LEGAL TECH NEWSLETTER
Levenfeld Pearlstein Makes a Winning Move with Client Extranet Technology (download article here)
By Angela Hickey
Ask any law firm leader to list their key business strategies and delivering client value will undoubtedly top the list. While Chicago based Levenfeld Pearlstein is similar to its smaller and much larger counterparts in this regard, the status quo really stops there. As the firm’s Executive Director and member of the firm’s Executive and Compensation Committee, I am responsible for the development and execution of the firm-wide business plan, including the strategic use of
technology to help meet business objectives and to initiate strategic change. We market the firm as a “different kind of law firm,” and a “Big Firm alternative.” Our recent experience developing a series of client extranets is a good example of our focus on innovation for the main purpose of creating value for clients. Talking about innovation is fine and well, but is not worth much unless your firm is willing to make strategic changes, some of which might hurt in the short term, in order to open the door to new ideas and a client-centric approach.
Our Client Challenge
A few years ago, the firm’s Community Associations Practice Group took note of the difficulty in providing its large number of condo and homeowner association (HOA) clients with direct access to status information about their collection process and the overall dearth of customizable real-time collections reporting systems. The practice group was challenged to identify a value-added solution and sought to create a client accessible extranet for all collection matters providing access to on-demand legal answers to matters specific questions and to financial information and documents commonly needed by association clients. For the firm’s HOA clients, collecting assessments from residents is one of their primary tasks, requiring them to file a high volume of collection-related lawsuits. According to Howard Dakoff, one of our partners in the firm’s Community Associations Practice Group, prior to developing the extranet, HOA clients were greatly inconvenienced by the inability to access files and financials. “They were being forced to call us when they needed specific details or files, which would routinely occur the day and even night of a homeowner’s meeting.,” he said. “The process was extremely inefficient, stretched firm staffing resources based on last minute requests, and frustrated clients who needed immediate access to case files and documents.”
Needs Turn to Opportunity
We viewed this client need as a business value opportunity. Why not work with our clients on solving their issue and utilize technology as a catalyst, not as a means to an end, to do so? Specifically, we had previously leveraged Microsoft SharePoint when it came to delivering firm-wide portals including an intranet and a financial dashboard based reporting system. So, for our extranet work, we again looked to SharePoint as well to Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Handshake Software and its extranet, integration and portal products. Both SharePoint and Handshake have been around the legal space for over 15 years. We knew from our prior experience that the readily available SharePoint technology (it is bundled with existing Microsoft licensing) and the best practices customization approach of the Handshake Software team would mesh well with our firm structure and culture. By design, we are a flat organization and are structured for effective decision making. We are able to readily test systems and obtain appropriate buy-in in order to move quickly. These structural and cultural attributes provide the foundation for the LP Condo Extranet project. As with all of our successful technology solutions, we did not begin with the technology. We began with a vision and then sought technology to strategically deliver the desired result. A powerful solution trilogy for us in many challenges has been leveraging
database infrastructure with Handshake and MicroSoft SharePoint.
Adding Client Value
In order to provide clients with simple, unrestricted information access through the extranet, LP was forced to reengineer its administrative processes so that the data would feed the extranet in a consistent manner. This reengineering, in turn, led to a revised pricing approach that is not based on time spent but rather is based on value to the client. Today, the firm no longer charges Community Association Practice Group clients per standard billable rates for standard collection work but has transitioned to an exclusive flat fee billing structure. Client feedback has been very positive. It is clear that all
parties enjoy full transparency as it relates to information access and costs, and the firm is able to leverage this approach as a key differentiator when seeking new clients. Our initial need to address a critical client challenge has evolved into a business opportunity and now into a client value proposition. Our existing HOA clients are thrilled with the arrangement and are less likely to jump ship to another firm while both our long standing as well as our new clients recognize our commitment to innovative solutions to serve their needs.
Overall, LP’s Condo Extranet provides HOA clients with the following:
• One-stop information hub. LP created a client friendly, techdriven
and secure information portal with access to status
reports, documents, real time financial information and general
resources about the legal collection process.
• Cost savings. Condo extranet users no longer have to request
print-outs of status reports and other files since they can now
access all relevant information 24/7. This means not being
charged for copies, rush fees, and billable hours associated with
• Price Certainty. LP was able to introduce a flat fee pricing
model because there are no more ‘what if’ scenarios and
guesstimates as it relates to the information clients need and the
time it takes to provide files and timely information.
• Transparency and consistency. Full access into case files and
documents gives clients complete clarity as it relates to the work
LP is doing on their behalf. In addition, the extranet structure
and the way information is organized provide clients with
ongoing consistency they can rely on.
This project was our first foray into the world of extranets and it opened our minds to other possibilities. We have since constructed a dedicated client extranet, followed by a general extranet template where a menu of standard components is used to create a tailored approach based on each client’s needs. Each of these projects is possible using the same successful technology trilogy formula of database management, Handshake Software and Microsoft SharePoint to support the strategy. The legal business is a relationship based business. These tools enable the attorneys to spend more time
fostering their client relationships and less time on tasks that can be done more efficiently and more consistently through technology solutions.
Angela (Angie) Hickey is the executive director of Chicago law firm Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC. She is a member of the firm’s Executive Committee and Compensation Committee. She can be reached at