PeopleFinder, a new system by leading Australian law firm Mallesons, makes clear that previous views of client facing technology have been too narrow. 

Client-facing typically has meant extranets, document creation software, or content-rich systems, including online legal services. While new instances of these come to market periodically, innovation is now rare and existing systems no longer serve as a marketing differentiator.

Consider instead the idea of client service systems. With this broader view, law firms can take a different and better direction, one not bound by content.

PeopleFinder illustrates the way. A recent College of Law Practice Management blog post, InnovAction Award Entry by Mallesons Stephen Jaques describes the system. [Note that Malleson’s won a InnovAction Award in 2007 for its TalentNet, mentioned in some of my prior blog postst.] According to the blog post, provided by Mallesons in its award entry, PeopleFinder

“has resulted in over 10,000 more calls each month being answered by a person rather than voicemail…. an initiative designed to lift client service and promote Mallesons’ high standing in the Australasian professional services market.”

PeopleFinder enhances client service by integrating multiple internal information sources to determine lawyer and staff availability and location. The goal is to direct incoming client calls to the lawyer or staff person best able to respond on the spot, while the client is still on the phone. This speeds client service and avoids phone tag and the resulting client frustration.

PeopleFinder, available on the firm’s Intranet, indicates the status of each person, for example, Available, Busy, Out of Office, or On Leave. Users can set their status but absent intervention, the system infers it by evaluating Outlook calendars, instant messaging (IM) activity, BlackBerry usage, keyboard activity, and VOIP status. PeopleFinder does not reveal confidential calendar information such as the details of a meeting – it only conveys available times.

The system helps users connect to the right person, offering choices such as automatically dial an office or mobile phone, initiate IM, or send a text message. PeopleFinder also revives the useful Camp On feature of older central phone switches. If a phone line is engaged (busy), you can be notified and connected automatically when the line opens. Additional features help users deal with time zones, determine when someone will next be available, find a colleague’s office with a dynamically generated floor plan, and identify others working on a file (matter).

PeopleFinder reflects several conceptual and technical innovations:

  • A coherent vision of and broad buy-in to improving how quickly the firm responds to clients
  • Recognition that existing data can be collected and analyzed to find people and determine their status
  • Integration of multiple back-end systems such as Cisco CallManager, MS Exchange, MS Active Directory, PeopleSoft, Metastorm Workflow, and several databases
  • Creation of a Web 2.0 interface that makes usage easy

Now that Mallesons has changed our mind set from client facing to client service, it will be interesting to see if other firms innovate.

[Note: The firm shared information about PeopleFinder with me and I allowed the firm to review this blog post in advance. ]