A fascinating article appeared recently where author Gina Passarella of The Legal Intelligencer outlined what law firm competitive intelligence is – and what it might become in the future.

As Passarella outlined: “For some [law firms], competitive intelligence is only tracking what your competitors are doing. For most, it is a blend of business, market and competitive intelligence, with an eye toward tracking other firms, current and prospective clients, geographic and industry sectors and the firm’s own internal data.

The focus of intelligence gathering is largely on tactical one-off issues, such as learning more about a client prospect before a pitch. But as competitive intelligence functions in law firms evolve, consultants in this space say the goal is to reach the strategy stage in which competitive intelligence analysts are assisting firm management in making long-range decisions such as mergers and office openings.”

Importance of competitive intelligence seen increasing

Passarella interviewed “Boston-based Foley Hoag’s director of marketing and business development, Jasmine Trillos-Decarie, [who] said there is more of a role now for competitive intelligence in law firms than ever before given the only way to increase market share in this business climate is to take it from other firms.

The post has attracted comments from Tim Corcoran, President of the Legal Marketing Association (LMA), consultant to the legal profession and author of Corcoran’s Business of Law Blog and Ann Lee Gibson, competitive intelligence and business developmentconsultant to law firms.

Gibson outlined that “competitive intelligence has become integral to law firms‘ growth and informs their most successful strategies and tactics.” Importantly, Gibson argues “the article‘s headline hints at something that‘s not true. Competitive intelligence in corporations and in law firms has nothing to do with spying. In fact, spying and even subterfuge is against the Competitive Intelligence Code of Ethics.”

Corcoran outlined: “Let‘s not underestimate the role competitive intelligence can play in displacing long-entrenched law firms. The tools are getting more sophisticated and I can now ascertain with some certainty when my cost to deliver legal services is lower than my competitor‘s.” Corcoran concluded by arguing that “The real challenge is the behavior change needed from law firm partners to embrace this intel and act accordingly, and decisively.”

On-the-ground competitive intelligence in foreign markets

I also commented on the post and highlighted the role competitive intelligence can play for a law firm in a foreign market. Specifically, the ability to utilize a forward-positioned consultant or employee in a vital foreign hub of investment into the law firms home country. (This is particularly useful for a law firm with no practice in that foreign jurisdiction). Many law firms now spend millions of dollars every year to gain incremental advantages in the crowded competitive tender process. A foreign-based law firm representative is in a position to identify, on-the-ground, actionable opportunities for very lucrative referrals and new work from highly unusual sources. This means not competing for work in a finite pool, but rather identifying and consummating newrepresentative matters, based on highly valuable information gained via excellent competitive intelligence field work. Law firms need not believe they are in a hopeless competitive fight-to-the death for a finite pool of work – because if they utilize competitive intelligence services – they’re not. No technology or tender streamlining software can match the capabilities of optimized human intelligence.

Some hypothetical examples are:

  • Upon liaising with law firm managing partners or practice groups leaders in the capitals of energy-thirsty high-growth economies, helping energy rich nation-based law firms broker new energy export transactions around new knowledge of ready and willing foreign buyers. This work could engage the services of a broad range of subject matters experts from corporate to trade to tax and more. And all of this is far off the grid of matters one would ever see tendered on any GC panel. Essentially here a foreign-located consultant recognizes a new transaction opportunity long before it reaches the GC’s office — and works to consummate it and close it – between the law firms representing or hopeful to represent the parties to the transaction.
  • In any foreign capital, liaising with the foreign diplomatic corps could result in a variety of transactions for foreign sovereign representation experts, as well as capital markets, finance, governmental relations and other practitioners expert in assisting governmental entities act in a foreign jurisdiction.
  • Financial capitals around the world are an excellent destination for any foreign-based consultant – who would be well placed to liaise on-the-ground with foreign counsel to identify any number of opportunities their clients may be in need of – or might be once introduced to actionable commercial opportunities you tell them about – in your law firms home jurisdiction.

Indeed, the list is endless. And numerous permutations within any opportunity.

Competitive intelligence by law firms appears here to stay

Passarella spoke with “Zena Applebaum…director of competitive intelligence at Toronto-based Bennett Jones. [Applebaum] said the demand for competitive intelligence roles is “crazy” right now. She said firm leadership is recognizing they need a competitive advantage. Applebaum said in some respects, it’s giving a title to something that has been going on in firms for decades. [emphasis added]. 

Posted by John Grimley

John Grimley edits and publishes Asia Law Portal and is the author of A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets. He provides writing, editing, research and strategy services to the corporate and professional services sectors.

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