Should law firms invest in more competitive intelligence? Asks Ron Friedmann. Um. Yes. Always yes. And not just law firms but every business should invest more in CI.  Investing in knowing what you know, knowing what you don’t know and knowing what the market knows – about you and otherwise – is an investment every business should make.  In the above mentioned article, CI is described as “The deeper the insight, the better. Competitive intelligence serves that purpose. It helps win business and improve service delivery.”  The article goes on to talk about the ways CI can help law firm business development and marketing efforts, this post was expertly timed to come out in advance of the Legal Marketing Associations annual conference being held in Atlanta this coming week.  The revisiting a February 2019 survey and calling for more CI is a great start,  CI can help with business development.

But positioning CI only as BD and Marketing support sells CI short.   CI can and should drive business development efforts but CI is much more.   CI should be embedded in practice planning, strategic firm growth discussions, lateral hire diligence, office or practice expansion proposals.  To borrow and expand on the definition of CI, it is a systematic and ethical program for gathering, analyzing, and managing external and internal information that can affects your business.  There are a few key elements to that definition that get lost when we think of CI as only competitive research to support BD and marketing efforts. Namely, the idea of CI being based on analysis, and a combination of internal and external information gathering.  The aforementioned competitive research leaves out rigorous analysis and negates internal data, which firms are producing in mass quantities and not leveraging very well beyond pricing or resource planning.  We need to bring the outside in. if we are going to truly do meaningful CI for our firms. CI needs to be systematic, it needs to be ongoing not only tied to a specific RFP or a moment in time, it should evolve with the firm and inform any business decision that requires both avoiding surprises (the fall of a competitor firm, the exit of an entire practice of lawyers from your firm to a competitor) and forecasting for the future (did we see e-sports coming as a burgeoning area of law?).

Competition continues to be fierce in the market, this past week’s announcement of EY’s acquisition of Thomson Reuters Legal Managed Services is a clear reminder of the increasing pressure the Big 4 are putting on firms. Law firm CI could have predicted this move and the impact it will have on firms and practices globally.  There are several other musings in the industry that good CI should also be exploring and looking at the impact of on each firm specifically their using Scenario Planning or other analysis techniques. CI is about far more than secondary research, and helping firms know their clients better. Firms should know their clients better, and CI is part of that but it needs to go beyond the obvious to do more to help firms truly compete.

If you are going to be at LMA, go talk to Ron Friedman about CI, talk to other firm CI practitioners. See what they are doing, learn from your network and think beyond Business Development.  In an earlier post I suggested that intelligence is issues based and insights are people based. If CI, proper systemic, on going industry issues analysis is going to really have an impact in firms, it needs to bring deeper people driven insights, derived from – HUMINT  – which goes beyond just knowing clients on paper, in their 10ks, in the media and in deals databases. We need to get out of our offices and talk to people – clients, peers, competitors, suppliers etc. often. To truly deliver on the promise of CI.

Do firms need more CI?  Definitely.  They need deeper, richer insights to help mitigate the effects of the Big 4, to reduce client pricing pressure and provide best in class legal service in a disruptive market.  Firms are businesses and every business need whatever advantage it can realize  to compete and succeed. More than ever the climate in the legal industry makes CI an imperative – more CI is is after all axiomatic.