October 23, 2012

CI Tactics, Tools and Lessons to Be Learned

Law Practice Magazine

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March 2008 Issue | Volume 34 Number 2| Page 53

Competitive Intelligence Roundtable

CI Tactics, Tools and Lessons to Be Learned

Dennis Kennedy leads a discussion on the present and future uses of CI in the legal profession. Sharing their insights are Mark Beese, David Bowerman, Cynthia Cheng Correia, Ann Lee Gibson, Mark Greene, Sabrina Pacifici and Meredith Williams.



  MODERATOR: Dennis Kennedy (DK) is an information technology lawyer and legal technologist who writes and speaks frequently on the use of technology in the practice of law. His Web site and blog, DennisKennedy.com, are well-regarded resources on legal technology topics.

Mark Beese (MB) is the “marketing guy” for Holland & Hart, a 375-lawyer firm with offices throughout the Rocky Mountain West. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Legal Marketing Association and is a frequent speaker on law firm marketing and leadership topics. He blogs at LeadershipForLawyers.typepad.com.

David Bowerman (DB) is Director of Client Development at K&L Gates, a 1,400-
lawyer firm with 22 offices on three continents. He was also the catalyst behind ediscoveryLaw.com, a blog on legal issues and news relating to electronic discovery.

Cynthia Cheng Correia (CCC) is a noted competitive intelligence trainer, consultant and speaker. She is principal of Knowledge inForm, a CI training and consulting firm; the editor of Intelligence Insights; and the founder and designer of the Competitive Intelligence Certificates (CIC) Program for Click University.

Ann Lee Gibson, PhD (ALG) is the principal of Ann Lee Gibson Consulting and advises law firms on projects and issues surrounding new business development and competitive intelligence.

Mark T. Greene, PhD (MG) is Chief Marketing Officer at Nixon Peabody LLP. He spent more than 20 years as a consultant to corporations and professional services firms and is a frequent speaker and author on market research, competitive intelligence and branding.

Sabrina I. Pacifici (SP) is a law library director; the founder, editor and publisher of LLRX.com, the free, monthly legal-tech webzine; and author of beSpacific.com, a research blog focused on current law and technology issues.

Meredith Williams (MW) is a staff attorney and Director of Knowledge Management with the law firm Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz. She is a well-known speaker on knowledge management and other technology- related issues within the legal industry.



In legal marketing circles, competitive intelligence (CI) is increasingly cited as one of the best ways for firms to compete more effectively in a tough and crowded marketplace. But CI is much more than a way to fine-tune your next marketing campaign. Think about the entire spectrum of tactical and strategic issues that a law firm has to confront. Properly practiced, CI can help a firm understand and respond to the associated opportunities, threats and implications-. In this roundtable, moderator Dennis Kennedy leads a discussion on CI in the legal profession. Sharing their insights are Mark Beese, David Bowerman, Cynthia Cheng Correia, Ann Lee Gibson, Mark Greene, Sabrina Pacifici and Meredith Williams.


What’s a good example of how a law firm can put CI to use?

MB: In our firm, we often use a variety of tools to gather and analyze information to prepare for proposals and prospective client meetings. CI plays an important part in our firm strategy, too, in evaluating potential lateral candidates, merger candidates, and possible new geographic and industry markets for service expansion.

MG: I supervised a corporate surveillance project in which we monitored late filings to the FCC, board turnover, resignations of senior executives and other events that we had found to be fairly reliable leading indicators of shareholder actions. This resulted in alerts that made us look very smart to our corporate clients and helped to win defense work before our clients even knew that some sort of action might be in play.

CCC: There are so many powerful ways that CI can be used—it would almost be easier to cite a favorite for each type of CI issue or technique. For law firms, though, CI may be used to project a competing firm’s service, practice or location expansion; to identify service gaps and opportunities in the marketplace; to anticipate a primary competitor’s likely strategic moves; to more clearly understand emerging or evolving legal or regulatory issues or actions that may signify business opportunities or threats; and in enhancing or expanding the firm’s client services by providing CI support with current offerings. For example, an IP practice might help clients understand their competitors’ intellectual or knowledge assets for nonlegal or indirectly legal applications like strategy development or portfolio expansion.

