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Doing CI Right in the Law Firm: Defining Scope

Posted by Dr. Ben Gilad on Jul 17, 2018 1:49:41 PM

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Learn to provide context for strategy decision-makers.

This is part one of three in our “Doing CI Right in the Law Firm” series. Stay tuned for the next two pieces in the months ahead.

Law firms are unique in that they are led by law experts, not strategists, which is unlike many corporations. Imagine if all software companies were led by programmers, or food companies were led by chefs — it would be a very different business environment.

The way that law firms are structured wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the world stood still, corporate clients opened their wallets freely any time their counsel said, “It’s complicated,” or consolidation didn’t make running a law firm more like running big business. Then there’s artificial intelligence, which poses a significant threat to some law firms’ cash flow.

Alas, all these change-drivers mean one thing: Law firms that survive today and into the future will be those that learn to pay attention to the market, not just the law, with a keen “external focus.”

If done right, competitive intelligence (CI) is a powerful competency based in this “external focus.” There are three pillars to doing CI right:

  1. Defining the right scope for CI
  2. Hiring the right people
  3. Using CI correctly to extract value

This series expands on the skills and strategy necessary for law firms to successfully take on CI for each of the three pillars – starting with the first prerequisite for a law firm to “do CI.”

Defining the Right Scope

The evolution of CI away from sole focus on competitor information started in the late 90s and was hastened with the appearance of “disruptors” in financial, health, insurance and other service industries. It became clear that the scope of CI is about being competitive in the landscape, not amongst specific competitors. Almost overnight, the scope of CI became industrywide, as competitive implies deeper understanding of a host of high-impact players in the legal market, not just competitors. Customers’ perspectives on alternative models of delivering legal services, for example, are critical to assessing potential disruptions. With an entire cast of high-impact players to simulate, understand and predict, CI became analytical.

Today, advanced CI activities in firms facing tough competitive conditions are not about information. CI analysts do not gather competitor minutia or clip news articles and arrange them with colored tabs in a file as their main task. CI has progressed into strategic dialogue between the analyst and management about a changing world, what to do about it and what others are doing about it. This model is called sense-making, and it is based on providing context for those who make strategy decisions. It is more effective, has significant impact on the bottom line and is cheaper.

Research into leadership in companies where CI is valued suggests their executives differ on two issues: They always ask the CI professional for the “big picture,” and they are open to perspectives different than theirs. It doesn’t mean they have to agree with those, but they encourage them as a way to inform and test their own decisions.

Providing that context for the strategy decision-makers is crucial. Being able to do this analysis and articulate it clearly to managing partners is an important skill for legal marketers in an ever-evolving and highly competitive market. Having this skillset allows firms to make better decisions and strategically move to the head of their industries.

Interested in learning more about CI from Dr. Ben Gilad? Be sure to attend LMA's 2018 CIC event, a custom program for legal marketers designed by LMA and the FGH Academy of Competitive Intelligence, on November 7-8, 2018, in New York City.


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Ben Gilad, Ph.D., is a cofounder and president of the FGH-Academy of Competitive Intelligence, a former strategy professor at Rutgers University and the author of Business War Games, Early Warning and Business Blindspots.

Topics: Marketing Management and Leadership

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