competitive intelligence

Update 11/18/2014: A recording of the presentation, handouts, and examples are available on the CIBlawg site.

NOTE: The Webinar has been over-subscribed! Unfortunately, this may mean that some of you may not be able to log in and listen. 

The Slides of the presentation will be available shortly after the webinar. Seems like AALL and PLL have a popular thing on their hands, and hopefully will present additional CI webinars soon. – GL

If you’ve ever wondered what Competitive Intelligence looks like, then sign up for this free webinar sponsored by Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (or PLL as we like to call it.)

Fellow 3 Geek contributor, Mark Gediman, is on the panel with a couple of Dallas-based CI experts, Emily Rushing and Kevin Miles, as well as Juli Stahl Hughes. Should be a great webinar, but hurry, there’s only room for 100 participants.

CI Deliverables – FREE PLL Webinar

November 13, 2014, 2-3 PM EST (this coming Thursday)

This webinar will give you insights from three veteran CI professionals showing you their best practices and how their response to these requests is tailored based on these factors:

  • Turn-around time
  • What the need is 
  • Preparing for a meeting
  • Responding to an RFP
  • Having Lunch
  • Planning a Client Check-up Meeting
  • Participating in a Business Development Initiative, etc.
  • The Audience’s Context

Register soon as space is limited to 100 participants.

Moderator/Coordinator – Kevin Miles (Norton Rose Fulbright)

 Emily C. Rushing (Haynes & Boone)
 Mark Gediman (Best, Best & Krieger)
 Juli Stahl Hughes (Stradley Ronon)

Someone asked me recently why I think more and more law firms are creating CI roles or increasing their CI capacity, encouraging their BD and Library staff to work more closely so forth. I didn’t really have a good answer on the spot, “cause it makes good business sense, or because market competition and consolidation is increasing” seemed all to obvious and do not address this specific moment in the evolution of the modern law firm.  Last month, I participated in a webinar presented by Ann Lee Gibson, long time law firm CI consultant as a part of the IntelCollab webinar series and unknowingly, Ann Lee answered the question in part.  Her presentation was titled How Competitive Intelligence Helps Professional Services Firms Succeed, and you can view the entire presentation here.  The focus wasn’t specifically on law firms, but by not focusing, certain things became clear.  To begin the various US based professional services firms are compared  by revenue, number of employees and number of professionals.  According to the data, law firms had the highest revenue in 2013, but also the greatest number of employees (costs) but NOT the highest growth rate, nor does the profession represent the largest number of businesses in the professional services.  Furthermore, when compared to Accounting firms, the 2013 data  points out that 75% of revenue in law firms comes from 53 firms, whereas in the Accounting sector that same percentage of revenue is drawn from four firms.  So putting on the CI analyst hat here, what do the numbers tell you? Not surprisingly, especially if you follow any of Toby’s posts, law firms are running inefficient organizations, with leverage issues as a result of the many many owners. I am not the economist so won’t get into the numbers except to say that law firms are increasing CI as way to minimize the impact of the figures.  But even forgetting the economics for a second, you can see from the literature, the blog posts and the new titles that are popping up all across law firms that something is happening.   

Twenty, even 15 years ago firms only had to worry about appeasing clients, doing good work and getting more work from the same or other clients. Few firms were concerned in any systemic way about their competitors and even fewer were thinking about clients in terms of their needs and wants. Today, that landscape has entirely changed.  Clients are driving change at firms by demanding attention be it through: AFAs, LMP, LPO, and/or e-billing. Add to that the growing impact of technology on both the business and practice of law, industry consolidation nationally and internationally, growing in house legal teams, changes to the ownership rules for law firms and firms are forced to be more competitive.  How a firm chooses to be more competitive can (and does) come in varied forms.  Some are shrinking administrative costs and reducing overhead by creating pools of assistants rather than the traditional 1:1 of firms, shrinking headcount or budget for things like KM, Marketing and Library services. Others are taking a different approach choosing to focus on understanding their clients, their markets, their competitors and their own business savvy better.  That’s where CI enters the mix and helps to set the course.  CI is a strategic endeavour in understanding the market condition, the forces of pressure and their impact while also being tactical in informing RFP responses, filling the pipeline and providing colour in addition to background information.  CI, when done well can be the centre point for collaboration and competitive advantage within in a firm. 

