Three Ways to Build a Better Contact Database

December 15th, 2014
MMM Tech Law Video Channel

As technology has advanced, so have the tools available to lawyers in the area of contact management—the art of maintaining and managing information on contacts, clients and prospects. The challenge for the lawyer in the digital (paperless) age is to find the most efficient, collaborative and effective way to handle contact information without spending inordinate amounts of time and money.

The goal for lawyers should be to establish a collaborative database, allowing authorized users in the firm or legal department to have access to the permitted contacts of others.

To understand how technology furthers this goal, consider the legacy solutions for contact management.

Prior to the advent of the personal computer, the Rolodex was the tool of choice for maintaining contact information. Each attorney, assistant, and paralegal had their own personal Rolodex.

For those who remember the Rolodex era, recall the challenges of sharing information. Rolodex contact data had to be duplicated multiple times in order to be shared among attorneys. Rolodex cards would be typed, copied and then cut out with scissors in order to be pasted to other Rolodex cards. The expense of time and energy was significant, not to mention the ineffectiveness in updating information.

With the advent of the personal computer, several software programs allowed for the personalized electronic Rolodex. Programs like ACT and Goldmine were used by early adopters and became a more efficient way for maintaining contacts. However, they didn’t permit lawyers and their colleagues easily to share contact information.

Technology has evolved today with the CRM system—customer relationship management. Many law firms and companies have adopted CRM systems, but adoption has been slow and technology has been underutilized.

The greatest challenge to these enterprisewide systems remains the willingness (or unwillingness) of attorneys to share contact information. Law firms and in-house legal departments are faced with the challenge of motivating users to permit broad access to contact information while preserving client confidentiality.

What’s the solution to building a collaborative database for lawyers? Here are three possible solutions:

1. Appoint a Database Administrator

The database administrator can be a key to initial adoption of an enterprise contact management system. Often, attorneys fail to adopt a new system because it takes time to input data into the database, and time is money. An administrator can be dedicated to properly inputting prospect and contact information received from the busy attorney and can make sure the information is accurately stored and updated in the system.

2. Highlight the Benefits of a Collaborative System

Educate attorneys to the benefits of having a collaborative system. Highlight successes where the existence of a common database of information has proven helpful in obtaining new clients or servicing existing ones. Showcase the successes firmwide to encourage others to participate.

3. Encourage the Use of LinkedIn

LinkedIn may be one of the most valuable tools for attorneys in business development and contact management. While it is not fully collaborative (yet), it does create a cloud-based tool for attorneys to obtain and store key contacts and related information. Also, connections between attorneys and other LinkedIn users can be made visible to facilitate collaboration and connections.

In my next column, I’ll examine in more detail the benefits of LinkedIn and key ways to use it as a business development tool.

John Yates is a partner and chairman of the Technology Group of the law firm of Morris, Manning & Martin.


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