Contributors: LSSO Editorial Board Member Dave Whiteside, Director, Client Growth & Success, CLIENTSFirst Consulting with Guest Contributor Chris Fritsch, CRM Success Consultant and Founder, CLIENTSFirst ConsultingOver the more than 15 years we have spent working together with hundreds of top law firms on marketing technology selection and success, we have seen a number of changes, developments, and trends in the industry. This experience as trusted advisors has allowed us to understand, early on, some of the primary challenges firms frequently face. And while we don't have a proverbial crystal ball, sometimes this experience can help us to predict what may be on the horizon.
Within the broader legal industry, we frequently find that many smaller and mid-size firms are facing unique issues of their own. And while dealing with many of the same challenges as their larger counterparts, they are being forced to do so with more constrained budgets as well as limited staffing and resources. As a result, we thought it might be helpful to share some of the issues and uncertainties that smaller and mid-size firms have been facing–and the ones they are likely to face in 2023–along with some information, ideas, and best practices to help navigate them.
1. The Way We Work Is Changing…So Outsourcing Is Increasing
During the Great Resignation, many people changed jobs, and many are still working from home or with a hybrid schedule. Dealing with the ‘revolving door’ on staffing makes it difficult to hire, train, and manage teams. Plus, trying to supervise staff who are working hybrid or at home adds a special set of issues. Firms are also struggling to fill positions and find quality workers. When they do, the compensation and benefits expectations are higher than ever. And it seems unlikely that these changes are going away anytime soon.
For small- and mid-sized firms, in the future, the already-tight market for marketing technology, data quality, and business development roles may tighten further, while competition with larger firms for top talent may intensify. Additionally, trying to focusing on too many non-core capabilities and roles with limited resources can take focus from other more strategic priorities.
For more than a decade, larger firms have been leveraging outsourcing to help them fill gaps in their talent pool. In recent years, more firms than ever have turned to outsourcing as a cost-effective and time-efficient hiring solution that allows them the flexibility to source the right resources when they need them at reasonable rates.
Indeed, we see more clients reaching out to us for outsourced support for roles such as CRM management, eMarketing support, and data stewarding, and that trend continues to escalate.
Smaller firms can also consider tapping into these resources, which can also minimize the need for constant supervision and allow them the flexibility to purchase only the number of hours they need rather than hiring full-time staff. Delegating some of these tasks to outside experts who can do them more time-efficiently and cost-efficiently can help smaller firm get the talent they need while freeing up the marketing and business development teams to support the lawyers.
2. Digital-First Will Continue…So the Right Technology Will Be Critical
Because in-person networking and business development have been slow to return to pre-pandemic levels and more people now enjoy the convenience of consuming content and learning through webinars and podcasts, law firms have had to adjust to a digital-first marketing strategy, another trend that that is likely to continue.
As a result, having the right technology will be critical to compete for business. This is why firms without essential MarTech infrastructure have been looking to acquire CRM and related, and integrated, systems. It’s also why we are seeing a significant rise in firms replacing their older CRM and other systems and acquiring new integrated marketing platforms.
Some of these firms are moving to the cloud to reduce the overhead and maintenance associated with on-premise software. Others want more sophisticated business development tools like pipelines, dashboards, and integrated eMarketing software to support and track marketing and business development efforts. (If you need help selecting the right CRM, check out our guide: Steps to select the right CRM for your law firm.)
It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all technology for law firms. Some of the systems designed for larger law firms may fall flat or fail in a smaller or mid-size firm due to the level of required resources. Still others are often outside the reach of many smaller due to the high costs of software and professional services required for implementation and integrations.
As a result, smaller and mid-size firms should adopt technology designed to meet their unique needs, requirements…and budgets. The ideal platform should be easy to use; minimize attorney training, time, and effort; require reduced resources; and improve and enhance data quality. (If you need help with system selection, don't do it alone. Reach out to colleagues, providers or experienced subject matter experts for assistance.)
3. Big, Bad Data Deluge…So Data Quality Will Be Essential
More and more data is pouring in from every firm system, and keeping up with it can seem next to impossible. In fact, even before the pandemic, the amount of available information was exponentially increasing–and respected researchers were saying that up to 30% of this data degraded each year without regular maintenance and ongoing dedicated resources. Due to the changes caused by the pandemic, that number is likely pushing 50% as people continue to work from home and change companies, roles, and locations. As a result, most CRM and eMarketing systems are filled with incorrect, incomplete, dated, and duplicated records.
It doesn’t matter how sophisticated your staff or technology, if you have bad data, you will have challenges communicating with your key constituencies. Your lawyers may spend a lot of time writing and speaking and doing webinars and podcasts, but if their marketing messages are not targeted to the broadest audience, that (billable) time will be wasted. Additionally, if your event invitations don’t reach the right recipients, attendance can suffer and getting real return on investment (ROI) can be challenging.
This means it’s as important to invest in your data quality as it is to invest in software and staff. But smaller and mid-size firms may not have the headcount or budget to deal with the data deluge. Fortunately, they now have other options, such as outsourcing, to get the help they need. The good news is that small to mid-sized firms that do invest in data quality will have an advantage over larger–or really any size–firms that do not and will have a strategic advantage in the current and future competitive legal market.
4. A Recession May Be on the Horizon…So Planning Ahead Will Be Vital
Is a recession coming? Is it already here? Messages are mixed. Many big tech companies are having mass layoffs in an effort to finally focus on profitability over rapid growth. One benefit for law firms may be that there could be an increasing pool of qualified candidates to tap into. However, it could also be an early warning sign for layoffs in our industry.
So, how can marketing and business development departments in smaller and mid-size firms prepare for a potential recession? They should start by making strategic hiring decisions for essential positions that directly support the attorneys’ marketing and business development efforts and consider outsourcing for other functional non-core areas, if needed. This can reduce staffing costs while providing added flexibility and allowing right-sizing their staff.
5. One More Trend: Smarter Small and Mid-size Firms Will Reach Out for Help
While the future may seem uncertain as so many trends are converging at once, addressing the impact of these trends provides an opportunity for firms of all sizes to be more strategic, efficient, and effective in a competitive market. Fortunately, smaller and mid-size firms don't have to navigate these issues alone. They have the benefit of a supportive industry where they can reach out to colleagues, providers or experienced subject matter experts for assistance. And if they move quickly to pivot and prepare, they may find that they can gain a real completive advantage.