Over the last 6-12 months, we have been reading more in the legal press and seeing more at legal and information industry conferences about law firms hiring competitive intelligence (CI) professionals. Competitive intelligence in law firms can mean very different things, depending on the context, size and type of law firm (national vs. global), and so forth.
Some law firms have well-established CI departments that are separate from the library, some are one-person-bands integrated into marketing or business development departments, and some are a hybrid of both. The work done by CI professionals can also be quite different and emanate from various departments across the firm.
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Here is a small sampling of CI requests. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Requests can range from business development intel and client relationship-building ideas to practice/industry group data, from marketing information to firm strategy development and lateral hiring analysis.
“Former Client X starts as General Counsel on Monday at Company Y. See attached links. Let us know if you want to discuss approaching him. In the meantime, will have marketing do some research on the company.“
This is a fairly straightforward request. Someone has a strong relationship with a GC who has moved to another company. The firm would like to meet with this GC to discuss how they could expand the relationship to the new Company Y. The emphasis here is to provide a research report including strategic direction for Company Y, including an overview of board and management, and any other connections the firm may have there. The CI professional will look for marketing touchpoints, current counsel representing them, and any upcoming risks or issues that Company Y may be facing.
Client Relationship Development
“The firm wants to explore any connections through officers and directors between Company Z. and us.“
For law firms to differentiate themselves, relationship building becomes critical. In addition to a research report request, this request involves delving deeply into the board and management of Company Z and mining the firm’s contact data to understand connections to this client, via either first or second connections. It’s time-consuming to do to this type of analysis, and depending on subscriptions the law firm has, may need to be accomplished using numerous sources. It is interesting to see who has connections, how strong they are and the origination of the connection. Strong connections can develop from non-traditional relationships. All of these factors play a role in determining how to put the best team forward for effective client relationship development.
The firm has been asked to respond to an RFP for litigation and the potential client has asked for a response to two to three other areas of competence the firm thinks could provide significant insights for the client. CI professionals need to research what this company is doing so the firm knows which capabilities best suits their needs.
This is where the ‘intelligence’ in competitive intelligence really comes into play. As well as doing some research on the strengths, opportunities and risks of the company, by working collaboratively with the lawyers and really understanding their strengths and capabilities, the CI report can help provide insights to the RFP team that may not immediately seem obvious. By spotting issues that the company is facing, is about to face or that their industry is facing, the law firm can match these with specific work that has been done before. Whether in the same industry or in other industries, if those capabilities are transferable, opportunities that may not have immediately seemed obvious can present themselves.
Partner X needs any data that provides the average billing rate for the large law firms in a certain location.
This type of request is ambiguous and can be taken it in a number of directions. It is unclear whether the partner is asking for partner/counsel/associate rates, for a specific practice group or for all practice groups. Does the partner want the rack or discounted rates, or suggestions for alternative fee agreements? The CI professional must press further on the background of this request. Once clarified, this request turned out to be related to firm pricing. The partner was trying to help a client understand a pricing schedule the firm had provided and wanted to show where the firm ranked in a specific geography. A reputable legal market benchmark report was able to answer the question immediately.
The CI professional saw an article on one of the firm’s key clients (subsidiary of an international company) that has just experienced management changes to its C-Suite and legal department. The CI professional sent it to the relationship partners outlining key position changes that could be of most interest.
This is what all CI professionals should be doing on a regular basis. They constantly monitor legal and industry press for articles about, or of interest to, firm clients — articles that can help partners develop deeper relationships. In this case, a key client experienced several organizational changes that affected not only the legal department, but also the wider US organization. The CI professional should know from participating in client development meetings that legal department changes are important for partners to be aware of.
Considering that the firm was a subsidiary of an international company and the partners had exposure to management outside of the legal department, it was important to make sure partners were aware of all publicly reported organizational changes.
In many cases, partners already know this from their client site visits, but sharing information about wider management changes is always beneficial. It can provide a memory jog or an excuse to touch base with the client and let them know they are top of mind. When sending articles of interest, a simple value–add is to include a short note outlining why the article is being forwarded, or highlighting the significant section. This saves time for the recipient and demonstrates the CI professional’s understanding of the client/industry development plan.
Marketing Conference Preparation
See the delegates list for conference X. Can you help identify contacts that our attendees should be meeting at the conference?
Relationships! Relationships! Relationships! We all know that in any decision we face, most of us make those decisions based on advice from our network. In the legal world, it is no different. One of the reasons that lawyers attend conferences is to demonstrate expertise, develop industry knowledge and broaden their networks. Really making the most of those opportunities and harnessing the learnings from conferences after the event, however, can be challenging to manage. How many times have lawyers attended an event only to come back saying “I should have met this person” or “I didn’t know that client was going to be there”? And, once they are back, how many times do business cards sit untouched weeks after the event? A little advanced research on those attending the event and scheduling meetings beforehand can make a vast difference to the ROI of the event.
Looking for direct connections and asking colleagues for introductions to indirect connections can provide strategic context for attending the meeting. Some forethought around what an attendee is hoping to achieve from the conference can limit wasted time and frustration in missed opportunities.
These are just a few examples of how competitive intelligence is used in law firms. There are so many other ways CI can support a firm — source evaluation, practice group development, participating in industry group meetings are just a few. The beauty of many competitive intelligence roles is that they are a constant work in progress and CI professionals are often in a unique position where they can create the role they want to play. They are only limited by imagination and the effort they are prepared to contribute.
Patricia Ellard is a competitive intelligence professional, with more than 20 years of experience in a top-three global management consulting firm and in global law firms.