There is no denying that the legal industry is changing. The speed of the change depends on where you sit, what you see, and where you want to go, but no one can deny that as the legal industry ship is steering in a different direction, and firms are realizing the power of CI as the compass to help navigate the waters. 

Part 2 of the The Legal Intelligencer’s ongoing series on Law Firm Competitive Intelligence came out on May 13th.  The author, Gina Passarelli, makes a few points that, well, let’s just say I have a different perspective on. 

Let’s start with the firms that were interviewed for this article.  They are AMLAW100 firms with resources and budgets (personnel and otherwise) not found in the vast majority of firms.  Their experiences and opinions are not the norm for the legal industry.  I have found the norm for most firms to be a collaborative process between Marketing and Research Services (aka the Library).  This allows for the use of staff in multiple capacities without incurring the additional personnel cost of a dedicated CI analyst.

This also allows the Marketing Department to take advantage of the unique skills and internal knowledge of the research professionals. These professionals are skilled at finding information efficiently, analyzing it to meet the attorneys needs and packaging it for their consumption.  Despite the implications of the gentleman quoted from Duane Morris,  researchers (aka librarians) are not as a rule “faithful compilers of phone books.”  Merely handing off reams of information (otherwise known as Data Dumps) are not a work product that attorneys have the time or inclination to review in any context, be it legal research or CI.  This understanding of not only what attorneys need to see but how they want to see it adds to the value of the research professional in conducting CI.

It is no accident that many excellent CI professionals have a background and/or training as a librarian. I found it striking how uninformed the author appeared to be regarding the involvement of law librarians in the Competitive Intelligence analysis process.  The inclusion of sweeping stereotypical statements such as “[Librarians] gather the info and the marketing team makes it presentable” and the implications of a Chief Marketing Officer that the Library produces academic studies are not accurate depictions of how this works in the Legal Industry.

Here are three prominent examples of CI professionals missed by Ms. Passarelli:

  • Zena Applebaum, who was quoted prominently in the first article of this series, is not only the Director of Competitive Intelligence for Bennett Jones but is also the award-winning Chair-Elect of the Competitive Intelligence Division of the Special Libraries Association.  Not to mention the excellent post she wrote on CI on Thursday.
  • Jan Rivers, who wrote an article on CI for the National Law Journal, is the Director of Information Resource Services at Dorsey and Whitney LLP and is a well-known CI professional.  
  • Emily Cunningham Rushing, Competitive Intelligence Manager at Haynes and Boone, LLP, has her Masters in Library and Information Science and is also a well-known CI professional

The list above does not include the many other talented research professionals acting in the same capacity for their firm.  In my previous post on the first article of this series, I pointed out that there are over 300 librarians in law firms nationwide currently practicing the art of of CI.  This does not include the members of the CI Division of the Special Libraries Association or the law firm members of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals.  Full disclosure here:  I have been a law librarian for almost 25 years and have been practicing CI for 20 of those years. 

The information presented above shows the skills that librarians have in their toolbox .  Of course, this doesn’t mean that every librarian will make a good CI professional or that only librarians can be CI professionals.  However, when looking for someone with the requisite skills for this type of task, the Library (or Research Services) is a good place to start.  By using these atypical examples and statements, Ms. Passarelli paints a misleading picture of how to operate a successful Competitive Intelligence operation.  I guess my question really is…why weren’t mid-size firms that are more representative of the industry (and, yes, as a result rely more on librarians) consulted as part of this article?  They aren’t hard to find.