DB: Good CI can help practice teams anchor their client development strategies in fact rather than fiction, using trend analysis, industry insight and relationship information as the foundation. Quality intelligence enables effective goal setting and measurement.

ALG: I had an interesting assignment earlier this year from a corporate law firm. The firm’s litigation practice group wanted to identify pharmaceutical drugs likely to become the focus of future product liability lawsuits. After reviewing and analyzing tens of thousands of FDA records (warning letters, adverse events and so forth), reviewing medical journal articles, news stories, plaintiffs’ Web sites, corporate filings and litigation databases (to eliminate from our list those drugs that had long been the focus of extant litigation), we identified over a dozen drugs of interest. Partners then quickly made appointments with the pharmaceutical companies—clients and non-clients —that manufactured these drugs.

When news broke in the mainstream press shortly afterward regarding possible performance issues for a widely prescribed drug that, up until then, had received little litigation attention, my client already had a meeting scheduled with the manufacturer to talk about our own intelligence regarding this drug. This illustrates one of CI’s greatest utilities in a business development setting: to help a firm take the correct action before its competitors take the same action. That’s a competitive advantage.

SP: Employing CI applications and techniques on a consistent basis is an effective means of enhancing all types of decision-making processes in firms, whether the project in question is limited and short term or multifaceted and ongoing. Establishing the context of your variables and expanding the parameters of your analysis enables tactical, strategic and effective outcomes because you have more accurate and well-defined intelligence.

DK: In many firms, there’s a perception that competitor firm X has all of a certain type of legal work, say all the labor work of Company Y, a highly desirable client. Using CI, however, you might find that firm X has actually done little of this company’s employment discrimination litigation and the percentage looks to be diminishing. Armed with that intelligence, you could then decide to pitch specifically the discrimination litigation to company Y, rather than doing a presentation on general labor law. That’s the interplay of getting information that gives you a competitive benefit and how you take action based on it.


What steps do you recommend to a firm that’s just getting started in using CI?

MW: Start small and work with the library and marketing staff. These key groups (as well as others that would be determined by the particular CI assignment) can help support and move forward nearly any CI project in a firm.

DK: I agree that you need to start small and let things evolve. Also, you often see marketing people, librarians, lawyers and others involved in a “team approach” to CI. It strikes me that the team approach has many benefits, especially when you build in ways for people to ask questions and suggest different ways to go so that you have ongoing feedback.

MG: Establish solid information resources, typically in close cooperation with your library, and then hire someone with extraordinary analytic skills to develop the CI insights. This person need not necessarily come from the legal industry. For instance, at Nixon Peabody the background of our manager of competitive intelligence includes several years at the CIA.

ALG: One good way to consider CI’s utility to law firms is to first identify changes—in technology, laws, prices, buying patterns, clients’ needs, culture, labor and other resources—and then think of how you can exploit those changes by taking one or more positions now that will be made more valuable by the changes that are happening. This requires that you understand what those changes are and how those changes will probably be amplified during the near-term or long-term future.

CCC: It depends on whether CI is formalized within a firm or organization, as well as the available resources at start-up. If a firm is starting a CI initiative on a shoestring, I recommend first understanding your intelligence competencies and going from there. For initiatives that are supported by greater resources, designing a pilot is a good way to start. Regardless of the scale of the effort, there are some vital considerations and must-dos:

• Take the time to clearly define and understand your particular organization’s intelligence and decision needs, its operations and its operating environment.

• Prioritize your efforts.

• Gain top-level support.

• Define and manage expectations about the function of CI.

•Adopt ethical and lawful practices and put them in writing.

• Build your intelligence skills and network through the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, the Special Libraries Association’s CI Division, the American Association of Law Libraries’ CI Caucus and other professional organizations. It’s also very useful to talk with established practitioners.

MB: My advice is to develop a solid working knowledge of the wide variety of information-gathering tools available for your CI projects. And never forget the importance of human intelligence—what others can tell you of their experiences and personal insights. Sometimes we rely too much on secondary information without discussing the issues with real people.


What are some of your favorite tools for collecting and monitoring research data, information and trends?

