Relationships are the lifeblood of law firms. Strong relationships help retain big clients and open doors to the next big clients. The typical attorney develops relationships to about 1,000 contacts, and a firm of 300 attorneys has hundreds of thousands of contacts in its extended network. But, paradoxically, the larger the organization, the harder it is to identify, coordinate and leverage these relationships. Leading firms have realized the need for and importance of a more systematic process for mapping and managing global relationships. One firm that implemented enterprise relationship management (ERM) described the challenge well: "Our attorneys have developed relationships with thousands of firms and organizations, but before implementing an ERM system we had no way to systematically catalog, search and leverage that information."
For those unfamiliar with ERM, it is software that identifies contacts within the extended networks of all employees, mapping "who your firm knows" by analyzing address books, email traffic patterns, time and billing systems, CRM systems and other corporate data. This thorough, systematic approach has been proven to yield important benefits for the firm: 1) a far more complete picture of strategic relationships than what can be assembled from blast emails, CRM systems, spreadsheets and poking the old-boys network; 2) more detailed information about each contact, benefiting from the combined "wisdom" of your firm's systems and employees; 3) better understanding of the relationships that matter, through use of sophisticated algorithms that rank contacts by "strength of relationship;" and 4) improved efficiency, as ERM systems require no data entry from attorneys or others.
Once firms have a mapping of their extended relationship networks, they are able to market in ways that were not previously practical. Here are four best practices that are quickly becoming standard business development procedures for leading firms--and these firms are willing to speak with peers about their practices.
 Collecting Strategic Intelligence on Prospective Clients
Preparation for important meetings with prospective clients continues to become more sophisticated each year. There are fantastic new sources of information, ranging from online public data sources to custom news runs to specialized legal databases. Typically, a key step in the preparation process has been to understand the available relationships. This may have been attempted with a firm-wide email ("Does anyone know the general counsel at ..."), or a search of a CRM system. Finding these relationships is important. Firms don't want to step on the toes of other partners who are already in contact with a prospect. They also want to coordinate efforts and take advantage of every bit of information and goodwill that exists.
One firm had an interesting experience while preparing for a significant meeting with a strategic target client, a large international commercial bank. It made a major firm-wide effort to uncover existing relationships. Over a 10-day period, several staff sent blast emails, called colleagues, checked with the leaders of the financial service practice area and searched the CRM system. They found 16 relationships with the bank, which was considered very helpful. At that time, they had recently installed an ERM system, which had not yet launched. One of the members of the pilot group checked the ERM for relationships to the target bank and discovered 64 relationships, which included all 16 found previously. And this took one minute, instead of two weeks.
 Capitalizing on Event and News Triggers for Prospecting
Breaking events and major news (ranging from lawsuits to merger talks) create opportunities to discuss legal services. But many opportunities require an immediate response, and there isn't time in the …