I recently returned from the 29th annual Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) Conference in sunny and warm Orlando.  The conference was a terrific networking event as per usual. I am constantly impressed, and inspired by the professionals who work in CI across a variety of industries every day.  But I am also intrigued by the questions and concerns that underlie so many of the sessions and the hallway talk afterwards. It seems regardless of the industry, CI professionals share common issues, even if the language or descriptions of the challenges are nuanced.  As a known entity within the CI community, I am often asked for my advice on helping to solve practitioner challenges and rather than answer them one at a time, I thought some 3 Geeks readers might also benefit from the answers and/or be able to contribute and add further suggestions.  To that end, below are five of the more interesting questions that were bantered about throughout the conference and my attempt to answer them.  The questions are in no particular order and my answers are a combination of my own thoughts as well as some of what I heard while at the conference.

1 – Where in an organization should CI sit?

Everyone has an opinion here. Some believe that CI should always and only report to Marketing, others to the CEO, others to finance.  Research &Development was another reporting option, and I even heard one practitioner suggest that sales was the only appropriate place for CI to report.  Since law firms don’t have sales departments I think we can safely rule sales out. But lawyers, specifically partners who interface with clients on a regular basis are similar to sales people in many respects. As CI practitioners in firms, its important to always maintain a good rapport, even develop close relationship with partners to keep the lines of communication open.  It will aid with HUMINT collection, but it will also provide a window into the issues facing lawyers and clients in the course of daily business.  But CI in a law firms can’t report into the partnership at large, so the function does need a home.  Some law firm CI practitioners report to Marketing, others to the Library, KM or some hybrid of the above just as our colleagues in other industries.  The bottom line is:  it doesn’t matter much where you report, so long as you are providing excellent service in meeting intelligence needs in anticipating surprises for your firm and its clients.  In ideal world, a law firm CI function is so highly collaborative between the various administrative groups the reporting becomes only a formality for booking vacation (what is that?).

2 – Do hiring managers prefer CI practitioners with CI certification, or industry knowledge?

This one’s a bit trickier. I heard Directors of CI two Fortune 500 companies say the opposite where this issue is concerned. Its seems the response is both culturally and hiring manager specific.  But one element of the hiring process was clear:  soft skills are as important as the hard skills.  For those of you looking to transition into a CI role, or increase your responsibilities in a current one, brush up on your networking skills, practice your elicitation, develop your analytical fitness and never stop being curious or creative.  These are the essential qualities to a perfect CI practitioner – certified or otherwise.

3 – How do I merge a competitive intelligence practice with a Library function? Or a KM function?

See the note above about collaboration. In the three short days of the conference alone, I saw the “C” of CI referred to as Collaborative, Cooperative, Collective, and I am sure if I attended a few more sessions, I am certain I would have seen a few other permutations.  CI is at its root an information-based vocation. Information needs people. People need a great many things, you can look to Maslow’s hierarchy or the more recent 10 Demandments from Kelly Mooney to understand people what people need and getting various information brokers together – whether from the intelligence community, the KM community, the Library, Marketing or anywhere else requires a nurturing of those same needs.  Get people engaged and interested by gaining their trust, but giving them the space to control how they contribute at the same time. It’s a fine balance but if you can manage to work to individual strengths in both the hard and soft skills of CI (which ever “C” you choose) the end result will be better than the sum of the parts.  After all, intelligence comes from the interpretation and analysis of information and what better way to analyze a situation than with multiple perspectives, educational backgrounds and strengths attacking the business problem.   

4 – How do I market the CI services within my organizations?

First of all, this is a great question, posed the right way.  Its not asking “do I need to market my service”, or “why do I need to market”, but rather “how”. The question assumes that the person/people asking already understand the need for Marketing, and so the battle is at least half won. 