  MW: To start with, RSS feeds and Google Alerts are easy and free tools. I highly recommend Google Alerts for blogs and news monitoring. In addition, West Monitor has been Baker Donelson’s main tool of choice. Our internally created client team intranets embed information feeds from the West Monitor tools along with data from our internal systems, such as financial, document management, CRM and others. This system not only ties valued information together in one place, but it also allows us to slice and refocus information on demand, break out pieces for different uses for our intranets, and use e-mail feeds for easy integration into the daily practice of law.

DB: I use data from Thomson Elite crunched in Excel to perform trend and year-over-year account analysis. I’m also a regular LexisNexis CourtLink user. And don’t overlook the power of your CRM system. It’s amazing what intelligence you can glean from simple who-knows-who, communications and business development pipeline reports.

MB: ZoomInfo.com and LinkedIn.com can tell you a lot about people’s backgrounds, their networks and their interests, too. LexisNexis’s AtVantage and Strategic Profiles are also very valuable tools. In addition, for information on other firms and lawyers, the new www.martindale.com gives users a glimpse into Martindale’s vast research database.

MG: You can’t beat human intel for competitive advantage, so I’d say the best tools are the ability to identify human sources likely to be useful and then skillfully interview them.

CCC: While I have a universe of favorites, from free to fee-based, I agree that Google Alerts, West Monitor Suite and CourtLink can be terrific tools for law firms. Firms should also include traditional news aggregators, Web site monitoring services and Web 2.0 resources in what I consider a “balanced intelligence toolkit.” However, it’s important to emphasize that tools should rest upon the establishment of good processes and techniques. Even the “best” tool can’t provide consistently good intelligence without this foundation. And you must apply the tool because it’s best for the job, not simply because you’re comfortable with it.

ALG: The Internet’s free information coffers and its richness continue to amaze me. On the subscription side, I find the American Lawyer’s research site at www.almresearch.com quite convenient. This one-stop-shopping resource, which includes years of historical information about the legal industry, is handy for developing intel around “weakest link” firms, pricing trends, market segmentation and so forth.

SP: The range of useful free and fee-based sources in this arena changes frequently. There are, however, a core group of dependable sites and services that I use regularly:

• News search alerts and topical blogs from specialized financial services, provided by established publishers and aggregators: Google Finance ( http://finance.google.com), Yahoo Finance ( http://biz.yahoo.com), WSJ ( http://online.wsj.com/home/us), Financial Times ( www.ft.com) and Bloomberg ( www.bloomberg.com)

• Legislative tracking and monitoring services: GalleryWatch.com ( www.gallerywatch.com) and GovTrack.us ( www.govtrack.us) for targeted searching and customized alerts on federal legislation, voting records and other congressional data

• RSS readers: Google ( www.google.com/reader) and Bloglines ( www.bloglines.com)

• SEC filings: 10K Wizard ( www.10kwizard.com)

•Monitoring Web sites for changes and updates: WebSite Watcher ( www.aignes.com)

•Searching within federal government sites and databases: USA.gov ( www.usa.gov)

Searching blogs: IceRocket ( www.icerocket.com)

And for customized searching, Sputtr beta ( www.sputtr.com) aggregates newer Web 2.0 applications with a range of well-known search engines.


Can you share some of your favorite tips or best lessons that you’ve learned?

  CCC: My best advice is to understand three things well: the intelligence process, the business of your organization, and your industry’s competitive environment. These are the three sturdy legs of the CI platform from which you will surveil, analyze and understand where your firm is in relation to many factors, and from which you will make decisions and actions to mitigate risks and maximize opportunities.

DB: Be wary of what I call the “information vortex.” It’s easy to keep coming up with new data points to track down, but the trick is knowing when enough is enough and how to move the process to strategy, decision making and action. You need uniform agreement between all team members on what you’re after at the beginning of the assignment.

MW: Yes, too much information is just as damaging as too little. The key with CI is getting the right information to the right decision makers. This will be different for each client, industry and individual lawyer. Information overload will cause the non-use of any CI product.

DK: My best lesson is that you need to question your assumptions. Too many lawyers and firms work from outdated assumptions about what is happening in the market and what opportunities they might and might not have.

