It’s the Legal IT exhibition this week so I write this with some trepidation as I’m about to make a general criticism of a significant area of solicitors business practise.

I’ll get my mitigation in first. What I’m about to outline is our experience of solicitors’ IT systems and how they work with marketing management objectives.

I’m sure there are lots of firms that have great practice and case management systems that they have worked hard to perfect.

The problem is, the IT systems we come across mostly don’t work well when it comes to marketing management information and use for promotions.

It not just the software systems’ fault but a combination of the firm’s approach to using IT systems and the software suppliers ability to deliver a ‘complete solution’.

While practice and case management elements may deliver an increase in productivity and a reduction in management costs for firms in areas they fully understand, when it comes to marketing management the systems are not yet delivering the higher level of useful information that firm will need in the face of increased competition.

Solicitors IT solutions have been developed between what IT and software can deliver mixed with what solicitors have asked for.

Since most firms historically have not needed marketing management information, it has not been a central part of software systems.

Given that the approach of the new competition in the legal services market is centred on complex and highly evolved customer relationship management systems (CoOp, Halifax, Morethan insurance etc), solicitors will need to catch up quickly in order just to be able to maintain a meaningful relationship with their valued clients.

The situation we find ourselves in, and that most firms face, is the need for accurate client information and an easy way to use it for promotions.

All the systems I’ve come across suffer from two main problems.

The accuracy of the information in the database, which I considered before Christmas, and the ability to extract the information from the system in a usable form.

The first requires better client information gathering and storage by the fee earners.

The second needs to be addressed by the software suppliers.

The client and their future needs must become central to data records in a way that allows firms to easily understand their clients and promote their services to specific client groups accurately.

The solution to these problems need not be complicated or expensive.

We have found several ways to address these issues with training and minor IT system changes.

However the most difficult thing to achieve, like all change, is to get the people to change their working habits or at least understand why it’s important.

If you are at the exhibition this week or talking to your software vendor, ask them how they can help you improve the quality of your database.

Accurate and timely client records is the most important marketing asset and something the whole firm will benefit from given the SRAs move to OFR.

If you think your database is in good working order, get a printout of client contact records for the past year and see how reliable the name fields are.

Think if you would be happy to do a letter mailing to that list. How much additional time would it take to clean out all the duplications and extraneous inclusions?

IT systems can be a hugely valuable asset, far and above the case and practice management benefits, IF they are managed and used correctly.

IT businesses need to be better at delivering client focused system and solicitors firms need to focus more clearly on client contact records.

The new competition are already using these type of systems to tempt your clients away, start now to change your firms ways.