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Early last year, San Francisco-based Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe was invited to participate in a beauty contest. The potential client was Thurston County, Wash., which had heard noisy rumblings that it was about to be sued by neighbors of its longtime landfill and composting operation over odors and damage wrought by seagulls that flocked around the site. Heller, like the two other firms in the running, had already gone up against the plaintiff’s firm — Tacoma, Wash.’s Gordon, Thomas, Honeywell, Malanca, Peterson & Daheim — on behalf of public- and private-sector defendants. And, like the other contestants, Heller’s lawyers would be primarily working out of Seattle, 60 miles from the Thurston county seat in Olympia, Wash. But Heller offered one thing the other two didn’t: an extranet where the firm’s attorneys could share pleadings, correspondence and memos with the county’s in-house legal team. Heller won the contest. “They were a little behind, and we took advantage of it,” says Heller’s Leslie Nellermoe, an environmental specialist in the Seattle office. Like most firms of its stature, Heller is looking to an increasingly sophisticated interweaving of technology and marketing to win new clients and get more business from existing ones. It’s a push that is costing firms big money in upfront investment and bringing together staffers from two formerly separate support departments, marketing and information technology. It is putting leaders within the legal industry at a hiring premium and drawing experts from other business sectors into newly challenging jobs in law firms. “Ten years ago there was definitely a wall between marketing and IT, trying to secure resources, whether they were dollar resources or personnel resources,” says Suzanne Donnels, director of marketing technology and strategy at San Francisco’s Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. But in recent years, “the caliber of IT people in law firms has just been incredible,” Donnels says, and marketers have stretched far beyond their roots “organizing seminars and receptions” to play a central role in business getting. The “product” created by IT-marketing teams is strategic information and the know-how for putting it to use for maximum impact on the bottom line. GETTING A LEG UP “Our goal is to really extract from the data all the factors that are going to give us a competitive edge,” says Donnels who, in addition to coordinating marketing technology, also supervises West Coast marketing staff and handles beauty contests for Orrick. “Even when we’re going after work that another firm has, we would do detailed work on that firm to find out what their strengths and weaknesses are.” By tracking work better, knowing more about clients and competitors, handling administration more efficiently and pricing bids with more precision, a firm can showcase its expertise and explain why it might be marginally better suited than its also-well-qualified competitors. That’s what Heller did by pitching its extranet capabilities to Thurston County. “We had three qualified firms,” says Mark Calkins, the county’s senior deputy prosecuting attorney in the civil division. “It was like choosing among three good players. Who do you want to be your point guard? Do you want Gary Payton? Do you want Kobe Bryant? Do you want Allen Iverson?” The extranet, Calkins says, was not the only deciding factor, but it was “an additional consideration,” especially given the stretch of freeway separating outside counsel from the client. “It’s 60 miles,” he says, “but during rush hour, it’s farther than 60 miles.” The issue is simple. As Chris Montgomery, Heller’s director of practice support, puts it: “All the big firms have great lawyers.” So how does a firm distinguish itself? That’s where the refined use of technology and marketing can help, observers say — by arming lawyers and staff with better information with which to woo potential clients and by offering the promise of more thorough and efficient service. “In one sense or another, all the major clients are taken,” says Alan Nathanson, a shareholder of Chicago-based technology consultant Baker Robbins & Co. “Your clients are being driven to get the best work for the least money. The only way you can keep up is by turning to an aggressive use of technology.” THE PRICE OF KEEPING PACE Nathanson, whose group is helping Orrick design and build major technology upgrades, says the pressure to keep pace is especially intense for top-tier firms — global players with 150 lawyers or more. “We have almost across the board seen an enormous increase in expenditure in the last 18 months” — to the tune of a tenfold rise — “an order of magnitude,” Nathanson says. The tools that most firms are investing in integrate information across the entire enterprise. These include: � Client relationship management (CRM) programs such as InterAction, MarketEase and products by Oracle Corp. and Siebel Systems Inc., which are databases for cataloging contacts and tracking relationships. � Document automation and assembly programs such as Proposal Automation Suite and ProposalMaster, which archive information on firm experience and simplify proposal writing. � Corporate Web portals, such as Sequoia, Plumtree, LawPort, Hyperwave, Niku and Hummingbird, which create a user-friendly interface for all applications. � Latest-generation Internet technology for sophisticated Web-based information sharing. While many firms have aspects of these technologies in place, consultant Nathanson says, those that maximize the benefits are much less common. Whereas a CRM program can be used simply to develop a Christmas card mailing list, he says, it can also put detailed, useful information in the hands of everyone who interacts with the client. “Where we see the most advanced use in this is to help everyone in the firm really become proactive to the clients,” he says. “It’s constantly adding value to a client — that’s what you’re doing, consciously and unconsciously. The client is getting the best all the time. You don’t have to sell it hard.” Heller’s Montgomery says his firm has concentrated on rebuilding its external Web site, www.hewm.com, to make it “more of a working site” for clients, potential clients and employee recruits, and to make it easy to update by non-technical staffers. Client extranets with up to three layers of security, like the one created for Thurston County, will be another major push, he says. So far, with “little or no effort,” Montgomery says, Heller has set up about 20 dedicated extranets, charging clients a one-time setup fee ranging from $500 to $5,000, depending on the size of the site, and a monthly usage fee of $500 to $2,500. CHEMISTRY STILL COUNTS But it’s not all about digital prowess. Heller’s marketing director, Lonnie Zwerin, stresses that firms with impressive technological firepower will only win business if they put the arsenal at the service of fostering human connections with clients. “Pitches are very tricky,” Zwerin says. “They’re looking for chemistry, and you’re not going to get chemistry from technology.” She cites a beauty contest several years ago in which Heller responded to an over-the-transom request-for-proposal from a Fortune 500 company seeking regional litigation counsel for California, Arizona and Nevada. Six months after responding, Heller was notified that the client was coming to the state to interview it and three other firms. Among other preparations for the interview, Zwerin’s staff assembled a showy PowerPoint presentation and enlisted a senior practice support staff member to demonstrate trial technology. “We were ready to use those tools,” she says. “But they were much more interested in just having a conversation to learn about how we could support their business objectives. They had already gone to our Web site and pulled down a lot of information.” Through its own use of the firm’s technology, the client had learned that Heller also litigated in and around Seattle. Without so much as booting up PowerPoint, the firm was hired as litigation counsel for both the western states and the Northwest. Partly driving firms’ need for sophisticated, information-based marketing is clients’ own increasingly nuanced style of shopping for counsel. Firms and consultants interviewed for this story said that for top firms working primarily in the private sector, the heyday seems to have passed for formal RFPs such as 1999′s much-watched “convergence,” in which UPS went through an elaborate process to winnow its outside counsel from 150 to around 25. That doesn’t mean competition and beauty contests are out of favor. They are just more likely to be invitation-only events, or pitches initiated by the firm, rather than letters broadcast to 100 or more firms. “We haven’t been doing a lot of dog and pony shows because it hasn’t been that kind of a market,” especially not in Silicon Valley, says Brian Colucci, communications manager at Palo Alto, Calif.’s Fenwick & West. “If things continue to slow down,” however, he says, “firms might have to sell their familiarity with technology and how to work smarter and not harder.”

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