From a private large law firm knowledge management gathering, here is a near real-time report on a competitive intelligence (CI) in law firms by Ann Lee Gibson, who blogs at Law Firm Competitive Intelligence

Peter Drucker said that 90% of info used in organizations is internally focused only 10% externally. It should be the other way around. So, CI is not competitor intelligence; it is information that allows firms to be more competitive. Information sources are a prelude to CI. CI allows making an informed decision. But CI is not predicting the future – it does help narrow the options and decide which future to aim for. Given that goal is to make informed decisions, it makes sense that CI should be directed at decisions with the biggest impact on the law firm.

The ‘intelligence cycle’:

  • Planning and direction. Understand the goals of the decision-makers.
  • Collect data (primary or secondary) and do research. This may require personal networking and conduting interviews
  • Analyze, synthesize, and produce. Good CI is not just a book report. It is forward looking and analytic.
  • Disseminate to decision makers
  • Take action

Don’t bother with CI if no one in your firm is actually making decisions. Audience member suggests that it can be helpful to queue up info for decision-makers in hope that they will focus on the issue. A CI assignment anticipates specific questions and decisions. [RF comment on that: beware the managers want information without having a clear idea of how that will change their decision. It’s costly to collect information is I agree info and analyzed must be geared to change or at least consciously deciding to keep status quo and reject the alternatives.]

Many Fortune 100 companies have established CI functions; likewise leading service organizations such as Deloitte, Ernst & Young. Potential drivers for starting CI include: changes in pricing, competing for new business, expanding into new markets. How do you start a law firm CI function? Find a champion with clout, stay close to the revenue, focus on deliver analysis not just info, actively market the CI function, build a network of primary sources, and emphasize early warnings. It’s better to know what other firms are about to do rather than what they are doing.

What are the skills and attributes of a good CI professional? Factors include: broad background with multiple points of view, curious, comfortable with amiguity, looks for patterns, has lived in multiple places, skeptical, read voraciously, elicitation skills (can get info out of people by asking smart questions and listening well – also means providing info back), tech and KM focused, build human networks, and listens well.

Law firms need to ask clients questions. [I comment that partners seem not to understand or believe that asking clients simple favors builds relationship capital rather than diminishes it.]

Some typical law firm CI assignments….
1. A law firm wanted to find ‘the next Vioxx litigation’. Look at what PI are doing, read medical journals, download adverse event reports from FDA database, read more on FDA website, interviewed ex-FDA employees, create list of clients who had drugs that might be subject to massive litigation. This CI led firm to winning major engagement for Avandia litigation.
2. CI led a firm to identify issue with OTC drug. Firm called the drug company and got meeting. The company said, “we know we have problem but we didn’t think others did”. The firm went in, not with qualifications but with an action plan reflecting the law by jurisdiction.