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Law firms need more competitive intelligence

A field report from 2019 LMA Conference

April 16, 2019

Home Blog Law firms need more competitive intelligence
Law firms CI

Two weeks ago I posted a piece titled Should law firms invest more in competitive intelligence? Looking at a recent marketing survey by Bloomberg Law and the Legal Marketing Association, I concluded that yes, law firms need more CI support. Not coincidentally, I wrote it in anticipation of attending the LMA Annual Conference in Atlanta last week.

My goal was to set up the question for discussion at LMA. I meant the title of the post as a real question, but in retrospect, I should have viewed it more as a rhetorical one. Well-known competitive intelligence expert Zena Applebaum answered the question, before LMA, with her own blog More CI? That’s Axiomatic. She makes a compelling case for “yes”, concluding:

“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.”

Well, the die was cast and then forged at the LMA conference. I attended with LAC Group CEO Rob Corrao—it was the first time for both of us.

LMA conference a meeting of legal vendor and customer minds

Before turning to the question of competitive intelligence, I want to share my impressions of the conference overall. To frame this, you should know I have been attending legal market conferences regularly since 1990. This one stands out on many dimensions:

  • A strong sense of community seen in the friendliness of attendees.
  • Great content and experienced speakers.
  • Well-organized with great sessions, ample and well-timed networking and exhibit hall breaks, excellent layout of the exhibit hall, and the right mix of social events.

Rob and I found everyone very welcoming and warm. I also found it much easier to engage with law firm marketing, business development and competitive intelligence professionals than I expected. When I wear my vendor hat at other conferences, I often feel that prospective customers are hard to reach and generally don’t want to meet. Here, I saw that my perspective and my company’s resources were valued, a big reason I  was able to set up many informative meetings, both in advance and with people I met in Atlanta. So thank you LMA and LMA members.

LMA 2019 collage

CI learnings and validation

So, what did we learn at the LMA Conference? In brief, Zena is right—large law firms do need more competitive intelligence. We heard this repeatedly in our private meetings. We also heard that senior marketing professionals struggle not just to cause CI to be produced, but also to produce CI with actionable insight.

With so many demands coming into marketing departments and limited analyst support, lack of time explains part of the gap. We also heard, especially from firms with less than 1000 lawyers, that staffing challenges in finding high-end analysts also explains the gap, because that requires a rare mix of skills:

  1. The ability to research using reliable primary and secondary source material.
  2. The ability to synthesize a variety of sources and perspectives.
  3. The contextual knowledge, firm-specific understanding, and personal experience to add insight and suggest action.

In several of our conversations, marketing professionals shared that they had started their CI quest in the law library but could not achieve satisfactory results there and so had to build the capability in their own team.

For those readers who know or know of me, they have come to expect qualifiers when I draw such conclusions. Rob and I spoke to over a dozen people privately. We have no reason to suspect selection bias, but we cannot claim they are representative. However, they certainly reinforced the point I made in my prior post asking if law firms need more CI.

What General Counsel thinks and other final thoughts

Before closing, I want to share two other points. First, my goal here is to report on our CI finding, not do a deep dive on why it’s true. To understand the why and what that drives the demand for competitive intelligence, you should read General Counsel Panelists to Legal Marketers: ‘You Have to Find Ways to Change With Us’. A reporter covered the GC session at the LMA Conference.

One strong GC message reported was “learn clients’ business on a deeper level”. For example, Mark Smolik, general counsel and chief compliance officer at DHL Supply Chain Americas, stated:

“The law firm that speaks as a businessperson first and lawyer second is going to get more and more of our business.”

Second, insight can take more than one form. As part of the quest for insight, I discussed in our private meetings the role of infographics as a way to cut through all the clutter with a highly visual graphic that summarized the findings. Here’s one we created to summarize a 20+ page LAC CI research report.

We showed this infographic at least a half-dozen times to very favorable responses, and requests for a copy. If you want a copy of the infographic in hi-res, you can download it here.

In finishing, I will turn to the close of my prior CI blog post, where I wrote,

“If you need more resources for research, either ongoing or surge, and if you want to consider alternatives to shifting resources or hiring more, please contact us.”

Having attended LMA 2019, I now know that offer should interest many in the marketing community.

Ron Friedmann

Ron Friedmann

Ron Friedmann is a former employee at LAC Group. Ron helped clients find, use, organize and re-use information and know-how, especially with technology.
Ron Friedmann

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