The easiest and best way to market the CI services within your organization is to do great work, amazing work and then get repeat clients.   I remember an old boss of mine suggesting that I need not hang out a shingle and wait for people to come, because once I started to provide value, it would be a bouncer I needed not a shingle. Three other easy and quick ways to market the function are to:

  1. Tell people about it. Sounds simple enough, but it means that the CI team needs to be visible and participate in organized activities like product launches, social events and just get out of their offices/cubes/ or libraries and walk around to meet the people they are serving.
  2. Prepare and practice your elevator speech so when you get asked what you are up to in the elevator or waiting at the coffee machine, you have a 30 second sound bite ready to roll.  You can talk about a project or the impact you are making and thereby selling your services.  Remind potential clients within your organization that CI is an active for both tracking future engagements and helping to set strategy or plan for the future.
  3. Be consistent with deliverables.  This need not mean a template approach, but make sure that what you deliver to all clients, at any level of the organization is polished, proofed and perfect.  Consistent work product will go a long away to promoting the function and helping it appear as professional and needed service. Once you have a key process for proofing and polishing down among your CI team, you can start to explore the notion of marketing your function with a brand and series of on going reports. But that’s a blog posting for another time.

5 – How can I evolving a competitive intelligence practice to become even more relevant, useful and perhaps add some measurable ROI-type “returns”.

Measureable returns can be hard to define.  Especially if the CI function is removed from the decision making process and your reports/suggestions are taken but results are never returned.  First and foremost, where you can, establish open lines of communications with Partners so that you can ask the difficult questions around whether or not a new file was opened or a new client retained. Then, track the client matter number as it goes through your firm.  While you may not be able to directly attribute that new client directly to the CI that was provided, you can indicate that CI had a role, perhaps a 5% or 20% role in helping to secure that new client.  Use this information as an ROI for the service you provide.  Other forms of measurable ROI come not from new engagements, but from time saved or efficiency increased. Start to think about the CI function in terms of how having a CI team or individual contributor of CI added to the bottom line by taking research and analysis off of someone else’s plate and/or provided a service that wasn’t there before that allows for better use of time, smarter client engagements and a well turned out organization.  It may not be measurable in the truest sense, but certainly it add to the relevance of the function and of the firm in the eyes of its client.  Client surveys time and time again suggest that firms are chosing outside counsel based not on fees or expertise alone, but that clients want to work with firms who understand their buniess, their risks and their challenges. Who better to keep your lawyers and other practitioners informed than a CI?  Relevancy is CI currency.
So that’s my five question, answer and response from the 29th annual SCIP conference & trade show. I encourage anyone else out there who wants to take a stab at answering to please leave a comment.  As I gear up for the Special Libraries Association 2014 Annual Conference & INFO-EXPO June 8-10th in Vancouver, I can’t wait to see what the questions around CI and its role in and with the Library might be. I suspect many of the same themes will be repeated and I welcome the discussion.

I found the story in today’s Legal Intelligencer on Law Firm Competitive Intelligence interesting. 
I noticed a few points (yes I know, surprising isn’t it?) after reading this that I think bear a bit of discussion.  Here are my perspectives, which are based on 20 years as a CI professional as well as the Co-chair of the CI Caucus of the American Association of Law Libraries.

First of all, CI in law firms is not dumpster diving or spying.  Anthony Pellicano did not practice CI.  The art of CI (and yes, I consider it to be an art form) is to find available information, analyze it based on the strategic and cultural context of the firm and provide conclusions that enable the firm to be successful operationally as well as in acquiring new business.  Since this context can vary between firms and from moment-to-moment, the same information can have different meanings in different circumstances.  It’s up to the CI professional to provide the interpretation.  Information can be obtained in many legal ways, ways that don’t require wiretapping or reconstructing shredded information from the trash.  It is, first and foremost, an ethically driven process.  In fact, the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) emphasizes the ethical nature of CI here.

