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Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC Goes the Extra Client Mile with Extranets

Case-Study-Levenfeld-Pearlstein-9-18-14

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Firm Leverages Handshake Software’s SharePoint-based Technology to Support Firm’s Commitment to Delivering Remarkable Client Experiences

As law firm clients continue to demand the best from their outside counsel – with a keen focus on work product quality, overall value and efficiency and proactive communications, it may seem obvious for law firms, many of which are stretched thin and forced to ‘do more with less’, to seek technology as a silver bullet for keeping clients happy. However, adopting new technology for technology’s sake without taking into consideration firm culture, specific business needs and how technology use might impact client relationships is a recipe for unhappy firm users and clients. Chicago-based Levenfeld Pearlstein (LP), a ‘different kind of law firm’ and ‘Big Firm alternative’, has fully embraced this ‘value challenge’ and has leveraged technology and creative partnerships with established legal technology partners like Handshake Software to deliver an exceptional client experience.

Addressing business issues with the help of technology

Angie Hickey, LP’s Executive Director and member of the firm’s Executive and Compensation Committee, is responsible for the strategic development and execution of the firm-wide business plan including the strategic use of technology to help meet business objectives and initiate strategic change. Ms. Hickey maintains that the firm’s established culture based on transparency and accountability has been conducive to transforming the business. And, since recognizing that Microsoft SharePoint could be a technology catalyst in converting desired business objectives into firm and client-wide realities, LP, with the help of leading SharePoint Gold Certified Partner, Handshake Software has provided the firm with SharePoint-based portals including an intranet and a financial dashboard-based reporting system.

Beyond these internal portals and dashboards, LP again partnered with Handshake Software to deliver two distinct extranets, one for a practice group serving a large number of clients in a single industry, and another for multiple practice groups serving one client.

Extranets…the mother of innovation

For the firm’s Community Associations Practice Group’s large number of condo and homeowner association (HOA) clients, collecting assessments from residents is one of their primary tasks, requiring them to file a high volume of collection-related lawsuits. A few years ago, LP first took note of the dearth of customizable real-time collections reporting systems and the inability to provide its HOA clients with direct access to status information about the collection process. The practice group was challenged to identify a value-added solution and sought to create a client accessible database for all collection matters. In November 2012, LP’s Condo Extranet was launched thanks to the expertise of the firm’s third party database/technology consultant, the firm’s SharePoint technology, and the use of Handshake’s extranet, integration and portal products.

The Condo Extranet has been game changing for clients, who no longer have to contact the firm for case updates (which they regularly need, sometimes on very short notice, for board meetings and other purposes). For them, accessing the portal is much more efficient, and less costly, than calling LP and waiting for the firm to generate a status letter.

LP Condo Extranet Home Page: Provides clients with one-stop access to pertinent documents, financials and related industry resources

LP Condo Extranet Home Page: Provides clients with one-stop access to pertinent documents, financials and related industry resources

“Clients love it, 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,”

Howard Dakoff, Partner

According to Howard Dakoff, a partner in the firm’s Community Associations Practice Group, the practice group’s extranet was developed as a responsive value-add for HOA clients providing the ability to monitor collection lawsuits, get on-demand legal answers to last minute questions for association meetings, and check in on financials and reports and ongoing tasks. “Before we launched the extranet, our clients were 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.  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,” states Mr. Dakoff.

In addition to giving clients simple, unrestricted information access, LP was able to use the Condo Extranet to truly reengineer its administrative processes and revisit client fee structures. Today, the firm no longer charges Community Association Practice Group clients per standard billable rates but has transitioned to a flat fee billing structure. “Clients love it, 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,” added Mr. Dakoff.

LP’s Condo Extranet provides HOA clients with the following benefits:

  • One-stop information hub: Created a tech-driven, secure, client information portal with access to status report, documents and real time financial info.
  • 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 these tasks.
  • Flat fee billings: 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.

“Law firm business is in the midst of an evolutionary period … clients are more sophisticated and demanding better service, so it is fitting that we leverage technology like SharePoint and Handshake Software to revolutionize how we serve clients and keep them as competitive as we strive to be,” concluded Dakoff.

