rollout before. Again, most firms don’t have the ability or even the desire to get their internal people to do computer work. And so they turn to outsourcing to fill those positions, because the great thing about it is that you can get the experience and the expertise, and exactly how many hours you need. So, especially for smaller companies, you don’t want to hire a 40-hour data manager a week anyway. But with outsourcing, you can find out, 10 hours a week, 20 hours a week, whatever you need during the rollout, and then you want to focus continuously, you might need even less, but you have to dedicate those resources, and you need not to do it with internal people, because working with data quality isn’t particularly fun, and a lot of people don’t like to do it. But yes, we outsource many data managers. It’s actually our highest growth area right now because of the focus on outsourcing.
Okay, so some lawyers are – speaking lawyer to lawyer – a bit of a control freak. You may not have noticed or heard of it, but you know, anyway. So outsourcing is a little bit scary for them, which means that a smaller firm can be in hell of not being able to hire someone or being able to hire too much of someone, as you suggested. So with outsourcing, what would they look for?
I think number one is experience and reputation. All of our people who do computer work, you know, we try to hire the right people who have the ability to actually enjoy the work and then train them, train them and retrain them. We spend a lot of time really getting them to understand not only how to use the CRM tools and how to do the data quality, but also to do the research and how to understand the law firm as well. There’s a lot of complex relationships when it comes to financial institutions, I think that’s a very big part of it, you know, having a lot of knowledge and experience with that. For many of our clients, very, very large law firms, they often have significant privacy and security issues, so we have a team of US-based people, because that helps them with GDPR challenges. So you might want to ask, where are your people based? Can they do background checks is a very important thing.
Oh wow. It’s true, yes, especially if they do government or any kind of work. You made some very good points there. So you mentioned training, so law firms considering outsourcing will then benefit from the training not only that they get from a company like yours, but find that they’ve picked up from other law firms along the way.
The training is challenging. So, you know, you have to train and retrain, you know, things change all the time with the software and the systems. And that’s really a big component, making sure you have good experienced people. And then we also have a team that does quality control as well, because I think in law more than any other industry even more than in other professional services, you mentioned earlier, you know, being a bit of a control freak, we want good data. Outside legal people are thrilled to have a data quality of 70%. “We have automated data sources that give you 70% correct data.” In a law firm, 70% would get you fired! Right?
We got 70% of your lawsuit right! That tends not to be an acceptable thing for lawyers, and I think they tend to hold someone else that they work with or products that they use to similar standards. It would be very challenging. What are some of the things, not that there’s any silver bullet—and I’m sorry, legal marketers, there isn’t—to overcome some of those, you know, maybe they were at another firm, or they had a friend who had a problem with that. Lawyers actually talk to each other and tend to, well, they’ll discount their own clients, other people’s experiences, but if they have a lawyer friend who went through something, and it was negative, that’s, you know, good as gold . How do you overcome the reluctance of some lawyers due to poor data quality, which seems to cause the problems to gradually disappear?
You know, we used to think—and these things are connected—so bad data is a big challenge. And adoption is a big challenge, getting lawyers to “use” the system, right? So we’ve forever defined adoption as lawyers would be trained, they’d go through their data, they’d, you know, flag those that they wanted to share or didn’t want to share, the assistants had to get involved and it all kind of fell apart because again, we’re busy, and you know, time is money, literally. You know, I think the adoption challenge is related to the data. Because again, if the data is bad, they won’t use the system. So as I go to these more automated ERM systems that pull in good data, I think it’s time we really need to redefine adoption from lawyers doing data entry, which is probably not the highest and best use of anyone’s time as billing $500, $200, $1000 an hour, whatever it may be, let’s do more automation. And the other thing about the data is that it used to be that the researchers said that 30% was degrading every year. Now it must be close to 50% with, you know, the big restructuring and you know, staffing and people working from home and hybrid and people moving and companies starting and ending and being acquired. So if you don’t focus on the data, if you don’t have good data, it’s going to hinder adoption, and it’s kind of all tied together. So we have to really think things through, which is again why we are so focused on the ERM methodology. It minimizes lawyer data entry, it maximizes good data, it automates the process, it’s really just a very useful tool.
It is very interesting. Anything that can be used to make it easier to get it off the ground. You mentioned data quality. And you mentioned ERM software implementations or some kind of interfacing with the CRM system or having a CRM system that has that built in as a way to help with the data quality. What is the part that you mentioned that would still leave maybe 20 to 30% of the data in there? How are ways like law firms or outsourcing groups or, maybe I was wrong, clean up the balance of that, or is that, even within the law, acceptable?
