Highlights from SLA 2009: Competitive Intelligence for Law Firms
Tim McAllister, Greg Lambert, and J.O. Wallace are all law librarians at BigLaw firms in the US and for an hour and a half, they shared with us their experiences in providing competitive intelligence (CI) to the powers that be. In short, CI is absolutely critical in protecting a firm's bottom line and reputation.
Coming from the relatively small Canadian legal market, I was fascinated to hear about the competitive nature of major law firms in United States. I described it afterwards to a friend as it almost being like the rivalry between McDonalds and Burger King. I knew that the American legal industry was bigger and different from ours, but I didn't realise just how fierce the competition between major law firms is.
Tim McAllister was up first, and discussed the process of creating a weekly CI newsletter for his firm. CI was always being done on a some level, but it was disorganized and disjointed. Administration had asked him to do some collecting, filtering, and distilling of the information to make it more streamlined. He emphasized that "When we do our jobs well, we give people the mental space to do their jobs well", and this seemed to be the guiding principle each step along the way of the newsletter's development.
McAllister created a newsletter that captures information in seven categories: mergers & acquisitions; office openings/closings; lawyer moves; law firm management trends; finances, fees, bonuses, salaries; the firm in the news; and special reports such as AmLaw 100, etc.
He then described the evolution of the newsletter: what works (3 pages, bullet points, facts, numbers, a BlackBerry-friendly format) and what doesn't (anything more than 3 pages, blocks of text or commentary, anything BlackBerry-unfriendly) and what methods he uses for collecting all the data.
The newsletter was very well received and the distribution list has grown from just the senior staff in the beginning, to include several other departments - sounds like a success to me!
Greg Lambert was up next, and he began his section of the session in remarking on the interesting position that CI finds itself in: CI is overhead, and yet CI is necessary to grow revenue. He he described his fascinating and novel experiences in crowdsourcing routine CI tasks using Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Lambert talked about the testing, trial and error, and ethical considerations of this sort of outsourcing. It remains to be seen if this set-up will work for Lambert, but I am impressed with his innovative attitude!
J.O. Wallace spoke last, and showed us screen captures of several CI initiatives he's worked on. He helped to develop a sort of "bidding system" for defense work opportunities. Basically, his team works to swiftly assemble and deliver a snapshot of a potential case, which includes information on the firm's current relationship with the potential client, biographies of the client's directors and officers, a client profile, and conflict check information. Wallace also showed us exactly how he formats a CI newsletter that he distributes several times a week.
The presentation left me with the impression that BigLaw's fast-paced, cut-throat environment isn't just a reality for lawyers; info pros also deal with it day in, day out. It seems exciting and glamourous, even - but I think this just McAllister, Lambert, and Wallace's enthusiasm for their work shining through. And while I've not been asked (yet) to do CI in my own work, I feel like I'd have a good starting point if the need arose. An excellent session overall, and I hope to see more of this type at future SLA conferences.
That's it for recaps from me for this year - hopefully I'll be back next year with tales from SLA 2010 in New Orleans!