“Law firm business is in the midst of an evolutionary period … clients are more sophisticated and demanding better service, so it is fitting that we leverage technology like SharePoint and Handshake Software to revolutionize how we serve clients and keep them as competitive as we strive to be,”

Howard Dakoff, Partner

Transparency…dedicated client extranets

On the heels of the successful LP Condo Extranet projects, the firm again leveraged SharePoint and the Handshake technology infrastructure to help address a client business challenge. Based on previous lessons learned and best practices surrounding SharePoint-based deployments, LP built a dedicated client extranet, connected to its docketing, document management and billing system, designed to help the client access litigation-related documents and files in one place, anytime. Based on the client’s interaction with multiple LP practice groups and the necessity to work on files from various firm sources at a frenetic pace, the ability to access the most current files was greatly impeded.

Creating the dedicated SharePoint and Handshake-powered extranet, enabled the firm to push unlimited information through to its client and give them the access and control they needed. LP’s client can now access information on-demand without calling on firm attorneys, pull up updated status of a case and access a consolidated calendar/docket that notifies users of pertinent court events and filing deadlines. Another vital extranet component was the creation of the file upload feature, providing seamless document upload/download functionality which not only enabled the sharing of large, difficult to email files but also provided version control based on the ability to view and access all documents in one, secure place.

LP Multiple Practice Group Extranet: Firm client has 24/7 access to case files with secure views based on privacy settings

LP Multiple Practice Group Extranet: Firm client has 24/7 access to case files with secure views based on privacy settings

“During the launch at the client’s place of business, among a full room of client staff, our principal contact noted that “we are never going to be able to leave your firm now because this is so valuable”. Is there any better testimony to client value than this?”

Bill Schwartz, Partner

According to Bill Schwartz, a partner in the firm’s Banking & Restructuring Group, his practice group used SharePoint and Handshake to develop a client extranet that sought to streamline ongoing client communications and provide full access to pertinent case files and financial information. Schwartz and LP colleagues proactively approached the client and shared they would build them an external informational portal to ease doing business with the firm and give them a timing advantage when dealing with its clients and prospective clients. “It’s great to be able to connect with our clients on another non-lawyering level and really find out how we can help them tackle a business challenge, in this case, by building them a custom extranet. We met, listened to their needs and built the framework for an intranet. Once done, all parties were extremely happy with the outcome and collaboration effort,” states Mr. Schwartz. “During the launch at the client’s place of business, among a full room of client staff, our principal contact noted that “we are never going to be able to leave your firm now because this is so valuable”. Is there any better testimony to client value than this?”

vendor-firm value creation

While file and information sharing capabilities alone might not be earth shattering, LP’s ability to work directly with its clients to listen to their challenges and frustrations related to communications and transaction tracking issues, and then build custom technology solution based on SharePoint utilizing Handshake extranet technology is indeed game changing.

“While we live and breathe transparency and accountability, it’s all about creating value. Value for our clients that helps them remain competitive with their clients and loyal to the firm and embedded within the firm’s organizational structure and workflow. Collaborating with a technology partner like Handshake Software to develop client extranets that provide such value is in fact invaluable,”

Angie Hickey, Executive Director

“While we live and breathe transparency and accountability, it’s all about creating value. Value for our clients that helps them remain competitive with their clients and loyal to the firm and embedded within the firm’s organizational structure and workflow. Collaborating with a technology partner like Handshake Software to develop client extranets that provide such value is in fact invaluable,” concludes Ms. Hickey.

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Levenfeld Pearlstein ‘Tale of the tape’

Firm size: 60 attorneys, 105 employees
Headquarters: Chicago
Specialties/services: Banking & Restructuring; Corporate & Securities; Community Association; Intellectual Property; Labor & Employment; Real Estate; Tax Planning & Litigation; Trusts & Estates
Client extranet technology: Microsoft SharePoint, Handshake Software’s (HS) Toolkit including HS Relationship Framework , HS Content Designer, HS Web Parts, and HS Replication Engine. In terms of database management/warehousing, data is transformed, normalized and warehoused to a secure SQL server that serves data to the extranet using standard SQL features.
Extranet awards & accolades: The National Law Journal Midsize Hot List (June 2014); Institute of Real Estate Management’s 2014 Premier Award in the category of Technology and Design
Client extranet benefits: 24/7, DIY client access to documents, status updates and financials; complete information transparency on clients/matters; real time collaboration with clients; streamlined and instant information access, leading to less strain on billable resources; ability to offer AFA-type billing arrangements such as flat fees based on strategic use of extranets.

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