If you’re a lawyer, and you use or wonder about Salesforce, read this:

Salesforce is a $54 billion company and is known primarily as a customer relationship management tool that is based in the cloud. Sales, marketing and business development people use it and love it, and have done so for two decades.

Despite its name, however, Salesforce is much more than that — it is not merely for customer relationship management — it is, in addition, a powerful, expansive and ever-evolving platform that allows for the rapid development and deployment of custom business applications for any business or profession and, indeed, for lawyers, law firms and general counsel.

If you’re an attorney, you may not be aware of just how significant the Salesforce platform can be for your practice, nor might you be aware of what Salesforce potentially offers beyond its CRM capabilities.

So here’s a very brief primer that is only a beginning into the power of the Salesforce platform – but one that should give you pause to consider how to choose and use technology to help power your practice.

Item 1: Salesforce is not an application it’s SaaS — a “Software as a Service”.

Why it’s important: The Salesforce platform is completely cloud based. That means the entire infrastructure is managed, maintained, upgraded and supported at secure remote locations. Any applications you license directly from Salesforce, or from its partners, is free of headaches relating to hardware, wiring, routering, shmoutering, etc. No one’s going to be logging into your computer, or asking you to upgrade your computer, or step away from your desk. Once you purchase a license, you have access to your own “instance” — think of it as leasing a condo in an exclusive high-rise, where the other tenants include to one degree another nearly every one of the Fortune 500 Companies. As with a condo, you have your own keys and whatever is behind the door — your data, workflows, contacts, etc. — are yours alone and no one else can access them. At the same time, you have a nice lobby, a convenient garage and a great doorman.

Item 2: Salesforce is highly, granularly, customizable and configurable.

Why it’s important: The significance of force.com platform development to attorneys, firms and legal departments is truly way beyond what you might imagine. Rather than adapt to a particular software suite (or even to a cloud-based “practice management” application) the Salesforce platform provides an opportunity to actualize any and every imaginable requirement expressed in your business world; it fits like a bespoke suit.

Beneath the hood, the Salesforce platform is composed of objects, records, list views, workflows and processes:

Objects are a collection of fields, like, “Name,” “Matter,” “Contract type,” “Filing deadline.” Dates, drop-down lists, checkboxes, open text fields — whatever you might think of being a column heading on a spreadsheet, becomes a field in a Salesforce object.

Records are logical presentations of those fields, on layouts either in your browser or on your phone (yes, mobile is automatically deployed when you leverage the Salesforce platform for your business needs). Records are designed to present you with the data you need to see when you need to see it — and you can even limit what information a record displays based on who in your office is looking at it.

Workflow and Processes: The information relating to your work has a specific job or purpose: If it’s on a spreadsheet or in a Word document, it’s probably not doing its job. With Salesforce, you can give all your business information a job. Define if the information is there because

  • you need to act on it; or
  • learn from it; or
  • earn money from it; or
  • collaborate around it; or
  • delegate it

If, for example, you have a filing deadline, that information is important but it’s only useful if it triggers action.

An action can be something as simple as a notification — an email or text message reminding you to prepare for the deadline.

It can be something a bit more complicated, like the triggering of a task to your paralegal or legal admin — a task that contains the information you decide is actionable, and which communicates it in your tone and your style. (A well-designed process is one that scales: rather than you creating a task multiple times, you can teach the system to know when to assign the task, and whom to assign it to.)

Salesforce can do that: It lets you automate those notifications, tasks, and alerts, in your style, with your data, in your tone of voice.

Only you know, or should ultimately decide, which fields make sense for you to track and use. So why leave that role to a programmer or analyst who doesn’t know or work with you individually? The biggest reason for technology not being adapted is that it simply doesn’t mesh with the needs of the user.

Salesforce literally lets you decide what information you want to capture, how you want to capture it, and what you want to do with that information.

Such as…

Iterating, enhancing and customizing and MVPs

I like to think of business software as coming in two basic flavors: Disk and Enterprise. Most people don’t like either of those flavors.

Disk is what you’d get from Staples or Office Depot. (More recently, it refers to what you download from Amazon or directly from Microsoft).

Enterprise is when 20 people show up in your office with clipboards, CAT 6 cables, server boxes and routers.

Either way: The features you get are the ones your stuck with. You, your colleagues and your employees are the ones who will have to adapt to the technology. And 100 percent of the time: You and they won’t. The investment will lay fallow.

When you work with a Salesforce developer, you basically have a concierge — one who starts by building and testing an MVP — a minimum viable product. You and the developer can decide what particular “pain” you want to address first — perhaps you want to get all of your documents and contracts digitized and sorted and loaded into a system (yeah, Salesforce can do that). Maybe you have spreadsheets you want to load into a system so that the data can be shared with your staff, filtered, displayed in charts and provide real-time status views of exactly where each task, item, matter, event and project is.

Perhaps, you have a specific matter or project that’s front and foremost and want to let that matter drive the development of a technology tool — you can have a custom application built in Salesforce just to manage that one matter or project and see how it goes.

Once that minimum viable product is launched in your office, you can start to understand what the technology can do for you — and that’s when you can begin to ideate and automate and power your business for unlimited growth and opportunity by providing a level of client service that is unimaginable in an office that is hampered by poor, inadequate and sub-optimal technology.

Having developed and deployed Salesforce applications for attorneys at three major Fortune 500 companies, I can tell you: It really does work like that.