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. 

  • Anonymous

    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!

  • 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

  • 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.