LegalMatch gets new lease with Siebel CRM

The Internet startup LegalMatch gave itself a makeover with a new CRM system that has clients feeling the love.

Laurie Ziffrin recites legal services industry stats with glee. It's a $70 billion market; 4 million people each month use the Internet to find legal help; by 2007 the number of consumers and small businesses that boot up to find a lawyer is expected to climb to 7 million. "We love those numbers," said Ziffrin, CEO of LegalMatch, a San Francisco online company that connects lawyers with potential clients.

Founded in 1999, when many lawyers were still advertising in the Yellow Pages, LegalMatch was quick to realize the power of the Internet in matching two markets -- small-firm attorneys and consumers seeking legal help. For consumers, searching LegalMatch, a company with about $15 million in annual revenue, is free. Annual membership fees for attorneys run from $2,400 to $100,000, depending on the type of law they practice and their location.

These days, LegalMatch is focused on a new set of statistics, related to its new customer relationship management (CRM) system. Since implementing CRM 18 months ago, the company has seen attorney membership grow by 20% a year and consumer visits increase 40%.

"Many of those metrics are tied to our improved efficiencies, based on our use of CRM. It doesn't take us long to identify trends and make improvements," said Don Keane, vice president of marketing at LegalMatch.

The CRM implementation was an important step in LegalMatch's bouncing back from a bout of bad publicity last year. Between 2000 and 2003, LegalMatch grew 60% a year, garnering positive local and national press in the process. Then calamity struck. Dmitri Shubov, the firm's founder, was indicted in May 2004 for hacking into a competitor's voicemail and deleting messages. Shubov, who left his post, spent five months on probation. By then, LegalMatch was squaring off against new competitors.

To rejuvenate the firm, LegalMatch changed the way it paid its salespeople, adding a base salary to commissions, and it gave them the technology they needed to improve customer service, said Keane. One of the biggest factors was the CRM implementation, which uses Siebel Systems Inc.'s OnDemand product.

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The CRM software, coupled with a business intelligence (BI) system the firm developed internally, allowed LegalMatch to correlate by geographic region the type and volume of customer cases submitted on the site with the number of member attorneys and their legal expertise.

"Through that we determine how many more attorneys we need to add or how much more money we need to pump into marketing in a particular area," Keane said. Salespeople have direct access to the analytical tools, which not only provide a daily summary from every market but can also be customized to spit out specialized data: for example, the number of divorce cases per member attorney in King's County, N.Y.

"The information is fed to our salespeople on a daily basis. And it is not only pushed to them, but they can pull it at will," said Keane. Now when salespeople call attorneys to renew their listing, they have at their disposal the data they need, including how many clients an attorney has retained, to make a compelling case, he said.

The company is so confident in its processes, that it now encourages prospective attorney customers to test-drive the system, allowing them to stay on for a period of time so they can see how it works and watch real cases coming in.

Small and medium-sized businesses are embracing CRM, said analyst Laurie McCabe, vice president of SMB business solutions for research firm Access Markets International -Partners in New York. Software applications in the SMB space are expected to grow 33.5% from 2004 to 2009, and CRM applications will grow 27% during that time, according to McCabe. There is no shortage of vendors capitalizing on that prediction, from the field's big players like Salesforce.com and NetSuite to vendors that service a particular area of CRM, like marketing automation or partner management.

A company like LegalMatch, whose business requires Web analytics, has a good deal more technical savvy than the average $15 million company, said McCabe, and that allowed it to customize its applications. But CRM vendors increasingly are adding BI capabilities to their products, knowing many companies don't have the resources to build their own. "The typical kind of small and medium-sized customer, " McCabe said, "will probably go for something that will give them 90% of what they need out of the box."

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