C Is For….

When I started in law firm competitive intelligence (CI), there were few of us doing it and making any headway at the time.  Over time, lots of people have tried to do legal CI, Librarians, marketing folks, even seasoned CI professionals from other industries have tried their hand at it, but eventually walked away.  There are certain nuances to working in a law firm outside of the practice of law, which I won't get into here, but which extend to the practice of CI in law firms as well.  Over the years, I have been asked what works, how can law firm CI be a success, and I have written or spoken about various aspects. I've explained as many other before me did, that CI is not only about monitoring competitors, but about the competitive landscape (Blue Ocean strategy anyone?) and the markets in which law firms operate.  We've talk about changing the C in CI from competitive to collaborative, and encouraging a breaking down of the various silos that exist in law firm administration in order to successfully manage a CI program. And I still believe that collaboration is fundamental to CI success. But there is more. 

We've also seen CI in law firms morph into or cross the line into BI and MI, I think my title actually changed to market intelligence or marketing intelligence once too for a brief while to prove the point.  But whether the title is CI, BI, or MI, the end result is the same. Intelligence is about cutting through the vast amounts of clutter or data to produce insights and analytics to drive business. Whether we are talking about structured (quantitative) or unstructured (qualitative) data, the role of the intelligence practitioner is to help the firm avoid surprises, make actionable recommendations and inform decision making.  But still, I would argue there is more. There has always been something more to legal CI. Something that sets legal CI apart, something that may well be a part of other industry CI functions, but from what I have seen, read and experienced of late, should be the cornerstone of legal CI, something that I have been unknowingly practicing for years but have only recently begun to articulate. Legal CI is client intelligence, or CRM plus. 
Since the economic collapse in 2008, and the subsequent recovery, the legal industry has changed and clients are largely driving that change.  Law firms know this and have thus turned to keeping better tabs on their clients. Last week, I sat through the launch of the Acritas Canadian Brand Index and while the results were interesting, more interesting to me was the increased expectation of clients, that firms know their business.  Clients want to work with firms who know their business. What does knowing a business mean?  I think it means understanding the client's market, their business issues, their liabilities, their risks and their successes. Knowing the client is about having a grasp on the client's business that goes beyond the most recent press release issued or its website home page. Knowing a client is about making the client feel like you work at their place of business every day. "Business Savvy" is a 25% driver of law firm recommendations from General Counsels interviewed by Acritas. Furthermore, when GCs were asked about what additional skills they would like to see the lawyers they work with on a day to day basis have additional training or development in –the top answer was ‘understanding the client’s business'.  That, to me, is where CI comes into play (client intelligence, that is). The role of CI in law firms is to help lawyers understand their clients business so that the lawyers and firm as a whole can serve to their clients in a proactive and advisory manner.  Knowing the client's business - the successes, the failures and everything in between will be a reflection on the lawyer's business savvy and will then have a snowball effect that will impact a firm's own position and ability to be and stay competitive. 

So while I may not be changing my business cards anytime soon I have started to think of the C in my title as Client rather than Competitive.  It seems to be the most compelling and competitive way forward. 

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Anonymous said...

Truly excellent writing and content, as usual Zena! Thank you very much for sharing your on-target observations and I always appreciate your valuable insights. Kudos!

Paige Smith said...

Learning about the use of competitive intelligence versus customer intelligence is so interesting. I think in order to be a good lawyer you need to have customer intelligence. We recently did a study on conflict resolution with lawyers. We learned that a lot of lawyers are actually really bad at resolving issues, and do more one up attacks. However, a couple of lawyers, we observed, you would be able to tell were able to resolve the issue perfectly. personal injury attorney

Jordan said...

Great post! I definitely appreciate the insights you have into CI and what it means for the legal profession. And I definitely agree that clients are much more important than competition.


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