In the last several years, Know Your Customer or Know Your Client (KYC) legislation has come to the forefront. Professional service firms everywhere write about KYC rules, and law firms themselves are creating new processes and procedures for dealing with the KYC rules. Every time I see an email circulate in our firm about KYC training for associates or new KYC procedures, it makes me think – there is more knowing your client than finances and ethics. For Example, what about client current awareness, business issues, pending legislation, outside counsel of record, board of directors and the C-Suite. To me, KYC is a cry for competitive intelligence (CI) help!

From the first day of starting to work in the legal industry, whether as an articling student, a legal assistant, a law librarian or a marketer, you are taught that in this business (and it is a business as much as it is a service) it is all about client relationships and the service provided to those clients. Legal services have evolved to a point where it is assumed that if you are a qualified lawyer, you and your firm can provide any necessary legal work. And many firms focus their marketing and branding efforts around the client experience. Clients should not be left waiting in the reception area; boardrooms should be comfortable and help clients feel at ease; legal opinions should be expertly drafted without any errors; client entertainment should be of the highest caliber. But the true differentiator between firms is in the service and the commitment to the client relationship. It is not the lavish entertainment, or even the right coffee brand in the boardrooms that makes the difference. Expertly crafted legal opinions and practical defensive contracts will certainly help, but buyers of legal service everywhere will tell you that what they really want from a law firm is a group of lawyers who are responsive and smart. Clients want lawyers who meet their needs by delivering timely targeted advice. In other words, clients want lawyers who know them, understand their business needs and their industry issues.

If clients want smart in-the-know lawyers, then I cannot think of a better way for lawyers to nurture their client relationships, differentiate themselves in a crowded competitive landscape, and maintain their roles as trusted business advisors, than through engaging in and supporting a robust CI program. Contrary to popular belief, CI is not about competitors or who did what deals, CI is about the competitive landscape for both firms and clients. Knowing your client, their market, their industry, their issues and their pending challenges from both a legal and business perspective is CI. Knowing your client is about knowing who are the C-suite and in-house counsel team. Knowing the client includes knowing where your firm’s relationships with the client exist, if at all. Knowing the clients means knowing what pending legislative changes will impact a client’s business – you can offer legal and business advice to mitigate any risk or vulnerabilities. These are all the questions that a quality CI program can help you answer at a moment in time. More importantly, the difference between research and CI, is that CI will help keep the answers consistently and routinely up-to-date, so when a client calls, the service provided is second to none. The goal of a robust CI program is to keep firm lawyers current about their client’s business – it would be as if the lawyer is embedded in the client’s office, market and industry.

So in 2012, answer the cry for CI and KYC!