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While prepping for a workshop on this morning, I began to think about the types of business development, client relations and competitive intelligence questions that are commonly asked at law firms, and how they tend to almost always be reactive in nature. Take the question of a partner coming to the development/intelligence team and asking:

We are looking at bringing in Bob Smith from Mega-Firm, LLC, can you check him out for us?

What this question is actually saying is this:

We’ve already made a lot of decisions on bringing in this guy Bob Smith from Mega-Firm, LLC. We’ve done a bit of investigation (read: one of us worked with him a while back), but we thought we’d get a bit of verification that he’s an okay lawyer and will fit into the firm. That way, if he doesn’t work out, we can point to your report and cover our you-know-what and say that we “properly vetted” him. So, can you check him out for us?

Maybe that’s a bit over the top, but you can see that bringing in your development and intelligence (D&I) teams this late into the process shows that either your D&I teams aren’t part of the overall strategic goals of your firm, or the strategy wasn’t considered properly when the decision was made to bring in Bob Smith as a lateral hire.

So, what’s the proper question? Part of that answer isn’t so much about the question itself, but rather, at what point in the process is a question presented to your D&I teams? If the D&I teams are really a part of the firm’s strategic operations, the question needs to be asked before Bob’s name is even in the running as a lateral hire. If the D&I teams are part of the process, Bob may never have even entered into the equation at all. A more strategic question to ask might be this:

We are looking to beef up our IP Litigation practice in the Northwest United States, what potential clients are out there for that region, and who do we have within the firm to handle this initiative? If we don’t have someone in the firm, who would be the top five laterals we should be looking for to help us accomplish this objective?

One of the primary purposes of having development and intelligence professionals is to help put your firm on at a competitive advantage over peer firms. So, if the strategic goal is to “beef up” a practice in a certain geographic area, then the D&I teams’ purpose is to analyze the competition in that area, determine who are the main players, the trends forecasted for this type of legal practice, and what it would take to make our firm better than what exists in that region. This purpose cannot be obtained when they are left out of the intial strategy.