Creating new channels for increased client engagement
Michelmores is a firm that reflects the green shoots in the legal market, and it has a “strategy of ambition” that’s intertwined with IT.
“We’re investing a lot to enable us to meet the needs of a buoyant and changing market,” explains IT director Simon Clarke. “We’re seeing growth in international markets, and technology plays a key role in helping us meet changing demands.”
Michelmores recently focused on profitability of its new homes sales, for which the business needed “robust, competitive software”, says Clarke. “We needed to deliver plot sales with more profitability in a competitive market and help to engage clients better. We chose Linetime’s Liberate because it integrated with the firm’s existing document management system, Worksite, which means more time saved and better leverage of our Worksite investment.”
A more integrated case tool is now a “must-have”, says Clarke, because it drives work production costs down and profitability up. Perhaps more importantly, it also improves customer engagement. “We’ll also be looking at gross profit margins for work, and it will absolutely help there, too. Before we couldn’t analyse costs, but now we can look at the matter from cradle to grave, and see where we can save,” he says.
“By componentising a process, we can ensure the right person is doing the right work at the right time. A solicitor does one part, and a paralegal another. Skills are allocated efficiently. Fundamentally, we have control of the work and costs of the individual components – we couldn’t do that before.”
Keeping the firm’s fees competitive is very important, but it’s only one reason for better case management. “Software certainly enables us to reach a certain price point – without it, it’s just not possible,” Clarke says. But clients also want visibility and communication on their own terms. These issues are now a big a part of the decision-making process, starting right at the beginning of the client relationship.
“Clients ask ‘How does this law firm engage? What and how do they communicate?’ It’s very important, from tender to ongoing engagement. Clients want to feel that they are communicating and influencing the process. In essence, we’re helping them with their own internal reporting requirements, because we now create bespoke reports. That’s been a big challenge in the past, and now we can meet specific client needs.”
Key to the firm’s successes is that the business owns the workflow. Creating and managing them isn’t an IT function – unless something is particularly tricky or unusual. “We now have two people in the new homes team skilled in workflows, which gives us resilience − and of course they can ask IT if needed,” says Clarke.
If IT does the work, he says, there’s “a danger ‘what IT thinks’ is created”.
“Using a system like Liberate, which gives workflow management power to the users, means you don’t have to be an IT expert. It’s a much better outcome if the business understands what is possible, and then designs the process around that goal.”
Michelmores recently started using Liberate’s B2C portal and now plans to leverage the business intelligence features available.
“It’s about communicating and reporting. I think it will be a useful part of client experience – building interactions that happen when clients choose,” Clarke says.
Clients want that to happen, and law firms have no choice but to comply. “It was a slow-burn change, but as the recession falls away clients are investing again, and this time they are asking for law firms to react differently too,” he says.
For example, they are demanding availability when they want, not when lawyers choose. But Clarke says this doesn’t just mean giving lawyers more mobile devices. “A laptop or mobile isn’t mobility. Giving a client a real option to contact a lawyer in the evenings or on holiday – that’s mobility. Technology is the enabler, but cultural change needs to happen – the objective related to the technology.
“When you’re a consumer, devices and availability are endless. Then you move into a corporate scenario and everything is suddenly restrictive.”
The legal market is experiencing a dramatic viewpoint change, Clarke says. “In legal, technology hasn’t been seen as the enabler – but the business is now asking IT for help. I think this is a change that’s gaining momentum. At last we’re no longer delivering technology solutions – we’re delivering a business solution with technology.”