SP: Always check your “facts.” Especially when tracking information on specific individuals, companies and products, ascertain and identify the bias of the data, the agenda of the source or publisher, and the background of all possible applicable variables—for example, lawsuits under previous or related names or corporate trails lost in the history of mergers. And do not overlook scholarly literature and commentary.

  ALG: Remember that technology is a tool, not a strategy. Also, CI efforts should be championed from the top. But understandably, this probably won’t happen until CI gets a chance to demonstrate the value it can add in the firm.

MB: The real value of CI is not the research. It is the analysis of all the data into assumptions and conclusions that inform decisions. If a marketer or librarian gives you a ream of paper without an insightful and succinct executive summary with advice on possible action items, hand it back and ask for insight, not just information. Look for themes and patterns, not just data. For example, with a report on a target client, ask: What does this information tell me about the company’s leaders, culture, decision-making process, values, strategic direction, employees or financial situation?


How about some competitive intelligence on “competitive intelligence”? What do you see in the future for the use of CI in the legal profession?

  CCC: CI will continue to grow among large and midsize firms, in response to continuing consolidation, steady increase in competition and clients’ changing requirements. Compared to other industries, CI practice in the law sector is generally in early development, but this development will occur at a more rapid rate than what we’ve seen in other sectors over the past couple of decades. This is owing in part to the already widespread awareness of CI, the maturity and sophistication of CI in general, and the availability of advanced techniques and tools. This growth and demand will exceed the amount of available, fully skilled CI professionals with extensive experience in the law sector, at least for the next few years. Given the efficiencies, synergies and individual or group initiatives, CI work in law firms will continue to be driven by other departments like marketing, business development and the library. It is vital that, as this occurs, firms apply proper CI practices, much of which are distinct from market, company or legal research and analysis.

DB: CI resources and tools will continue to evolve and improve over time, and for law firms the fundamental benefit will be to deliver better client service.

DK: Remember that old Timbuk 3 song, “The Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades?” CI is a great example of the general movement we see from simple information gathering to taking practical action on that information. Among other effects, as law firm marketing becomes increasingly professionalized, CI will become a high-value factor in that area. In the increasingly competitive legal market, CI will play a key role in determining who succeeds and who fails.

MW: I agree. CI will only increase in demand as time passes, and this will be the key to who succeeds and fails in the market. This is mainly because the expectations of clients today are changing. They not only expect great legal representation, but they now expect you to understand their business needs and the market environment and proactively anticipate issues.

MG: For competitive purposes, I fear that many firms will continue to think that once they subscribe to a couple of databases, they will have all the answers. The smartest firms will move way beyond that.

SP: CI will remain a challenging, engaging and expert endeavor. As the growing universe of “historic” data is subsumed by the proliferation of current awareness information, CI experts will face additional pitfalls as well as opportunities.

MB: Information providers—particularly those large companies with access to lots of information—will become more adept at combining and delivering the information in a way to make interpretation, analysis and synthesis faster and more meaningful.

  ALG: Law firms are diverging ever more rapidly into two very different kinds of service providers that advise on (1) lower-priced, commoditized or operational legal issues and (2) higher-end, strategic growth, high-risk or high-value issues. This divergence is already abundantly apparent. CI is a tool firms can use to respond to this trend. What kind of firm are we? What will this divergence mean for our firm? What new service gaps might open up in this now bimodal industry we’re operating in? Which of those gaps could we fill and how, and what would it be worth to the client? How should we be staffing our firm and client matters, given the cultural and labor changes afoot right now? These are just a few of the most riveting questions firm leaders are facing today. CI can—and should—be used in service to the most important decisions now being considered by firm leaders.

DK: That’s a great note to end with, because it captures the sense of necessity, urgency and opportunity in the legal profession today and the role that CI can play in helping firms make good decisions and take smart actions to rise to their current and coming challenges. Thank you all for participating.

About the Author

Dennis Kennedy is an information technology lawyer and legal technologist who writes and speaks frequently on the use of technology in the practice of law. His Web site and blog, DennisKennedy.com, are well-regarded resources on legal technology topics.