Intapp on why your CRM strategy is failing you

By Todd Miller, Vice President, Practice Group Leader at Intapp

It’s not news that there is churn in the legal CRM market these days. Though hundreds of firms have invested heavily in tech intended to drive up revenue, for most, there has been a fundamental disconnect between that intention and the outcome. The systems that were supposed to make the rain fall have instead largely soaked up margins without yielding a measurable ROI.

If you ask a firm’s business development manager if they have deployed CRM seats for all of their attorneys, they will likely respond “yes.” However when you ask if most of those attorneys actually use their CRM, they will most likely respond with an embarrassed “no.”

Most firms deduce from poor user adoption that there is something inferior or inadequate about their current solution that blocks a successful CRM deployment that, though long promised, has nonetheless remained elusive. Today, as the torch is passed from legacy CRM solutions to the next generation, the hope and assumption is that the latest software with more and better features will do the trick and cause attorneys to finally embrace the CRM.

But what if the problem with CRM is not the CRM software, but the CRM vision?

Creating a cultural shift

Historically, there has been a disconnect between the way CRMs are positioned in firms versus the way they are actually used. The vast majority of law firms use their CRMs as list managers. The problem is that CRM is not positioned as a list manager. It’s positioned as a sales productivity tool for attorneys. The vision is for CRM to transform all attorneys into rainmakers.

Ironically, the relative few attorneys who actually use CRM today are also the ones who make the rain fall. They get it. The resulting assumption driving CRM seats has been that, if a CRM is planted on every attorney desktop, every attorney will become a rainmaker. The problem is that CRMs don’t change human behaviour. The assumption driving this paradigm is that, the morning after the CRM is switched on, attorneys’ behaviour will be different than it was the day before. Suddenly, they will begin entering data into one end of the CRM and eagerly start taking it out the other.

As the CRM experience in legal has shown us, systems that rely heavily on behaviour change in order to succeed are likely to disappoint us. They’re also likely to burn a lot of money on their way to the CRM scrapheap.

Avoiding the ‘feature’ myth

There’s a misconception – not specific to the legal sector - that more features improve the odds of success. The problem is that expecting more and better features to turn around the firm’s CRM experience is a like asking for a bigger hammer when what you really need is a screwdriver. Buying a shiny new CRM with the expectation that it will instantly transform the firm’s attorneys into rainmakers is effectively practicing Freud’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and again and expecting a different outcome.

A fundamental problem with CRMs at law firms is not that they lack features; it’s that the product wasn’t made for law firms in the first place. CRMs were built for sales and support staff in manufacturing and retail – in other words, they were built for people who are required to use them. Attorneys are not Ford Motor Company customer support people, and they are not required to use CRMs. A bigger hammer is not the solution.

The problem is not the software. It’s the vision. It’s the people. The sole issue is the firm’s vision for CRM and what the firm is prepared to do in order to realize that vision. If the vision is list management, that’s a goal that is compact and relatively easy and inexpensive to effect. It’s also a vision that does not require attorney CRM seats. If the vision is to transform all attorneys into rainmakers, that’s a very different story, one that requires behavior change on an enterprise-wide scale – something that is completely unrealistic to expect your CRM vendor to do for you.


In addition to having a plan to alter behavior, combined with the resources needed to make it happen, there is no way such a plan can succeed without a bedrock commitment from the top of the firm. It’s impossible to lead from the middle. That kind of commitment requires more than a cumulonimbus forward-looking strategic vision. Pain is usually required to drive that level of passion.

The number of firms that have demonstrated that level of combined vision and dedication can be counted neatly on one hand. Those firms are growing, though their success has little to do with their legacy CRM provider. While it may be easier for them to realise their vision with current generation software, the reality is that they could still best the industry with 1990’s tech, provided they have the right dedication, combined with the plan and execution to see it through.

This is not to say that current generation CRMs aren’t better than the old – they are. It’s also not to say that attorneys and their firms wouldn’t benefit if they engaged their CRMs – they would. The point is that whether or not a CRM succeeds or fails at a firm is much more dependent on people than tech. Without a clear vision and commitment for CRM success, the firm’s shiny new CRM is likely to inherit its predecessor’s causes for failure right along with its old data.

Add your comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.