For many years working in the realm of law firms I have been described as a Non – a non lawyer. It is a rather strange predicament to define yourself and your skills based on what you are not, rather than what you are. I remember when my husband first graduated from university and wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, he took a series of jobs to try things out only to come to the conclusion a year later that he learned what he didn’t want to do.  So he went back to school, twice, in pursuit of being a something.  I on the other hand, graduated from grad school and shortly thereafter started on my almost two decade journey of being a Non.

Continue Reading My Non Life

All too often in law firms when we talk about marketing failures or look for new marketing successes, we look to see how “other industries” are doing it. We look at the marketing spend of consumer goods companies which make our budgets look like a small child’s allowance.  We bemoan not having enough money to really make a difference or we lament the time and energy spent on directory submissions for minimal tangible ROI, yet we still participate in these things marketing activities since we are bound by the street rules of the legal marketing game.  When we think about legal marketing, I think we would all agree, that despite the smaller budgets that our B2C counter parts, we have evolved beyond pricey tickets to sporting events, and are focused on content or account marketing. Yet, despite the laser  focus on true client development we still struggle.

We struggle to make the impact on our firms that we believe marketing is having in other industries.  Lately, I can’t help but think the answer (or part of it anyway, but this is a blog, so let me think big and unrealistic), lies not on the marketing communications side of the equation, not even in the traditional business development side either, but in the CRM or sales cycle part. The part with the dirty word (sales) and the acronym most people still struggle to really understand outside of “invite list” or “mailing list”.  I have written before about how I think CI is really or should really be about CRM+. More and more, I am starting to see how these two functions, that are often behind the scenes – the introverts next to their extrovert MarCom buddies, the strong silent types that comb through data, deserve more attention in the client conversion or retention conversation.  

Regardless of what CRM system a firm is using or even more to the point where there is no formal CRM system in place, there is often resistance to having contacts and related activities shared within a firm. Whether owing  to the law firm as hotel-for-lawyers mentality, privacy issues, fear that others will ruin the relationship, lack of trust among partners or some other reason lawyers generally don’t want to share their contacts and firm’s have yet to find a good way to change that behaviour en masse.  There are always exceptions to the rules, but if you talk to your friends at sales organizations, the CRM system if the life blood of the organization and those that don’t share are the exception.  Not only are contacts shared but client touches are also shared – who has had dinner with whom, who sent pricing information and when, responses to pitches are recorded and client lessons are shared on the go through the CRM system. Occasionally, I am a the target of these sales pitches and for a moment I am always surprised that a new, or new-to-me sales person knows so much about me and my relationship to the organization.  Then I remember I am but a record in the company’s CRM system and a smart sales person will look me up before making contact and will therefore intimately know my history of engagement, how I feel about a product or service, who my account reps is and so forth before even picking up a phone. They may even know some personal details about me to help break the ice. Combine this knowledge with sales training or soft skills around appropriate communication so as not to come off creepy or stalker-like and imagine what you can do.  What if you had the ability to call a client on any given day, and say something like “Hi, I see you are subscribed to our X Practice newsletter and received our most recent update on issue  Y, I know you had lunch with Partner W last week, but I still wanted to follow up to see if you had any questions and to invite you to an event we are hosting on related topic Z. I believe partner W and some of his clients you might want to meet will also be there ”  There is real value in that for clients, instead of waiting for the phone to ring with a retainer, lawyers can be proactive in providing client service that is tailored, builds the firm’s and the lawyer’s relationship, engenders trust and requires very little effort other than consistent recording and reporting on the part of the lawyers and the CRM professionals.  All you need to know who is subscribed to what, who is reading what and who is taking whom for lunch or to a golf tournament. Being able to connect those internal dots, along with knowing is what happening in the client’s organization or industry so you can help your clients avoid surprises or capitalize on market activity – including your firm’s own bespoke networking events, is client service euphoria. 
Data is driving insights across all kinds of disciplines from healthcare to retail, data is also driving revenue for all kinds of B2C companies, culture is the only thing standing in the way of making data driven client service a reality for law firms as well. Its a simple methodology that does take some data clean up and data strategy, along with a workflow assessment, but with the right people in place and a culture that supports client service above all else it can happen.  CRM and CI might not have all of the glitz and glamour you associate with legal marketing, branding and social media buzz, but I do believe that partnered together and used effectively as in the example above, these two strong silent types can effect real and tangible change for firms. 

