That was the overarching message of a very successful webinar I recently co-presented entitled “Cool Tools for Competitive Intelligence,” sponsored by the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA). My co-presenters were Stephanie Dooley, competitive & strategic intelligence manager for K&L Gates LLP, and Zena Applebaum, director of customer insights & success for Thomson Reuters Canada, who moderated the discussion.
We all shared with the webinar audience our recommendations and impressions of the most useful CI tools currently available to law firms.
We agreed that there’s a lot of information out there, but the key is how to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to your firm’s specific CI needs.
Following are some of the highlights from our discussion.
What CI tools are used by law firm researchers and librarians?
When the 151 participants in our webinar were polled on what CI tools they use in their firms, subscription databases and services (such as LexisNexis, Bloomberg) won by a landslide, accounting for 60% of audience responses. Digital news feeds, news/content aggregation tools and MS Office Suite accounted for 32%, while 8% of respondents reported their firms use no tools at all.
Zena pointed out that some long-used tools that we’ve come to take for granted can be employed for CI functions. She encouraged the audience to learn more about how MS Excel and Access can be used to track and manipulate information, because of their capabilities and ubiquity throughout the firm.
What tools are used within a firm that are relative and useful to CI but live elsewhere?
Stephanie shared her appreciation for Leopard Solutions, which is a legal recruiting platform for laterals and new hires and also a way to keep tabs on competitor firms and attorneys.
I reiterated that the firm’s CRM system is useful, but that it’s often only the marketing and BD groups that have access to it. More generally, the marketing department has formatting and graphic design tools that are useful for formatting CI reports and alerts.
What tools should every CI function or initiative within law firms include?
Stephanie and I agreed that legal reporting services Courthouse News Service and Law360 or other tools that focus on litigation, liens, judgments and lawsuits that don’t hit the news or don’t do so quickly enough, are both essential in helping firms to be more proactive.
Zena recommended PR Newswire (now Cision, and other online press release services would also fit in this recommendation) for monitoring competitor announcements and finding the executive quotes that are usually included, which can provide useful information about what lies ahead for a company.
What CI tools do you wish you had?
Chief on my wish list are Crayon and Crunchbase.
Crayon is an up-and-coming platform for market and competitive intelligence, which helps businesses track, analyze and act on everything happening outside their four walls. With helpful templates and advice, it allows users to track a company’s complete digital footprint across more than 100 types of market intelligence.
Crunchbase is a resource for information on new and innovative companies, opportunities and solutions.
Stephanie’s tool of choice was Inframation, a news and intelligence service for investors of global infrastructure projects, which provides financing and procurement news, lender and investor profiles, and other data on the worldwide infrastructure pipeline.
Zena chose a tool she used in a prior job: FirstLight, an aggregator with public and private sources and primary and secondary research tools for creating a customized intelligence backbone.
What’s the best way to use aggregation tools?
I recommended first identifying and focusing on the information users need and want to be aggregated and tracked, then tailor accordingly. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get inundated by content and overwhelmed by a tool’s features and capabilities.
Users don’t want a data dump. They don’t want all the headlines, but instead only the most important and relevant stories, along with an analysis of why they are important.
What are the trends in CI?
I talked about why it’s important for firms to integrate the customer relationship management (CRM) and CI processes, which requires collaboration between a firm’s sales & marketing and library and research functions, and also to integrate systems such as CRM and social media.
What challenges can hamper or block effective CI in firms?
The reality of breaking silos and relationship-building is time-consuming and difficult—especially with staff turnover. Budget challenges also come into play.
I suggested one solution is to share and spread the costs of resources like aggregator tools or subscriptions among practice groups, marketing, library and any other department that can leverage the data.
Zena mentioned that at her former firm, when she and other department heads had requested the same content aggregator, the finance department realized they could find a way to make do with fewer licenses.
We all agreed that most of what people within a law firm need to know already resides within the firm; the challenge is to harness that intelligence and share it inside and outside the organization.
The consensus was that CI tools are great, but human insight is the most essential element. I have long been a big believer in the power of serendipity when it comes to applying what we already know to what we are trying to find. As Stephanie so wonderfully put it: “the coolest tool we have is the mush inside our head!”
Based on post-webinar evaluations, I’m happy to report that the program was a hit. All of the respondents said it provided useful information and the presenters were well-prepared, and 98% said they planned to apply what they learned at their firms.