Competitive Intelligence: Spy Games or Market Research?

, The Legal Intelligencer


As far as any of them will tell, law firms haven't converted any of their conference rooms to "war rooms" filled with people looking to bring down the firm across the street. But keeping tabs on the competitive landscape is something law firms are increasingly attempting to do in-house—and every one seems to approach it differently.

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What's being said

  • John Grimley

    CI is already in use by law firms to identify commercial opportunities for clients - and help a law firm take those opportunities to decision-makers within ideal client companies - whether or not it‘s the GC. Often it‘s not. Law firms can utilize CI to identify and utilize highly attractive commercial opportunities for idea prospective clients in both domestic and international markets - as a means by which to markedly distinguish themselves to prospective clients - by essentially helping those prospective clients create transactions which then lead to legal work related to the transaction being awarded to the law firm responsible to bring those opportunities to those prospects. Law firms can also charge clients to perform CI where they‘ve demonstrated an ability to perform this role due to their unique market position and their internal or external capabilities to produce actionable CI for clients. Law firms can charge flat fees or on a per project basis. Law firms can utilize all sorts of creative methods by which to acquire CI, including, for example, outside analysts who research commercial opportunities for ideal prospective clients with an aim to presenting those to clients to stimulate discussions around representation and remuneration related to consummating the transaction or transactions related to that transaction. As well, law firms can utilize CI professionals in overseas markets in lieu of establishing foreign offices - for purposes of generating high value high dollar referral relationships, new greenfield business - which would not have come to the firm without that forward positioned low cost proactive presence. The opportunities for law firms in CI are limitless. The cost is deminimis. Compared to competing for work on panels against other firms, CI can create new opportunities where there is no competition.

  • Timothy B. Corcoran

    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. Note that I‘m not referring to rates - anyone can quote a rate - nor am I limiting this to realized rates - anyone can employ unprofitable pricing for a period of time. Analysis can identify those firms whose delivery of legal services is not efficient and who are, or soon will be overpriced for a given service. While it may be true that the GC has hired his longtime Biglaw pal to do this work forever, if competitors can identify and act upon these cost differentials, then so can law department operations analysts and their brethren in procurement. It‘s only a matter of time before the decision for selecting outside counsel is removed from the GC, or the role of procurement in the selection process is increased, if it can be demonstrated that the GC is consistently overpaying for services that others can deliver at the same or better quality at a lower rate. Welcome to the world of big data, analytics and competitive intelligence. In this world, CI experts can identify those market opportunities where incumbents are over-priced, where clients are over-paying, where even longstanding relationships are at risk - often even before the GC takes action. Of course, all of this must be coupled with a solid understanding of the internal dynamics of a given law firm - where it can compete, where it has a cost advantage, where its own practices may be at risk. CI done well marries capability with opportunity. The next frontier is not gaining access to the data -- look at TyMetrix, for example, and how the data it provides law departments and law firms can be a game changer (Disclosure: TyMetrix is a past client of mine). The real challenge is the behavior change needed from law firm partners to embrace this intel and act accordingly, and decisively. As Ann points out, not an easy task.

  • Ann Lee Gibson

    Gina, thanks for your work on this piece. In the last dozen years, competitive intelligence has become integral to law firms‘ growth and informs their most successful strategies and tactics.

    However, 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 (yes, there is one!). Specifically, CI professionals are obligated:

    * To continually strive to increase the recognition and respect of the profession.

    * To comply with all applicable laws, domestic and international.

    * To accurately disclose all relevant information, including one’s identity and organization, prior to all interviews.

    * To fully respect all requests for confidentiality of information.

    * To avoid conflicts of interest in fulfilling one’s duties.

    * To provide honest and realistic recommendations and conclusions in the execution of one’s duties.

    * To promote this code of ethics within one’s company, with third-party contractors and within the entire profession.

    * To faithfully adhere to and abide by one’s company policies, objectives, and guidelines.

    To learn more about CI professionals and their professional obligations, I invite your readers to visit the Web site of Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) at

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