Important law firm decisions should never be made in a vacuum. Instead, they should be made with an abundance of the right information in hand. For many law firm decisions, “the right information” means competitive intelligence.
Competitive intelligence is defined as a systematic and ethical program for gathering, analyzing and managing information about the external business environment – information that can affect all of a law firm’s plans, decisions and operations.
Competitive intelligence can be information about organizations – like your clients, potential clients and adversaries. It can be information about other law firms – like collaborators, opposing counsel or even potential merger partners. It can be information about the legal needs in particular industries or markets.
Competitive intelligence can also be information about people – like the people you will meet in a pitch, in the boardroom, in the courtroom (like opposing counsel or an expert witness) or in a hiring interview.
In any of these settings, knowledge of companies and people is power.
When gathering competitive intelligence, there competitive intelligence is a wrong way and a right way to go about it. The wrong way is typified by computer hackers like Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As much as we enjoy the book and the movie, and want Lisbeth to succeed, we cannot condone her tactics. This kind of corporate espionage makes for good entertainment, but bad – and unethical – business.
The ethical gathering of competitive intelligence complies with all applicable laws – domestic as well as international. It is obtained from legitimate online and print sources, in both public and subscription databases. When obtained by interviews (either with targeted competitor staff and customers or as general field research), the ethical interviewer discloses up front both her identity and the purpose of the interview.
Before starting any competitive research project, it is essential that you have a plan. Thanks to the Internet, there are an almost unlimited number of resources out there. You can waste a lot of time and money searching them all. If we know your goals for a particular research project, we can help you concentrate your resources on the most likely, valid and reliable sources for your purpose.
Competitive intelligence on companies, competitors and adversaries
Some sources of competitive intelligence about companies, competitors and adversaries are paid and some are free to the public. Because of the nature of their work, many law firms and law librarians already have access to many of the paid recourses. These include products offered by industry giants LexisNexis and Thomson West.