Everybody talks about the importance of competitive intelligence in big law, but what happens less frequently are open discussions by CI practitioners with their peers.
I recently had the chance to participate in the ARK Group’s twelfth-annual edition of its annual conference, Competitive Intelligence in the Modern Law Firm. As panel moderator, I led a dynamic exchange among three legal marketing, business development and research professionals on the integrated roles of these groups in gathering competitive and business intelligence.
- Jodie Collins, Chief Marketing Officer for Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP;
- Bernadette DeCelle, Senior Director of Client Development and Marketing for McCarter & English LLP;
- Jeffrey Cohan, Director of Libraries and Knowledge Management Services at Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto.
The overarching point of consensus that came out of the presentation is that there needs to be open communication between marketing, business development and the library, because the CI process is less effective when those groups are siloed. The most valuable thing is communication and collaboration among all three.
As DeCelle put it,
“We collaborate all the time with librarians; they’re our research and knowledge management experts.”
Collins echoed the importance of collaboration between marketing and the library at Manatt, where LAC Group overseas a library for over four hundred attorneys.
As for the law librarian’s view, Cohan said:
“I think as a researcher it is incumbent upon us to learn the scope of the duties that business development and marketing take on. Research can’t necessarily help with something like branding, but there are BD tasks like responding to an RFP or monitoring current clients that we can help with.”
Dedicated teams for specific CI areas
When I asked if the panelist firms had teams dedicated to specific areas of CI, Cohan said even with 800 attorneys on staff, his firm wasn’t large enough to have this kind of specialization. As for McCarter & English, which has 400 lawyers, DeCelle wished they did have dedicated teams.
At Manatt, Collins said the business arrangement with LAC Group has evolved from legal research to intelligence, with the firm thinking more broadly about how it uses LAC as workloads increase.
“I recently learned we had people doing CI on healthcare. I asked LAC if it made sense for them to do this. Sometimes we divide responsibilities based on time; if we have a CI request that’s a short turnaround, we use LAC.”
Obstacles to breaking down law firm silos
I was interested in knowing what kinds of obstacles exist between the library, marketing and business development teams in large law firms. Often departments hoard information and are reluctant to share it with other groups at the firm. Librarians are often hesitant to let marketing and business development staff into their domain.
Cohan said there can be roadblocks, especially when people don’t realize each other’s responsibilities. He suggested breaking those barriers by offering analysis to the marketing team, looking at litigation related to potential clients and digging into whether, for example, the lawsuits affecting a company are all related to the same product and who’s currently representing them.
“That kind of intelligence gives the marketing team a complete picture to carry out business development.”
DeCelle acknowledged there were obstacles at prior firms, but that today:
“Most of the people who head up marketing and a library know any firm wants efficiencies.”
DeCelle’s mantra is communicate, congratulate and collaborate. She said when the firm wins an RFP, the marketing department includes the library because they helped with the research. They celebrate with lunch together, just casually without an agenda.
No time to coordinate and collaborate
I asked the panelists if a lack of time was a challenge to collaboration.
Collins feels it’s a manageable period of time if the firm’s lawyers ask for six or seven CI reports in the span of two weeks. When preparing RFPs, she prefers to dive deeply into crafting a response, but the timelines for responding are often getting too short to do that.
“Time is a factor, but we quantify in advance what kind of reports a lawyer wants.”
An audience member then interjected by asking, ‘When pulling together data and making assumptions for attorneys, how do you make that available six months later for someone?’
Cohan responded with three alternative solutions:
“You could make the data part of a CRM system, which you make searchable. Or you use a KM tool based around practice areas, or a third way would be using a traditional KM system based on legal taxonomies.”
Cohan probes and clarifies research requests:
“Sometimes you need to help the partner define the goal.”
Librarians, he said, can discern whether the attorney or marketer needs several hours of research assistance or a relatively simple search.
The role of technology in competitive intelligence
Some legal marketing departments have seen budgets for competitive and business intelligence tools increase by 20 to 40 percent, so I asked the panelists what their experience has been with buying technology.
Cohan said the key to budgeting for technology was volumizing purchases to the extent possible, and that the worst thing a BD or marketing team could do was buy the same service a library uses already.
“Our research tools go through our tech budget, and our library reports to our CIO. By collaborating about tech decisions, you can give up some seat licenses that aren’t effectively used.”
I also asked the panelists what tools and technology their firm relied on for CI, news and trends—and followed up by asking how they rate their firm’s use of technology. The panelists concurred that the basic metric for a rating was how often people use a tool. They saw their respective firms as in the middle of the pack for adopting and using technology.
Cohan felt that a way to spur that along was pragmatic prodding. If, for example, someone isn’t citing their cases, Cohan suggested probing about their understanding of Shepard’s or KeyCite. He added,
“Low use for a tool doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad tool; you have to determine if people understand how to use it. Is the system friendly?”
DeCelle said her firm was building an Experience Database with the help of Content Pilot, a marketing strategy and technology provider that caters to law firms. She also mentioned using Westlaw, Lexis, Bloomberg Law and Monitor Suite.
Collins said her firm uses Manzama for insight and information, and that Experience Database has been used for many years.
Wisdom of the crowd
I concluded by turning the final question to our audience, asking how they promote their BI/CI capabilities to their firm.
Their answers included a range of good ideas:
- The importance of use cases for showing attorneys how the library’s CI work will help their practice area.
- Targeting senior associates who are on the cusp of making partner with examples of how researchers and the tools they use can help them win business and legal cases; they felt attorneys at this career stage were eager to employ whatever might give them an edge.
- Audience members also said librarians should show attorneys how they will protect the competitive and business intelligence they gather for attorneys and their clients.
DeCelle summarized it well:
“This is a risk-averse industry, it’s important to market with assurances.”
CI and BD have been mission-critical activities for law firms for over a decade, so I didn’t want to focus on how it works but more on how everyone is doing it at their firm—a sharing of ideas rather than just hearing from the panelists. It was very gratifying when other conference participants came up to me afterward to express their appreciation for our panel’s insights and sharing of knowledge.
Everyone agreed that if you don’t have collaboration among attorneys, marketing and the library, business development is dead in the water. Yet in some AmLaw 100 firms, the library and marketing don’t sit in on practice group meetings, even though they’re involved in business development and competitive intelligence gathering.
There must be an understanding of the industry and practice, what the business drivers are for different practice areas and what their goals are. Ideally, everyone will have access to the same information resources, and will be trained on the basics. This also applies to attorneys; participants stressed the need to educate them on how they can use different resources to keep abreast of their clients in the market. One of the recurring themes that came out of the other panel discussions at the conference is that basic social media tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Google are underutilized by attorneys.
The bottom line is that in today’s competitive landscape for legal services, big law firms should leave no stone unturned. Library directors need to make sure their reference people are collaborating with marketing to deliver clear, relevant reports and updates.