Avoiding surprises—that’s one of the biggest benefits of competitive intelligence.
Credit for this succinct description goes to Zena Applebaum. She was one of several great speakers at the recent ARK Group’s 13th annual Competitive Intelligence in the Modern Law Firm conference in New York. LAC Group attended, chaired and sponsored this event. Below we’ve pulled together the main themes and highlights of the day long proceedings.
How competitive intelligence helps law firms
Many speakers underlined CI as a tool to win new business. New business is an ongoing priority, and almost all firms prepare dossiers on the target’s industry, organization and people in advance of a pitch.
One approach that particularly caught our eye was an example from Chicago-based Winston & Strawn. Strategic Research Manager Amy Wisinski explained how the firm uses data analytics and visualizations about lawsuits in its pitches for new litigation work to help the prospect understand more about the issue and how courts handle similar ones.
Ideally, CI also supports developing and evolving practice and firm strategy. The day-to-day pressure for new business support, however, means that many firms struggle to produce in-depth industry and topical reports for strategy. The CI team often finds itself spending most of its time turning around relatively simple pitch support requests as quickly as possible. Using templates—as Morrison Foerster CMO Angela Petros explained her firm does—can help free up time for more in-depth work. And, of course, firms can turn to research and intelligence service providers like LAC for outside support, either for the day-to-day or the occasional in-depth reports or other needs.
CI results and avoiding information overload
A theme addressed in several sessions is what CI professionals deliver and how they help recipients avoid information overload. Most participants agreed that data dumps (collections of articles or other formats of data in high volume) remain a too-common ”answer” to questions. In the age of the web, everyone is awash in information; dumps just add to that burden. Attendees agreed that providing synthesis and answers is a much better approach, but lack of time often precludes that.
A session moderated by our own CIO / CKO Ron Friedmann looked at overload from the point of view of how best to engage the recipients of CI work. One would think that the people requesting the information would be highly attentive to and interested in the results, yet that’s not how it always plays out. As such, the panelists discussed the appeal of visuals and storytelling as a way to cut through and ensure that requested CI reports are both noticed and acted upon, rather than becoming another contribution to the information stack. There was consensus that visuals plus bullets are better than long reports, but concerns were voiced about the resources required to produce them.
Many CI professionals and departments must also produce daily or weekly reports based on different sources. All appreciate automated tools that cull multiple news sources, but there’s also agreement that human curation still beats automated, one-size-fits-all approaches. We would have loved to have had a few minutes during those conversations to show how LAC Daily Briefings can fix this problem: experienced analysts curate and contextualize the selection of items and write custom synopses.
News is not the only source of daily information. Many firms struggle to ingest docket reports and other alerts of new litigation. Winston & Strawn has deployed artificial intelligence to address this problem. The firm trained a natural language processing AI tool to categorize new incoming alerts based on relevancy. This has cut down alert volume significantly, and with 95% accuracy.
The CI lifecycle
Law firms collect and process information throughout the lifecycle of practices, clients, and matters: from strategy formation, to pitching for the work, to doing the work, to eventually closing the matter. Without careful management, information duplication—and overload—often occurs in this lifecycle. We found intriguing the work that Neal Gerber Eisenberg has done to reduce the duplication and overload. The firm’s CFO and CI analyst explained a unified approach to this piece of the puzzle, which is to start CI early in the process of prospecting for new opportunities and tie it closely to due diligence of new clients and matters. Before their project, they observed significant duplication and challenges managing internal expectations when negative information emerged late in the process. By collecting information early in the lifecycle, the firm both reduces the total information load and avoids overinvesting time and effort. Their goal was better due diligence, which they have achieved, but the indirect effect has the added benefit of reducing information overload as well. Lawyers and staff do not have to see similar information repeatedly in different contexts.
Primary versus secondary CI research
Most CI work taps secondary sources, though some speakers advocated for primary research. No one opposed primary research but all acknowledge it can be expensive, especially for systematic market research. Zena Applebaum pointed out that some primary research is quick, easy and inexpensive.
Specifically she suggested tapping into two resources for primary research:
- Lateral lawyer and staff hires
- Vendor relationships
These groups have unique understandings of the market and other firms. (Of course, make sure all confidences are respected.)
We have found in both our own work and talking to our customers an increasing emphasis on “human intelligence.” Whether we call that primary or secondary research is beside the point. For example, attending conferences in fast-moving fields, especially STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) may be crucial to staying current. Furthermore, small group and private conversations shared at conferences can yield additional insights about current topics and market players.
The state of competitive intelligence in law firms
This year’s keynote address featured Marcie Borgal Shunk, President & Founder of The Tilt Institute and a recognized leader in competitive intelligence.
She noted that multiple forces continue to drive growing demand for CI:
- Changing shape of legal demand, the ever present split between low- and high-end work
- The explosion of data and data analytics
- Tools that help firms understand their own data, also known as BI or business intelligence
- Rise of #legaltech
In response to that demand, law firms have built more robust CI capabilities:
- Eight out of ten AM Law and Global 100 firms have at least one dedicated CI professional and the average count at AM Law 50 firms is just shy of four people.
- More than one-third of firms have CI resources reporting to two or more departments—primarily marketing / business development or the library.
The CI function across firms continues to move from tactical and reactive to strategic and proactive. Measuring exactly where we are remains a challenge and, in our view, the audience at ARK CI conferences self-selects for those who have moved further and faster to the strategic approach, which suggests a norm that may not actually be the norm.
At LAC, we also see the growth in CI and the change in what law firms want from it. We regularly have conversations with firms that want to supplement their resources with our virtual research team, which is now regularly adding new law firm customers. Pulling from the numerous engagements with our legal clients, we recently created a helpful guide for law firm marketing directors, covering the essential elements, common pitfalls, how to maximize CI resources and a checklist to help you assess your own firm’s CI capabilities. The download link is provided below.
We also thank ARK Group for another highly informative and successful conference for legal professionals.