Law Firms and CI

October 10, 2017

A local legal publication noted[1] the release of a study on competitive intelligence and large law firms. Among its findings was that “[l]aw firms are thirsty for data that could make them more competitive, but few are using it for proactive, strategic planning….”

First. I commend the full text of the report to you – it is thoughtful and enlightening. You can follow the links from the story to get it.

Second, I was taken by some of its observations:

  • 2/3rds of the firms in the study staffed the CI function with people whose background was “library or research”, while only 1/3 hired “professionals with CI background.”
  • Interestingly, about 1/3 of the firms reported that their CI teams’ ability to “connect the dots” was something in which they excelled. Hum.
  • And how about this: almost 2/3rds of the firms said that the CI teams’ work was more tactical than strategic. See anything now?

I would like to add to this some observations.

My qualifications? My background, in addition to decades in CI includes working in 3 law firms and in 2 corporate legal departments. (highest positions being Resident Counsel in the former and VP/General Counsel and in the latter). In fact, I have even written a couple of articles on CI for law firms, before it was a popular subject for discussion.[2]

One unidentified source of a drag on some CI programs is the client himself, herself, themselves:  the lawyers in the law firm themselves.

Let me explain (by generalizing overly broadly):

  • Some partners tend to possessiveness of information on “their” clients, because information is seen by them as power or at least a route to success.
  • Most associates at law firms are not heavily (or even at all) involved in business development, so CI is almost irrelevant to them. That also means that associates becoming partners will not usually understand anything about their firm’s CI process and what to expect from it.
  • Withholding some client information or access from other lawyers in the same firm is frequent, particularly when there is partner hunting/poaching by that firm and/or competing firms going on.
  • Lawyers live in world of confidentiality – they tend instinctively to give little information out (which impedes developing proper KITs and KIQs by the CI team), and, in turn, they often expect to receive little. Then, these diminished expectations mean they have less interest in becoming involved with CI.
  • Lawyers usually believe that only lawyers, or at best paralegals, can understand the law, and therefore the legal business – despite the apparent high correlation between success and the use of experienced CI people by large law firms noted above.
  • Legal research is different, very different, from CI research. Put another way, elicitation is not likely to be seen as a way to gather competitively sensitive data by those familiar only with using depositions to gather information. Also, the bulk of legal research is now done using commercial online services (LexisNexis, Bloomberg Law Westlaw), so some lawyers may have a perception that secondary research is the only way to go rather than being, well, secondary.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140-141).

[1] Lizzy McLellan, “Report Finds Law Firms Playing Catch-Up on Competitive Intelligence”, The Legal Intelligencer, October 3, 2017.

[2] “Knowing Your Competition: Can Competitive Intelligence make your firm extraordinary?”, Legal Management, Nov.-Dec. 2011, 35-39; “Competitive Intelligence: A New Tool For Lawyers”, Legal Times, May 19, 1986.

Freedom FROM Information Access Acts

September 18, 2017

The AP has reported on yet more efforts to restrict the scope of state open record/FOIA laws and limiting the public’s access to them. [1]

As you can see from the text and from many of my previous blogs on this (just search “FOIA”), the pressures come from several directions, as they have in the past, including:

  • From police, prosecutors and their supporters, usually aimed at limiting or barring access to body-cam recordings of police-involved activities, or of access to related information, such as emergency/911 call recordings and records.
  • From regulated businesses, seeking to keep their information, always called “sensitive”, “confidential”, or “proprietary” (without any supporting evidence), from competitors and from the public (AKA their own customers). I guess that they finally figured out that sound CI research procedures call for checking these records. Ah, the price of success!
  • From governmental units themselves, seeking to remove from the public view more and more of their records, reports, and even proceedings. This is done by changing rules, just flatly declining to provide requested records, and by hindering access through fees and lawsuits. Oddly, the same entities often pat themselves on the back for their transparency. Go figure.

So, keep on using state and federal laws to access records in your CI efforts, but do not expect the same success as you have had in the past. Also, from now on, when reading about open records, and the like, keep in mind the new terms you should use:

  • For “transparent”, now think “opaque”.
  • For “open records”, use “inaccessible records”.
  • For “freedom of information acts”, say “freedom from information access acts”

Happy (more and more limited) hunting.

[1] GOVERNMENTS TURN TABLES BY SUING PUBLIC RECORDS REQUESTERS, Sept, 17, 2017; Request denied: States try to block access to public records, Sept. 17, 2017.

No One is Right All of the Time

September 9, 2017

The hurricane activity of the past weeks in the US is still sinking in for all of us, in particular the many residents of the damaged areas. They are in our prayers.

But for those of us in CI, there is a lesson.

The forecasters, private and governmental, were unable to predict the track of either Irma or Harvey more than 48 hours out. Yet they were working with dozen, perhaps hundreds of programs, vast amounts of computer power, decades of records, and real time data from space, hurricane penetrating aircraft, and ocean buoys.