Second, CI in law firms is not new.  As I said at the beginning, I am proud to have been a CI professional for about 20 years, 14 of them in the law firm environment.  In 2006, an article discussing CI in law firms was written and published in the National Law Journal by my colleague Jan Rivers.  The over 300 members of the Competitive Intelligence Caucus also indicates that this is much more established in the legal industry than is commonly thought, at least as indicated by the Legal Intelligencer article.

Third, CI is often confused with Business Development or the acquiring of new business.  However, this definition ignores the most important part of CI, the competitive in Competitive Intelligence.  CI is the part that focuses on identifying your competition and determining how best to position the firm to compete with them.  Without this piece, the firm cannot ultimately be successful in acquiring new business.  As ably pointed out in the Legal Intelligencer article by my colleague Zena Applebaum, CI in Law Firms became more important in 2008 when it started to become obvious with firms that they needed to compete to survive.

There were also concerns expressed in the article about the quality of the legal industry data available.  The fact that this was expressed concerns me.  In my experience, the data quality isn’t any different from the data relied on by corporate decision makers.  As I mentioned above, the CI professional’s role is to evaluate and interpret the available data.  All data, regardless of quality, can provide useful indicators and should not be written off.  Robust and useful CI is not dependent on data quality.  Rather, it is dependent on analysis and interpretation.

CI in law firms is an established part of the operation of the law firm business.  As in most business, the importance of knowing your competition and industry at more than an anecdotal level has made CI integral to this business. 

One of the very first things you hear when you attend a Competitive Intelligence (CI) seminar is that CI is the ethical gathering of intelligence. The reason that ethics is stressed so highly when discussion CI, is that if your CI team is dabbling in unethical behavior (and that gets exposed), it reflects upon your whole organization and casts a shadow upon everything you do.

It seems that there are some reporters at Bloomberg L.P. may need to sit back in on some of those classes on ethics. The report in the New York Times states that reporters used information found through Bloomberg Terminal usage from banks and traders to break stories on certain people being fired from those companies (based upon users that suddenly “went dark” … i.e., were no longer logging into their Terminals.) That type of information, while effective, falls squarely on the unethical side of the ledger, and as a result gives all of Bloomberg a black eye.

Immediately, we all started wondering what exposure law firms had to this type of research, and if there were additional issues that were at play. According to Jean O’Grady’s blog, Dewey B. Strategic, the Bloomberg Law platform was not included in this type of internal research strategy. O’Grady contacted Greg McCaffery, CEO of Bloomberg Law, and got confirmation on that point. However, as Jean also points out, many law firms have the Terminals as well as Bloomberg Law access. It brings up ligitimate questions like the one Ed Walters of Fastcase asked on Twitter yesterday:

Alledgedly, Bloomberg reporters where systematically using this type of research on a regular basis. Hundreds of reporters used the technique according to the NY Times article. It simply makes Bloomberg look bad.

In this age of instant communications, hacking, and whistle-blowers, unethical behavior is very difficult to keep covered up. This should be held up as an example to others in the world of information gathering, that if you are performing unethical practices, you should expect that eventually those practices will be exposed. When they are, you will need to spend years repairing the damage.

This same type of damage can happen with Competitive Intelligence research. Be very careful how you conduct your gathering processes, and ask yourself what would happen if those practices were exposed to the public.

Image [cc] theanthonyryan

I found a cool resource a couple weeks ago and think it has some definite possibilities for those Client Development and Monitoring projects that many of us have to create and maintain these days. The idea is to use information that companies dissemenate on Facebook, but in the more managable form of an RSS feed.

Now Facebook used to allow you to convert a public page into an RSS feed (it was tricky, but doable) up until last November when it (apparently) changed its policy and nixed it unless the company specifically change the settings to allow for RSS. That is a shame, but not surprising, as how could they make money on all those ads if you were getting information without going straight to the Facebook site??