What we’ve come up with is a process that I’ve called True DQ, and it’s a multi-step process. For some firms, there may be only one step, an outsourced data controller. But for some firms there are several steps. The first thing you need to do is assess the mess. Find out how bad your data is, if you get a new system, right, you might not want to move, if you’ve had your system for 10, 15 years, you probably don’t want to move all that data, you definitely don’t want to clean all this data, it can cost more than the CRM system. So help figure out strategically, what are the right contacts to move, key client data, top lists, gather all that data and get it cleaned and deduplicated because, again, as attorneys, we all know the same people. Some of us have good data, some of us have bad data, and that needs to be examined, but you want to minimize the amount of data so you want to do a very strong evaluation process up front. And that’s if you’re switching systems, or if you’re just trying to clean up your existing system, you’ll want to focus your limited time and resources where you can get the most value. So then it’s an automated data quality process. So, you know, like I said earlier, automated, you know, only gets you part of the way there. But when you do projects, like, sometimes we do projects, where there are 7 million records. You couldn’t hire enough people or have enough money or time to clean all that data. So you can take an automated process that takes you part of the way there quickly and cost-effectively. And then you know, at every step of the process you can say that’s good enough, or I want a cleaner one, I want it better. And for many law firms, they want it as clean as possible. And then the last step would be to add data stewards to sort of complete the remaining data that couldn’t be matched automatically. And we also have a quality control process to quality check the result the atene of the automated process. There’s a lot that goes into keeping good data clean and correct and complete, but it’s absolutely essential and critical to CRM success and people invest a lot of money in these systems. They should get value from them.
I know you can’t, we lawyers are all deep individuals, lump them all into one group–
We are all special snowflakes! But if you’ve noticed one trend, is if the data is better, there’s a greater chance of a successful adoption in use, or does that tend to be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome?
Many of the new ERM-focused systems change the adoption model slightly. So before with the kind of CRM systems that have been around longer, the idea was an Outlook Sync. And then everyone used Outlook. And then the contacts – you know, in a law firm things are kind of inside and out, we don’t just join the firm and get the keys to the CRM, here are the contacts and the clients. Instead, they come in with a lawyer and new collaterals, and the contacts are with them. And so we’ve had these tools to pull in Outlook data, and it required attorney-level training and installations, and then the data would sync back. And if it was wrong, and it changed someone’s Outlook, you would hear about it. With the new ERM methodology, and or maybe a one-way sync, so we don’t, you know, push potentially wrong or what people think might be wrong data back into Outlook for the lawyers to see, instead we collect the data through an electronic process, we get good data from the signature blocks, we bring the data in. For some of us, what we do is we actually enhance the data with things like industries, because industry marketing is a big priority for a lot of businesses. And nobody says they do it very well, either you have to spend a lot of money to get a subscription, or you have an automated process, or you can do it manually. And then we try to help firms think through strategies to improve the data when their data manages it with company information, size of company, industry of company, so then you don’t have to rely so much on the lawyers. As if they want to come and say: “Hey, we want to make an energy list. Because we are holding an energy seminar.” Well, you can’t do that. “We want to pull a list of customers.” But without time and billing integration, you really can’t do that. So these new tools really help automate that process, so all of a sudden I might not be able to draw 100% perfect energy or production or h whatever, pharmaceutical industry list, but at least I can give you a very good start, and then you can add individuals to it. These are tools we didn’t have many years ago. And they really take the lawyers out of the process and take them out of the data entry role. And instead, let’s give them the data they want. Let them be consumers of the data, let’s give them the reports they need to do what they need to do and minimize the time required. Sometimes there are employees who help support these processes as well. So never underestimate the power of having good people to help the attorneys get what they need. And so we’re going to define that instead of lawyers putting data into the system, it’s going to be lawyers getting value out of the system. And that’s how I think adoption needs to be redefined.
So when they see the value in that, they start adopting, and of course they see another attorney getting value out of it.
And while you may be using ERM, when implementing a CRM you need to consider both a macro and a micro. So we need to be able to get the contacts to make the list to make the arrangements. It’s sort of a core component of it. And if you don’t get that data, you can’t do the other things like the basic who-knows-who and the business development. So many firms are going to, “Okay, let’s create an ERM model and capture the context.” And most lawyers do not need to be users of the system. Instead, you can grant licenses to key business developers or practice group leaders or whoever needs the information. And they have the data they need to do what they need to do. But the daily work of the lawyers is that they can focus on the clients.
It is interesting to hear, and actually good to hear, that it is rolling out much better. You founded CLIENTSFirst Consulting 15 years ago. I’m not trying to age you, you must have founded it when you were 15 and, you know, even more of a child prodigy. Name some of the ways that not only things have changed over the last 15 years, but some of the incremental successes I mean, it may have been a small company, it may not resonate, but what are some of the gains that you’ve had you’ve had, or any of the ways you’ve been able to help businesses succeed over the years?
