Over the last few months I’ve been working with a group of lawyers with whom I don’t regularly work. It’s been a great experience for them and for me. I’m getting to know them and their practices better. They are getting to know me and how competitive intelligence can help them reach their business goals. However, it’s also made me take a step back and take stock of my interactions. Too easily I fall into a routine of taking and answering requests, taking and answering requests. Talking to these lawyers who don’t really know me, working with them, listening to their needs, and helping them to understand the resources available has reminded me to step out of the routine and into the moment. We read every day in the legal literature that lawyers need to differentiate themselves in the eyes of their clients. We, as CI professionals, must also heed that advice.
This doesn’t mean that we do not deliver a great or unique service or are not committed to our clients. I do feel committed and I do probe to get to the root of a question in order to provide the most relevant response, but I have been reminded that sometimes I assume my clients know what I can do for them and what they should ask for.
You all have heard the old adage about what happens when you assume. I still laugh when I think of my elementary teacher saying it, but it’s something that’s stuck with me all of these years. It’s such a basic idea, and applies in so many situations. Here are just a few of which I’ve been reminded:
Don’t Assume Your Clients Are Aware of All The Resources They Have on Hand
REASON 1: I was talking to a lawyer who is fairly new to my firm and who came from a government position. She is working with a client who is sending her articles about issues involving their case. It was only through a casual conversation where I was introducing myself to her and asking about her clients that the issue of alerting came up. We set up several alerts, and immediately they helped her learn something important about a development in the case. I assumed she was aware that we could set alerts for her.
REASON 2: One of my regular lawyers works primarily with private companies. More recently she’s been working with a public company and is expanding her work across practice areas. She is keen to understand more about the client’s business, and we were talking about ways to do this. She asked me to point her in the direction of links to earnings calls and other investor webcasts. I assumed she knew where to find these and how to set reminders for upcoming calls. This information is readily available, but setting reminders for upcoming events is a manual process. And lawyers are busy.
Our clients are busy lawyers across all practices. Some of them are regular users of libraries and CI, and some are not. Some had orientation in the library when they first joined, but may not have had much interaction since. The world of information availability and delivery has changed dramatically in the last five years. There is an abundance of information available now, and it’s up to us as information and intelligence professionals to keep abreast of new analytics, sources, aggregators, etc. We need to be mindful of how these can help our client base and how we add value by cutting through the noise and delivering only what’s relevant as it applies to our clients’ specific needs. And we need to communicate these developments to our clients.
When interacting with new clients, especially those new to the firm, I ask if they have used information and intelligence resources before and I react accordingly. In some cases, it’s easier to talk to new lawyers because you start from scratch and outline everything. But for those who have been at the firm for a while, it’s easy to assume they are aware of all the resources the firm has to offer — the alerting services, the company information, the litigation analytics, etc.
Both of these examples demonstrate how I may be aware of something as a basic, easy fix but it can yield a high level of value for my clients. This is something that can easily get missed in the day-to-day. If I assume that both of these extremely competent lawyers know what I take for granted, I am not fully doing my job.
Don’t Make Decisions for Your Clients
REASON 1: A few weeks ago, a lawyer, through his assistant, asked me for research on 10+ companies. These were primarily in one industry, but there were a few that were not the kind of companies that I’d worked on for him in the past. I knew it was an unusual request and that there had to be more to it. I called him to understand the scope of the project and found out that, as part of the program we were working on, he was researching clients and targets. I didn’t assume that I knew what level of information he was looking for, or what he was going to do with it once received.
REASON 2: I ran into a partner in the elevator with whom I regularly work. We had just finished a piece of ongoing work. This was a golden opportunity, and I had to grab those precious 30 seconds to get his feedback. I wanted to know what had been most useful, what I should continue looking out for, and whether the format I was delivering worked for him. I learned that he was developing a new area of specialty, an outcome of this work, and that he needed industry information and insights into current and former clients that might benefit from his experiences. I learned that this was not a one-and-done project and that there is a lot I could do to help him going forward.
Keeping an open mind and listening to clients is the foundation of good competitive intelligence. How well we do this differentiates us in our ability to serve our clients. We are trained to ask probing questions, to understand purpose in order to know how and what to deliver. We preempt questions and provide insights our clients can use to anticipate their clients’ needs. It is not helpful to assume that how we work with clients in one instance will be the same the next time we work together. Or that how one client likes to work is the same as another.
I have been reminded in the last few weeks to work in the moment. To not be influenced by past interactions, or in what or who I think my client knows. It’s important to ask questions that will reveal the ultimate purpose and the knowledge gap for this particular situation. What I will take away from these recent experiences does not necessarily relate to the intensive work that I do, but more to the things I take for granted — the things I do automatically. I am reminded that I need to communicate my offerings and resources, even if I think my clients are aware of them. I can’t expect them to remember from one request to the next or be aware of new developments since the last time I saw them. I need to see things through the lens of my clients and appreciate that they have varying levels of experience with me.
Patricia Ellard is a competitive intelligence professional, with more than 20 years of experience in a top-three global management consulting firm and in global law firms.
The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of their clients or other attorneys in their firm.
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