Competitive intelligence functions within law firms have gained momentum over the last decade, increasing in size, scope and sophistication.
Just five years ago, some of the nation’s largest law firms began hiring dedicated competitive intelligence professionals to run and manage critical research and analysis functions within the firm.
It’s an area borne of necessity as lawyers and firms try to stay abreast of and get ahead of market trends and client needs.
What Is Law Firm Competitive Intelligence?
Often the words “competitive intelligence“ conjure images of spies breaking into the filing cabinets of competitors to glean timing of an anticipated IPO. While Jason Bourne could make for a good law firm competitive intelligence professional, this function in law firms typically equates to the combination of traditional market intelligence along with a keen understanding of who other law firms serve and what they have to offer.
Competitive intelligence serves two primary purposes within a law firm:
- Help lawyers and supporting departments formulate strategy via insight into corporations, industries, trends, geographies and areas of law.
- Help the firm itself keep an eye on what its competitors are up to.
In other words, it drives strategic thinking and helps law firms stay prepared.
Who Is Responsible for the function?
In recent years, law firms have invested dollars into hiring dedicated competitive intelligence professionals who are responsible for fielding requests and creating useful and insightful deliverables.
In firms where there is no dedicated individual, the task often falls to research professionals within the firm’s library department, or sometimes to junior business development professionals.
These professionals sit in a unique position within law firms, sometimes being pulled in multiple directions between different departments. Consequently, they require a unique set of skills.
According to a 2017 joint report between Acritas and the Tilt Institute, successful competitive intelligence professionals share many of these traits:
- They’re analytical and intellectually curious
- They can connect the dots and see links, helping them spot trends and opportunities
- They have deep knowledge of the legal industry
- They can effectively summarize key insights
- They often possess good business acumen
- They communicate well with lawyers
- They are resilient, diligent and objective
How Can Your Law Firm Leverage Competitive Intelligence?
Competitive intelligence does not (and should not) happen in a silo. Uncovering and providing true insight means connecting thousands of external datapoints to in-house knowledge, strategy and needs.
Competitive intelligence takes many different forms within a law firm. Whether you’re just beginning to formulate this function, or you’re an experienced information professional, it’s helpful to define and then continue to refine what competitive intelligence means for your law firm.
Consider some of the ways law firms utilize competitive intelligence tools and professionals:
- Preparing lawyers to meet with a client through an understanding of current events and potential legal needs, or with a biography that identifies key talking points for the lawyer
- Supporting pitches and the development of RFPs by connecting internal firm expertise with the potential needs of the client
- Co-selling other practice groups into an existing client
- Monitoring business, legal and regulatory trends that could impact clients or potential clients
- Uncovering interesting and actionable information to drive thought leadership and client outreach
- Analyzing new geographic markets for firm expansion
Just these few examples hit on multiple departments in a law firm, from firm leadership to business development to marketing. Your firm’s needs might not touch on every one of these areas, but it is important to get a strong understanding of where support is required before launching a competitive intelligence function.
6 Best Practices for Deploying This Function Effectively
For many law firms, information requests tend to be transactional and reactive in nature. But your competitive intelligence function can do more than produce company dossiers and send along news items.
The Acritas/Tilt Institute noted that among those surveyed, the most successful CI departments consist of a centralized team of professionals who can connect the dots between information and people; these departments tend to spend more time on strategic activities than on transactional projects.
How does your firm get there? It varies, of course, but it often means leveraging relationships, tools and resources that can help you deliver insight quickly and proactively, while freeing up your time to work on more strategic projects. If you or your team is constantly prepping lawyers for business development outreach, it can be difficult to spot a new competitive threat or help vet a new market for entry.
Consider these six best practices to free up time to focus on proactive, revenue-generating work:
- Champion having a standalone, dedicated CI team, or at least one dedicated competitive intelligence professional.
- Create easy-to-use templates that can quickly be filled with relevant information prior to meetings.
- Leverage out-of-the-box reports provided by outside vendors.
- Offer multiple types and levels of reports that lawyers can choose from; this can help your team avoid the “everything but the kitchen sink” mentality.
- Participate in business development and practice group meetings to better understand lawyer needs, goals and preferences
- Leverage existing competitive intelligence tools and technology to help your team sort through significant amounts of data and information, freeing up time to focus on answering “What does this mean for our clients?”
How Competitive Intelligence Software Can Help
As the competitive intelligence role continues to grow in popularity and sophistication within law firms, so has the number of tools and software that can help. These tools range in their offerings, from analyzing legal opinions to aggregating critical industry information.
Once you assess you firm’s needs, you can narrow down your search for the right partner – one that understands what it’s like to work in a fast-paced, high–demand industry, and that can deliver customized, real-time information.
You’ll want to consider questions like:
- How much information can the vendor/platform can sift through?
- What level of insight (if any) is covered?
- What sources/topics are included? For example, some competitive intelligence tools are focused on a single industry
- How user-friendly is the experience of working with the platform/vendor?
- How does the platform work with and integrate with other tools utilized by your firm?
Manzama provides law firms with the competitive intelligence services to drive revenue and accelerate strategic decision-making.