In his post the “Great Google Debate“, Mark Gediman suggested I was wise to not touch the debate on Google, and while I am happy to take the compliment, it also makes me wonder if somewhere down the road we (and by we, I mean those industry insiders, you know who you are) can’t create a Google equivalent to support the Legal industry. Imagine a single source that allows researchers to bridge the chasm between the business of law and the practice of law.  Let me explain.

On that same panel at AALL, I was asked where CI should report, my reaction drew a chuckle and was rapidly tweeted and retweeted. It was something to the effect of “I am tired of having this debate”. And I am, for a variety of reasons.  Where any of the research types or “information and analysis brokers” – Library, CI, KM, Research etc. – report is in my opinion, irrelevant and but an administrative imperative. How and where we add value to the firm and most importantly its bottom line/top line is what matters. I tweeted yesterday that information, intelligence, analysis when used effectively and systemically by firms could be the next disruptive factor, akin to the AFA.  Research, and the information professionals who undertake these tasks are embracing technology and are “to be congratulated for navigating really difficult times in the industry” according to Aric PressBig Law Is Here to Stay, and if its information professionals are going to continue to step up their game in this rapidly changing industry, they need proper tools, a collaborative environment and a checking of the proverbial egos (and related reporting structures) at the doors. 

Throughout the day, information professionals on the business side of the equation, search Google, subscription databases (what’s your favourite??), social media feeds, securities filings, traditional and  new media outlets and should be doing some kind of primary research i.e. talking to people and working the network (that’s a blog post for another time). On the practice side of the equation, legal researchers search corporate precedents, case law, filings, treaties, judgments, dockets, summaries, briefs, memos and other subscription databases. Imagine if you could put it all together, search one platform – a Googlesque type platform minus the paid SEO and get whatever research you needed in one place. How much more efficient, smart and focused on client and legal service could we and our firms be with one magnificent tool at our finger tips. 

Its pie in the sky, but that’s where dreams live, right? Here’s a use case. A proposed change in legislation relating to construction zoning in a particular jurisdiction is announced.  You  – Research Warrior/Maven/Guru  access the details of the proposed changes, and are able to fire it off to the relevant attorneys for an opinion, a LinkedIn Post, or a Client Update, while at the same time researching the number of public (and private, it’s a dream database, right?) companies in the jurisdiction who will be affected. You can also access which of those companies are your clients, your competitor clients, or prospects, and you can analyze the text of the proposed change to determine what the percentage of prior proposals with similar language were accepted, or rejected. With this data in hand, you can do a historiographic or timeline analysis to determine the likelihood of the proposal becoming law and using the same magic portal you can determine which other jurisdictions may adopt similar changes based on a cursory review of relevant local media and social media reactions and commentary.  And let’s not stop there, with a few clicks, you can output all the data into neatly branded reports complete with charts and graphs – a data visualization panacea. At that point, who really cares where you report? You just saved lawyers time, developed new leads, created an opportunity to demonstrate the firm’s value and demonstrated the information professional’s propensity for serial innovation.  Not bad in a day’s work!

Yes, there will be those that suggest it can’t be done, or those who won’t trust the data in a single platform even if it is pulling from multiple (triangulated and vetted) sources.  And course there will be a myriad of UX considerations, search/browse convergence discussions, taxonomy whoas and other finicky things to figure out.   But it would stop the where should we report and should we use Google debates….


On December 23rd,  Arun
Jethmalani, Founder & Managing Director at ValueNotes Database Pvt. Ltd. in India, published an article to LinkedIn
entitled
5
Debates about Competitive Intelligence that will never be resolved
.  The article essentially lays out five of the
canonical questions that are a constant dialogue in the CI community. I won’t
share his insights, you’ll have to read the article for that, but the five
questions he puts forward are:
1.    
Should CI be strategic or tactical?
2.    
Where should CI reside?
3.    
Insight versus information?
4.    
How to calculate RoI on competitive intelligence?
5.    
What exactly is competitive intelligence?

I would add two questions, that may be a bit more controversial:
Is CI a profession or a set of competencies? 
 And does it even matter? 

There are several comments on the article, including one from
me where I suggest that the answers to all the questions are blowing in the corporate
culture.  For law firms especially, I
think the existential question of what CI is or should be – a library function,
a marketing role, a KM/BD hybrid is fun to think about in your spare time, but
analysis paralysis (hat tip to Fleisher
and Bensoussan
) gets you nowhere.  As
we usher in 2015, I think the article and its underlying questions is a great reminder
to know your clients, know your audience and anticipate their needs – be they
intel – or otherwise.  The ability to
deliver answers, insights, and whatever else is needed on time, just in time,
and in advance, is the ultimate factor for CI success and happiness.  However you define it.