Our firm, as with many others, is heavily focused on our clients and we encourage our partners to view all interactions through the lens of their clients. Much of what I am seeing in the legal media today supports that client-centric ideology — what clients want, how clients will work with outside counsel in the coming year, and threats in the market, especially from alternative legal service providers. We hear more and more that exceptional client service and in-depth knowledge of the clients’ business and industry are the differentiators in keeping current clients and winning new ones. Price remains a factor in law firm retention, but value far outweighs cost when it comes to long-term client relationships, bet-the-company work and ongoing client success.
As competitive intelligence (CI) functions grow in law firms and lawyers see value in using our services, demand is growing. This often means we are stretched for time and our service can be more reactive than proactive. However, when it comes to helping our clients know their clients, the opportunities to be proactive are vast. The CI professional is in a unique position, as we generally service all practice groups at the firm and receive requests requiring internal and external information on companies and industries. This exposure to client requests, especially with our regular clients, provides insights into which clients or industries they are working with and topics of interest. If, like me, you are fortunate to work closely with the library, you’ll also understand the kinds of request they work on and who their regular clients are. Most of us are scanning vast amounts of legal and industry news during the course of our day. We can be on the lookout for items of interest to our clients and their clients.
We are also well-positioned to spot opportunities for clients and collaboration between partners that may not immediately be obvious. We have the ability to connect partners across offices or practice groups where synergies exist. As has been stated on many occasions, the difference between information and intelligence is turning the data dump into actionable insights.
One of our responsibilities as CI professionals is to make sure we are tuned in to these streams of information and to make sure we are in regular contact with our clients — be they partners, business development, marketing or firm management — to understand their current priorities and be aware when these change. In this way we can keep their interests at the top of mind, just as they are expected to remain top of mind with their clients. Following are just a few ways CI can help:
- Talk to your clients regularly and make sure you know who their clients are:
- When you send request results ask if this warrants an alert to be set up.
- If you know when a meeting is taking place drop a quick call or email just after that date to see how the meeting went and if any follow-ups arose. Find out if there were particular discussion items that came as a surprise, or if a topic came up that needs further research.
- Keep a watch for items that might interest your clients or their clients. For example:
- A client of my client is looking to extend their business into an emerging area. It’s not a totally new industry, but is a developing subindustry to the business their client is in. As I see substantive articles/reports on this emerging area I send these to my partner, for him to decide if it would be of interest to his client. So far this has been successful in raising the profile of our partner with his client, and he tells me now what’s interesting and not, to ensure I’m sending the most relevant information.
- Don’t forget about podcasts and blogs. There are so many of both these days and I find myself sharing these with partners and colleagues for a couple of reasons; a) it helps build rapport between us and brings in to conversation things that might not have surfaced otherwise; and b) sometimes a 10-15 minute podcast is easier to digest than an article or report.
- Make sure your clients are aware of firm events/thought leadership so they can extend invitations. For example:
- One of our partners is working with a new client and our firm published a thought leadership piece recently that was clearly in the interest of this client. We alerted him to this and he sent the alert to his client with a personal cover note. In these times of high competition, it’s not enough to have clients on mailing lists, rather it’s the personal interaction and the note to say, “I saw this and thought of you because…” that tells your client you are looking out for them and keeps you top of mind.
- Make sure all partners are aware of upcoming events, so they can extend relevant invitations. In my experience, clients are less interested in spending their personal time with their legal counsel unless there is a specific reason or benefit for their work. Everyone is busy and fighting to meet all the demands on our time.
- Diversity is becoming more important to clients and many firms are heeding the call by signing on to the Mansfield Rule or adopting diversity metrics.
- Are your clients aware of the diversity policies of their clients? Have you offered to help them understand this?
- When your firm hosts diversity events are your partners inviting their clients?
- Alumni are a great resource for law firms. They can be your biggest advocates, and they can also become your most valued clients. Including alumni information in all CI reports is vital in highlighting personal connections to clients or potential clients.
- If your clients are trying to build their personal profiles, working with the marketing or business development department, suggest ways you can help them. For some partners this will be regionally focused, and for others it will be by industry. Helping your clients think through who they want to work with can be extremely valuable.
- What kind of audience are they trying to attract? How can they tap into that audience?
- Are there specific organizations they should be members of, g., Chambers of Commerce, local trade organizations?
- Is there a regional or industry specialty — are you in a life sciences or automotive corridor? How can you help your clients tap into those industries?
- Are there specific industry journals their clients are reading? Help your clients find those journals and understand the requirements for submitting articles.
- Evaluate industry conferences. There are numerous conferences on specific topics around the U.S., and CI can play a role in helping to evaluate those that are most relevant to helping your client achieve their goals.
These are just a few of the many ways CI can help your clients get closer to their clients. If you are a regular reader of this column, you’ll have read about how CI can insert itself into business development and marketing, into practice and industry group planning and just about anything else in law firm strategy and planning. You’ll also have read about how we must stay relevant to our clients, and not assume that they see everything we see or, know what is going on with all of their clients at any one time. CI in law firms is different in every firm, so working with marketing and business development where available, you can help block out the noise to reveal the most useful growth strategies.
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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