Challenges Facing Law Firms

By Leonard Fuld, ACI Faculty

The legal marketing profession needs competitive intelligence (CI). The more than 30 legal marketers who attended the first-ever certificate class a couple of weeks ago can attest to this fact. The two-day program was sponsored by the Legal Marketing Association with the certificate conferred by the Academy of Competitive Intelligence.

The challenge articulated by many in the room during those two days was “How do we make CI work inside of our law firms?”

What they meant to say was this: “If CI’s value to law firms is compared to the size of a Mack Truck, how do you make it fit in a law firm when you’re only given a parking space that fits a Mini-Cooper?”

In other words, the need for CI is great but the structure and nature of a law firm has limited the professional’s ability to deploy it in a reasonable and effective manner.

Those attending absorbed the material we had to teach. That was not the issue. In our discussions during class and coffee breaks, students revealed five major challenges that both the marketers and the law firms must face if they are to fully benefit from what competitive intelligence can deliver for them.

Challenge 1 – Leaving the customer comfort zone: Law firms ask these marketers to research existing and potential customers for new business opportunities. What they do not have a mandate to do is to actively and even aggressively assess competing law firms – at least not much beyond what they can find from competitors’ websites or through a Thomson/Reuters or LexisNexis search.   They need this mandate.

Challenge 2 – Redefine primary research: These students are ready to tackle traditional market research, meaning surveys. What this group may not be ready for is to ask questions in the marketplace about competitors and their competitive activity. One on one interviews, not masked surveys. We certainly explored the ethical approaches to doing so. That’s not at issue. Indeed, primary research in competitive intelligence may take legal marketers out of their own and their law firm’s comfort zone. They need to address this with the firm, draw up boundaries and protocol but in the end they must do primary research if they are to truly understand the competition.

Challenge 3 – Separate market research from competitive intelligence in management’s mind: Those that graduated from the two-day session and their peers need to educate management on the differences between competitive intelligence and market research.   They are related to one another but they are not the same and law firms need both.

Challenge 4 – Legal marketers need a “seat at the table”: Anyone who analyzes the competition must also have access to what concerns management. Very often these marketers do not have access to partner discussions. Where appropriate, this has to change. I have seen this permission given to CI professionals by the C-Suite in corporations ranging from Motorola to Merck. These competitive intelligence professionals can talk directly to the C-suite. By gaining access to partners the marketers will hear what’s on their minds before it becomes a crisis.

Challenge 5 – Widen the competitive set: A law firm’s competition is anyone that corporate counsel says is a competitor. That means competition will enter from traditional and non-traditional corners of the market. We discussed Axiom Law, a tech-driven, corporate-structured competitor, increasingly saps business away from traditional partner-run firms. There are others. Those attending these CI certification courses realize this. Now it’s time their firms do, as well.

The time is right. Competition in legal services has increased exponentially in recent years.   LMA’s certificate students realize this and appreciate the value CI can bring to their organizations.   Make room for the CI Mack Truck rather than get hit by it – over and over again.