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Competitive Intelligence in the Legal Industry

Posted by Benjamin Gilad on Aug 2, 2016 4:42:37 PM

What CI Can Do For Your Firm

By Dr. Benjamin Gilad

I was drawn to competitive intelligence because I like to observe. You know the two types, right? There are those who like to get involved (activists), and those who are happier to observe from the sidelines. I belong to the latter group. I tend to think most intelligence analysts are of this type, but maybe this is just my defense mechanism. (I have a useless undergrad degree in psychology. Does it show?)

Intelligence is about smart observation.

Most law firms don’t get it. They employ “stick fetchers”: people who are asked to collect massive amounts of data and information with little rhyme and no reason. They call this competitive intelligence. It is neither competitive nor intelligent.

In true intelligence, we observe, we interpret and we convey insights.

If you are inclined toward the intelligence professions, your power of observation grows over the years. When I started decades ago, it took me days to understand and assess competitive situations and companies’ character; today it takes me 5 minutes.

My Observation on the State of CI in the Legal Industry

As intelligence analysts, we are often ignored, dismissed, denied access or asked to answer ridiculously silly questions (e.g., rank law firms in Indianapolis by market share). We are used to that. We claw our way toward impact by refusing to be information errand boys (or girls) or librarians with no “understanding of the business.” 

But to move from serving coffee to determining the agenda, one needs to train and practice the skill of competitive intelligence, which is fundamentally the way by which anyone understands and predicts third parties’ future moves.

As I looked at the eager young faces of the legal marketers in my room in September and then again in April, I noticed several things:

  1. They were young.
  2. They were majority female.
  3. Many (not all) were anxious, insecure and almost scared.
  4. They were treated by their law partners as an inquiry desk for shallow marketing information at best.

In short, I wouldn’t last in their jobs for more than five minutes. I have no patience for wasting talent.

The legal industry is taking baby steps in CI. Today, it is where other industries were 20 years ago. It will go through growing pains. But the real difference will not be made by the lawyers — they have no clue as to what intelligence really means. (No, I don’t mean this as a lawyer joke.)

Lawyers are negative people by default. Research shows they have low resilience — they can’t take it on the chin. They are not going to let a 25-year-old female marketer tell them about strategic risks they ignore.

But as I stood in front of those millennials, I was determined to make them into intel analysts and fighters.

They will gain respect by fighting to be heard as they deliver insights law firm partners don’t have because, although they might be tuned into their clients’ legal needs, they are often blind to their own business needs.  

As the legal industry goes through gut-wrenching consolidation and technology wreaks havoc on so many levels, many law firms will go through painful transitions. Many firms will not survive. They need the young marketers to do reality checks for them, to warn them in advance, to keep pushing them to look up from the law books.

And we tell the partners: Let the LMA-CIC do their work. Listen to them.

When you leave my room, you’ll be proud to be an intelligence practitioner.



Benjamin Gilad, Ph.D., will teach war gaming in the upcoming LMA-CIC program from September 27–28, 2016, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Topics: Marketing Management and Leadership, Business Development

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