Strategic Data Applications and the Law Firm CMBDO

Strategic Data Applications and the Law Firm CMBDO

By Mark Medice
February 17, 2022 | 11-minute read
Business of Law Firm and Practice Strategy and Planning Content Type Article
Business Development
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“Data-driven” is a phrase thrown about in many scenarios these days, and for good reason. Good use of data is a differentiator, helping organizations act smarter and faster. But these ideas beg deeper questions, such as: 

  • What problems should I target for a data-driven solution?
  • What are common marketing and business development strategies using data?
  • Are there new roles to help us with these tasks, like data scientists?
  • What does the data journey look like? 

I recently had the opportunity to discuss these questions with three chief marketing and business development officers (CMBDOs) at leading law firms: Dawn Orel (Seyfarth Shaw), Adam Severson (Baker Donelson) and Lisa Simon (Lewis Roca). Below is an excerpt of our conversation.

What are your firm's evolving data needs, and how do you use data strategically?

Dawn Orel (DO): Clients are requiring faster, more precise responses, and overall, the bar has risen on turn-around, which requires data and automation. Additionally, you need very accessible experience insights at your fingertips about litigation case data (e.g., judges, parties, experience), as well as for deal work.

Adam Severson (AS): My professional bones are in sales, so show me the money. Consequently, my data journey begins by following the flow of revenue: how and where we got hired and what kind of matters we handle. We also look at revenue trends and relationships in data — for example, exploring what it means if corporate work is trending up while labor is down.

By examining the questions above, the data can tell a story about the nature of the client relationship. For example, if we are cross-serving well with clients, the likelihood of us achieving trusted advisor status is high. One-off engagements inform a different story, and our approach will need to be tailored as such. The means to gather this data is much better than it used to be. Producing a top 100 client list, diversity scorecards or a matter write-down report used to be much more difficult than it is today because of data availability, greater transparency and newer tools.

Lisa Simon (LS): My journey with data began over five years ago, working on client stickiness studies (exploring the relationship between services used and client retention and growth). This provided both confidence and hunger to use data in many ways, like assessing client happiness and pricing. Right now, our team is categorizing client data using the SALI standard codes.

Where is data becoming critical? What are key use cases? Do you use playbooks?

DO: We do a lot of data projects on pricing by area of law, timekeeper levels and matter cycle time measurement, with associated slicing and dicing (e.g., industry, practice, client segments). This allows us to see gaps and strengths to inform future pricing strategies. 

On the client side, we monitor data trends and case patterns, which lets us signal to the client issues that may not be apparent to them. For example, in the labor and employment area, a client may have received 30 charges in a year and a high percentage relates to a particular claim type. This information is important to share, as it may suggest the need for training or further investigation. Clients have been thrilled by this, making a powerful impression.  

Additionally, we produce visual client dashboards, making the information easier to grasp. Internally, we create dashboards of our top 1,000 clients showing practice trends over a 5-year period. We then look at clients within a particular industry and derive insights — for example, researching client stickiness and service types provided (e.g., if we are providing four service areas for one client, why can't we do the same for another). That invites further research into contacts, relationships and client management. It guides client targeting. Our dashboards incorporate interactive bubble charts, making it easy to click-through for more detail to study the opportunities and make comparisons.

AS: We have been using client-specific scorecards to have conversations with our lawyers and clients. The scorecards provide a fact-based approach about team makeup, revenue trends, financial hygiene and growth, that allows us to get to the issues more directly. The legal industry is episodic and derivative — events happen and derived legal work follows. If you work back from revenue in these conversations to understand the events driving the legal work, it orients us toward client needs and our opportunity to serve them fully. This allows us to perform opportunity and relationship mapping to offer more discipline and structure in the process. 

We use playbooks to perform opportunity assessments with clients surfacing opportunities. One of the big problems we have is integrating our tools and systems. Despite the great progress with data today, the tools are not talking to one another in a way that I would like them to, which presents an opportunity. 

LS: We produce Net Promoter Scores (NPS) to determine client satisfaction and a willingness to use us again or refer us to others. We dig into the underlying levers that make up NPS uncovered through conversations, client surveys, general comments and other factors to indicate what is impacting the score. We try to understand what yields high scores (9s or 10s on the NPS scale). It also provides us a process to break down NPS scores into their underlying components and understand client priorities and needs. 

Looking at NPS from a pure data standpoint has made this process so much easier to talk to attorneys about the things we need to work on and at different levels in the firm (e.g., individually, practice level, firm-wide). It has informed better ways to price, improved billing practices and revealed other factors that make clients satisfied. One of the cool things that this has produced is a feeling of engagement and empowerment with the lawyers who feel a greater sense of control and impact on client happiness now. 

The other thing we have been working on is a new revenue dashboardWe traditionally review financial trends overall, but we took a different approach recently, building one that reviews rolling 12 revenues to report on velocity and recent growth trends. This process has prompted important questions like, "what is a healthy amount of new revenue," or "what is good annual growth," which is something you don't often hear about in our industry. 

One of the things we find interesting in all these projects is that it pushes us to dig deeper to identify performance drivers and improvement areas.