Because real life is never 100% predicable. Keep that in mind when you find that you cannot totally predict a competitor’s reactions to your new product launch – or whatever.

Close enough is as much as humans (and computers) can come in the real world.


Competitive Intelligence and the Circular Economy

August 28, 2017

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog dealing with the “circular economy”. Since then, I have done some digging into this topic and conclude that (a) the circular economy is, not might be, coming, and (b) competitive intelligence as we know for firms that are a part of this will have to undergo major changes as a result.

One consequence is that I have written a longer piece on the subject, which you might enjoy reading. A brief extract may interest you:

“The rise of the CE [Circular Economy] will necessarily have major impacts on competitive and strategic intelligence. They appear to fall into 4 broad categories:

  • A change in the stature of CI.
  • A reduction in [CI] employment opportunities with firms in the CE, while increasing it in firms outside of the CE.
  • Greater opportunities for those trained in defensive intelligence.
  • A need for new skills and education for intelligence personnel working in the CE.”

The full paper is “Ten years gone, holdin’ on, ten years gone ”: The Circular Economy and the Evolutionary Trajectory of the Competitive Intelligence Profession.

It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

August 21, 2017.


On August 1, I wrote about a lawsuit in California involving LinkedIn and a firm that analyzes workforce data “scraped” from the public profiles posted on LinkedIn, noting its potential impact on competitive intelligence, among other things..

There has been a development in that case. News reports indicate that the federal judge overseeing the case ordered LinkedIn to remove “technical blocks” it had installed to prevent hiQ from getting access to the publicly accessible information on LinkedIn’s users.

That does not mean that the case is over and that firms and individuals, including CI firms and DIYers, have nothing to worry about. This order is a preliminary injunction, which means that it stays in force while the underlying case goes to trial. And, LinkedIn has said that it may challenge this decision in the interim.

Brian Fung’s Washington Post article has an interesting analysis of this still pending case.

Stay tuned.

Social Media

August 8, 2017

Recently, I participated in a survey conducted by Contify – Is social media a source of Market Intelligence on companies? The firm sent me access to the results and has allowed me to share them with you. It is a fascinating study. You can access the document here.

Let me make a few comments on it and share a couple of my own observations on social media.

One of the key take-aways for me was that using social media to do research for CI assignments and\or to conduct regular monitoring can be useful. My observation is that you have to be willing to invest a lot of time, seeking the proverbial needle in the haystack. But, if it is there, it is worth it (in retrospect).

Another key take-away is Contify’s conclusion that social media tends to be more valuable when you are targeting a smaller firm:

“For a given period, small companies have lesser number of business updates to share, as compared to large companies. However, small companies are more likely to announce an important business update on social than release a press releases in traditional media.”

My experience is that when you are targeting a family-owned business, which tends to be smaller, social media can be quite helpful by identifying who is who, and by providing photos of everything from other family members to the inside of factories to new products to key customers. But, again there is the time issue.

Finally, always keep in mind that what you are seeing is only what someone else wants you to see – well, not specifically you, but rather some other audience or audiences. Consider LinkedIn. I am sure you can understand how useful LinkedIn can be to identify key personnel, to spot the occasional brag that can uncover new facts, and to identify potential interviewees.

But consider that each LinkedIn profile is written by that very person. So? I can tell you, from experience, that just because a profile says that person is working as the VP of Whatever Company may not be true, or at least current. People who have been laid off sometimes keep the page content static to enhance their chances of attracting a recruiter or otherwise improve their job-hunting chances.

The same is true for all social media – particularly messages and pictures on Facebook, as well as videos on YouTube. With all social media, while you may think it is a look inside a target, remember, seeing is not always believing.

Really Think About It

August 1, 2017

There is something going on in California (where else?) that could deeply impact competitive and strategic intelligence research. Here is a short summery, taken from a local Internet source:

“A San Francisco tech startup [HiQ Labs] is seeking to enjoin LinkedIn from restricting it from accessing public profile information…. [HiQ says it] collects and analyzes public profile information on LinkedIn to provide clients with insights about their employees. [HiQ] alleges LinkedIn denied it access to the public member profile portions of its website citing [a variety of federal and state laws]. [HiQ] alleges LinkedIn users’ public profile data belongs to the users and not [LinkedIn], but [LinkedIn] asserts it needs to protect member data.”

The case has already had one hearing where Harvard Constitutional Law Professor Laurence Tribe has reportedly argued that LinkedIn is violating HiQ’s constitutional rights by blocking access to LinkedIn’s public sites.

The case is much more complex than this, but it has great potential. Just ask yourself, how would you react if you found that LinkedIn, FaceBook, YouTube, and Twitter all blocked access by people or businesses they suspected were gathering competitive intelligence (or marketing leads or head-hunting data or political sentiments or …).

Your thoughts?