One-to-One: the Key Differential?

March 1, 2000

The arrival of the information age means that law firms are required to re-evaluate their strategies to meet not only the changing nature of client expectations, but also the manner in which they provide their services, so as to meet those expectations.

Digital Planning

The information within a firm, whether or not stored in an intranet (see Vol 10, Issue 4, p 14), represents the firm’s intellectual property. Information is now an abstract object that is, effectively, tradable. It becomes a measure of a firm’s worth, because it indicates how valuable it is to actual and potential clients and, therefore, the marketplace.

However, to meet this changing scenario, law firms must abide by new rules. Strategic planning suddenly becomes digital planning. As a result, the business model, by which law firms conventionally operate, changes. For instance, ‘control’ becomes ‘trust’; the ‘network’ replaces conventional ‘hierarchy’; ‘steady progression’ is substituted by ‘agility’; ‘leadership’ replaces ‘management’.

The result is that an enterprise can begin to focus upon client need and expectation. Clients are individual entities and the new model will require law firms to address this. The ability to harness information empowers law firms, with their unique potential for managing knowledge, to develop specialisms that create communities of value and excellence.

Value-added Focus

Lawyers now face the prospect of having to give away much information, free of charge, contrary to the old business model in which the provision of information was, for the most part, chargeable. In the information world, where so much is freely available, why should clients regard lawyers as an exception and continue to pay for knowledge that they may freely obtain elsewhere?

For lawyers, the role has changed. In the digital world, clients will no longer pay (or pay adequately) for the commoditised service. Clients will only pay for services that have, for them, added value. In an information-rich world, how can law firms distinguish themselves and approach the task of providing value-added services?

Re-capturing the Community Base

While there are many who argue that the Internet technologies offer the potential for commoditisation of legal services, there is an equally compelling argument for the reverse. The appropriate employment of the Internet technologies offers an unrivalled opportunity to personalise the lawyer/client relationship, quite unmatched by any other form of marketing device.

Historically, the provision of services (including legal services) has been community-based. The butcher, banker, doctor and lawyer, all served the community on a one-to-one approach. Technology, greater mobility and industrialisation have altered this concept. Mass marketing and greater enfranchisement, have produced a client base that is less loyal, far more sophisticated and quite without any perception of needing any form of relationship with the providers of services.

The nature of the Internet technologies affords a unique opportunity for lawyers to recapture the ‘community-based’ nature of services upon which the lawyer/client relationship thrives. The medium is visual, encourages the interactive exchange and feedback of information, can be initiated by the client, and offers, once again, the chance to establish a relationship.

The strategic value of these features for lawyers arises in several respects. First, the ability to recreate the relationship enables the law firm to acquire and develop clients with a potential lifetime value to the practice. The client can be developed as an asset upon which the practice can build. Loyalty can be rewarded and the potential for retention is strengthened.

Extending Relationship Management

The interactivity of the Internet (and, particularly, the extranet) enables and facilitates communication with clients individually. The traditional mass-marketing approach becomes one-to-one marketing, through a personal, pro-active service. The whole process may be referred to as extending relationship management. Through its intranet, the law firm manages the information and relationship of the partners and employees. Through the Internet and extranet, the partners and employees manage the client relationship.

For this development, there must be a radical change of approach by law firms to the way they use their Web sites. Instead of the site that so often greets a potential client ‘Welcome to [the firm], these are the services we offer…’ the approach should reflect the value of the client to the practice. The personalised approach might be ‘Welcome to [firm]. As you are a valued client, these are the services we offer relevant to your needs.’

The technology process evolves in four distinct stages. First, there is the simple Web presence, containing advertising and information. The second stage involves interactivity and client feedback. The third stage is transactional, for instance, the provision of wills and powers of attorney online. The fourth stage involves interactive delivery of services and portfolio management, thereby extending the relationship.

Rupert Kendrick is a Law Management Consultant. He can be contacted on 01234 782810, or by e-mail at
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