One key thing we do, I think, that businesses have found particularly valuable is called a CRM Success Assessment. And so whether you’re getting your first CRM system or you want to change systems, or just improve your current implementation, we really get in to get to know the firm. So we hold meetings with key stakeholders across the firm to really understand their various needs and requirements, and document that. The last thing you want to do is go, we need a CRM, let’s find out what everyone else is using, because over time that has proven to be a recipe for disaster. Instead, it’s about your unique company, your needs, requirements and culture. And then we document that for the companies, and then we help them go through a selection process where we take the information from the assessment and turn it into what we call a supplier demo roadmap that we can give to the suppliers so they can follow a roadmap during the demonstration. “Hey, focus on these things that the company really cares about. Let’s compare apples to apples. Let’s put together the right proposition and get the right technology.” Because that’s the first thing is making sure you get the right system. The second thing is back years ago, success was defined as “We’re going to roll it out at once and everybody’s going to use it .” Right? All the lawyers are supposed to log in every day. Well, I think it’s been 20 years and it hasn’t happened yet. So again, we’re kind of redefining success in doing the macro for the whole firm, but so really be able to, and this sounds a little counterintuitive for a large firm, but you’re really focusing on the micro. Let’s get the macro right, you know, lists and events. But let’s find the strong leader who has a problem to solve or a process to improve And the beauty of CRM is it can do 1000 things the problem has been it can do 1000 things you should probably do three or can happen even one. And then you get all these tools, but you keep wanting to implement one here. And then you know, each group might want to do something a little different, one group can actually track activities, it’s a big company, we’ve worked on one group being really focused on activity tracking. And then configure the system to support that one thing, build the reports out of the processes around that, the training material around that, and you train that group on that thing, and maybe just that thing. You know, but then you might have, you know, a labor and employment group that does a lot of events and webinars and seminars. Let’s show them how to manage the invitation process and add people to lists because they care. And then you focus on particular snowflake scenarios, one group at a time, and you call them a pilot group. I had a smart managing partner tell me, you do a pilot group and you get them success, you communicate that success and you do another pilot group and everyone feels like a special snowflake. Everyone gets their needs met. But it’s not fast. But it is not designed to be fast, because CRM is not a project. It is not an initiative, it is a fundamental improvement in how the firm manages its most important asset, its relationships. So as a result it never ends. And then if you do it in small pilot groups, you know, you’re always getting better at it. You know, a lot of it is kind of scary, you think, “Oh, our data is terrible.” Well, that’s fine you know, you don’t need to clean up 100% right now, you want to do it in pieces and achieve successes, do it in stages, focus on top clients, focus on, you know, one group doing an event, focus on their lists. There are many different ways to do it to be effective, and get incremental successes, because they all do it together.
Start with a coalition of the willing. Thanks, Chris, for going through some of the pilot groups at larger law firms, that sounds like a good way to find some early successes and kind of replicate that, but maybe in an adapted form with different groups within a firm. But again, the majority of law firms are small. And while it’s great to learn from what the larger firms are doing, are there any initiatives, you know, to help smaller firms, either within the enterprise or across the industry, to work with CRMs?
There are definitely some products out there for smaller firms. But what I have seen over the years is that it has been a bit challenging because of the resource limitations and staffing limitations. And so for years smaller firms would come to me and say, you know, can you help us find a system? And you know, now the software is more affordable because of the subscription model. But the professional services have always been $50,000 plus dollars. And for a smaller company, it is without integrations. You are looking at a lot of money to perform professional services. And so we’ve actually come up with a new piece of software that we’re about to come out with that will hopefully make it easier for smaller firms to get a system to do what they need to help capture and expand data and to-do lists. And so we’re pretty excited about that.
Okay, so if I may ask, what are some of the features in the product that CLIENTSFirst is coming out with that help small businesses?
As you can imagine, because I talk about it so much, I really think ERM is a fundamental part of it. And we’re also going to do data cleansing, because that’s obviously a big focus for us as well and data augmentation with the things we talked about, business intelligence and industry intelligence. And we must ensure that the data is clean and correct and complete. And we’re also going to have a built-in email functionality. So it’s all integrated into a single platform to help smaller businesses succeed too. So the biggest companies in the world, they need a certain type of software, and we like to help them succeed. And we just think that the smaller companies could benefit from some additional options.
It is good to hear. Otherwise, a whole section of the market is underserved. As always, thanks to Chris Fritsch of CLIENTSFirst Consulting for joining us today and updating us on the nuances of CRM, especially in the legal world or in the law firm environment. Law firms have such a challenging time knowing where to start or what to do with what they already have. And thanks for helping us understand some of these steps or decision trees that go into law firms or especially smaller firms choosing a CRM system. Thank you Chris.
Happy to help and thanks for the invitation to be here.
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