What data roles and positions are you hiring or staffing? Are they data scientists?

DO: We have a data scientist and several data analysts working on client matters. In addition, we maintain four data analysts in our finance department and data analysts on our SeyfarthLabs research and development team. Our financial team analysts are integrated within practices to understand their needs and issues. This SeyfarthLabs group has access to systems like Foundation (experience management system), knowledge management and financial systems, and can tie this data together for dashboarding and visualization. 

AS: We have several analysts, including a data scientist. All these resources are located outside of the business development function. Our data scientist is wicked smart and if you need something done with data, he is the guy to do it. He interfaces with the client solutions group, which navigates legal project management and pricing models; he also works with the financial team and my team.  

I would add that every one of my business development managers has data as part of their responsibilities. Understanding data and how it works, flows and tells a story about the client relationship is an integral part of their job and needed to do it well. It is starting to be part of what drives client strategy and relationships.

In our industry, where it is common practice to present and debate facts, the maintenance of data competency across all parts of the team is required.

LS: We have two analysts on our finance team and are hiring a third. One is dedicated to pricing and the others are generalists. Our team, typically comprising myself, our CFO and an analyst, is constantly working together to discover insights. We are still trying to determine what stories to tell and what data is needed. We are in the early stages of discovery and enjoy the collaboration in putting this together. 

Clients are requiring faster, more precise responses, and overall, the bar has risen on turn-around, which requires data and automation.

Has increased data-savvy and sophistication changed or impacted how you work or deploy projects? 

DO: We have the dashboards, and it took time, but attorneys look at their data. Also, my team has access to their respective practice department’s data and click-through for more detailed data if necessary.  

We have not had as much success reviewing dashboards on budgets and matters. To address that, we added an email-alerting capability to warn lawyers when they are going over budget, based on progress percentages, budgets and effort remaining. Those emails catch their attention and have helped them engage more with budget data. 

AS: Four years ago, we created an attorney dashboard that generated excitement. Everybody thought this dashboard was advanced and cool, but we quickly focused on ensuring that these were used to improve knowledge and performance. It uses color visualization (e.g., red, green, yellow) to indicate how well they are performing by month to their individual goals. Then you can click-through on it to see personal client data that reports staffing, profitability and other matter management insights.  

The whole point is to use this data to be smarter about performance and understand how the business works. We decided to make sure this was the first thing the lawyers saw when they turned on their computers. We put this data in the lawyer's hands and trained them (e.g., incorporating this into partner-track associate financial training). And it has led to positive cultural change creating a more business-minded firm. 

LS: We have faced the challenge of having unused dashboards. But we are also looking at the problem of having way too much data, so we are trying to focus on the right data and helping people act on it. Even when I ask for the dashboards, I struggle with building good stories and pushing toward the right associated actions. We are in this sea now where there is a lot more information transparency than when I first came into the industry. Our team can see things I never thought I would see 10 years ago. It is increasingly becoming a question of focus as I move from point A to B. 

Final Thoughts

Dawn: Data is important, but you need to narrow it down and focus on the right thing, or you will be overloaded and won't make progress.  

Lisa: I am grateful that our data journey has created a creative, collaborative process with our finance and tech teams. Everybody has a hand in it because we are all impacted. It is a fun journey, so the more we can work together, the better. 

Adam: There is a need to prioritize which datasets are important to drive behavior. It is better to narrow this to a handful of client and firm metrics than have 387 ways to dissect something. People need to know where to look, when, and what to do. The onus on us as leaders is to simplify the message and guide this process to get more out of data. 

Dawn Orel, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer, Seyfarth Shaw

Dawn Orel has been with Seyfarth for more than 35 years and has served in her current role for four years at Seyfarth, a 900-attorney firm operating across 17 offices, renowned for data and process. Orel’s team focuses on many issues that use data heavily, including pricing and developing client insights. 

Adam Severson, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer, Baker Donelson

Adam Severson has served for 10 years at Baker Donelson, a 650-attorney firm operating across 21 offices. He provides strategic direction for firm initiatives like the key client program, client feedback, among other areas. Severson is a past president of the Legal Marketing Association, a member of the LMA Hall of Fame and a fellow in the College of Law Practice Management. 

Lisa Simon, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer, Lewis Roca

Lisa Simon has served for five years at Lewis Roca, a 230-attorney firm operating across nine offices. Her first significant experience in applying data studies focused on studying the stickiness of the firm's client base by correlating services used to client retention and overall relationship depth and health. She is passionate about the potential of data to drive collaboration. Simon is a past president of the Legal Marketing Association and a member of the LMA Hall of Fame. 

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Mark Medice

Mark Medice leads LawVision’s financial performance and data science practice, focusing on applying data to the most pressing challenges facing law firm leaders. Medice focuses on the use of data to drive financial performance. He helped launch the Peer Monitor program at Thomson Reuters and led it for 10 years, creating the Peer Monitor Index during that time. He also has consulted with law firm leaders on topics like financial competitive intelligence and benchmarking, data taxonomies, predictive analytics, industry performance, rates, pricing trends and strategy, profitability, and other critical issues.