I use RSS feeds to pass into my InfoNgen account (I assume that the other products out there for aggregation should do this, too), and set up Client or Industry monitoring news and alerts based on those feeds. I really liked having the Facebook feeds because it tended to give more “what’s happening right now” information than the company’s website. So, I found it to be pretty valuable information. Perhaps some of the other aggregators can index Facebook pages directly, but InfoNgen doesn’t because Facebook apparently prohibits aggregators from doing so. However, why should I let a little thing like Facebook rules keep me from figuring out how to do it?? In other words, “Okay Facebook, challenge accepted!”

Here’s what I found that can do the trick, and my process that keeps it manageable.

  1. Have the user set up a generic Facebook account.
  2. Find the Facebook page that you want to monitor and “Like” that page (it can be individual or company)
  3. Go to and connect that Facebook account with this service
  4. The FBRSS page will take all of your “LIKE” pages and create an RSS feed for each of them.
  5. Copy the RSS links and request that they be added into your aggregator (or into your own RSS Feed Reader*)

I think this will work (at least until Facebook screws with something and causes the FBRSS service to fail.) Let me know if you get this to work in other aggregators, or if you have other tricks of dissemnating RSS Feeds that you don’t mind sharing with the rest of us.

*By the way… I’m still ticked that Google is killing off Google Reader. They have really thrown a monkey wrench in many of my add-on features (like Shaunna Mireau discusses on SLAW) that I’ve developed over the years using Google Reader as the resources!! I give you a “-1” on that Google! Boo!!

Image [cc] ByronNewMedia

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.

Image [cc] mandiberg

I usually read articles written by vendors with a grain of salt, but I think that Thomson Reuter’s Dave Whiteside’s article, “Stop Doing the Legal Limbo” has some good food for thought in it, and it plays into what we discuss here on this blog when it comes to Librarians playing a bigger role in Business Development.

My suggestion is to read the article first and then come back to this part that I think helps explain it in the Librarian/Marketing/KM/BizDev environment.

… okay… I assume you’ve read it.

I’ll reword some key pieces of what Dave Whiteside wrote just a little bit to fit the concept of a law firm’s ability to research, market and sell it services:

  • How do we help attorneys get to know the potential client before they meet?
  • Are we preparing the attorney to better understand the potential client’s business?
  • What do we do to help the attorney understand the client’s industry and competitors?
  • How do we get current awareness information to the attorneys to help them keep up with upcoming issues and trends that impact the potential client’s business?
  • Do we have an comprehensive method of clearly explaining the relevant experiences that the attorney and/or the firm has that will guide the potential client who faces the same problem?
  • What type of training do we give to our attorneys to help them explain how our services don’t just help with short term needs, but we are also there to advise in ways that help General Counsel better direct their company in avoiding future legal issues?

Whiteside hands out a laundry list of Thomson Reuters products that can help, but I wanted to be more generic and think of the process instead of the specific products and see if there are things we already have in place that we could leverage to get to the goals listed above:

  • What do we use to organize our collective experiences and help attorneys explain how those previous experiences are specifically why the client should hire us?
  • How do we determine where we stand in these issues compared to our peers?
  • Where do we find our individual relationships between members of the firm and the potential client. How do we present this in an actionable way to the attorney?
  • What type of controls do we have in place that helps manage matters as well as helps quickly identify inefficient or unprofitable work?

I’ll add one more to this list that I think is very important:

  • What processes do we have in place that reviews matters once they are over and helps better prepare other attorneys in the firm for the next time?

There are a number of opportunities here for Librarians, Marketing, KM, Biz Dev, Client Development, and many others on the Administrative side of the law firm. I bet that almost all of you have some, but not all, of resources already in place at your firms. The key with something like this is that there has to be a process started of getting the right people, information, resources, and tools aligned so that it becomes a standard at your firm, and not just a one-off project that only comes into play when an attorney comes in with an “emergency” request because they are meeting with the potential client in 30 minutes.