8/25/08

CI Oversight - Paranoia and Limits

Wow... there is a great "conversation" going on in the Competitive Intelligence world over the ethical requirements that law firms should require their CI professionals to uphold. Melissa Ruman Steward, Shareholder in Winstead's Dallas office, penned a NLJ article this week as a response to Ann Lee Gibson's article on 45 CI Tips for Law Firms. Steward suggests that law firms need to step up and proactively create a code of CI Conduct, or even go as far as having the state bar association create the code of CI conduct. Gibson has already come back with a pretty strong rebuttal to Steward's article. I blogged earlier about whether a CI professional could actually be brought up on criminal charges using 18 USC §1030, and discussed the ethical vs. illegal line that CI pros come up against. I think that Steward seems to be a little behind the curve on what is involved in Competitive Intelligence gathering, but she's not without merit in her arguments either. Lawyers don't exactly have the greatest of reputations when it comes to "ethics" (after all, ethics is the shortest class we take in law school). Therefore, her argument that law firms should hold themselves to a higher level of "ethical" competitive intelligence gathering is a legitimate argument. In my opinion, the shifting of this "code of CI ethics" to a regulatory body such as the state bar association seems to be a little bit of an overreaction at this point. Again, we talked about the fact that CI professionals in the legal environment usually hit the "ethical" line long before they hit the "legal" line when it comes to CI information gathering. But, it wouldn't take too many cases of law firms arguing that "what we did was perfectly legal" to start blurring the lines and causing CI professionals to become insensitive to the "ethical" line. Taking arguments like Stewart's too lightly could backfire in the end. My suggestion: It wouldn't hurt for firms to have a CI Ethics Code for their organization and make it understood that CI professionals should be very conscious of the firm's ethical line, and make sure that it is never crossed.

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