Competing views on competitive intelligence

In May 2014, there was an interesting back-and-forth between Gina Passarella of The Legal Intelligencer and Mark Gediman of 3 Geeks and a Law Blog about law firm competitive intelligence. While I tend to agree less with Passarella’s points and more with Gediman’s counterpoints, I still think it’s great that competitive intelligence is getting covered at all in a mainstream legal publication such as The Legal Intelligencer, because that coverage introduces lawyers to competitive intelligence. Lawyers can always dig deeper if they are interested in learning more about it, but more likely they might want to hire a CI professional.

In “CI & Law Firms: An Integral Part of the Legal Business,” Gediman responds to Passarella’s first article, “Competitive Intelligence: Spy Games or Market Research?” I agree with each of Gediman’s counterpoints, especially these two:

  • Competitive intelligence is not just about business development. While CI can be applied to short-term tactics such as pitches to potential clients, CI is most effective at the strategic level, positioning the firm to survive and thrive in a changing industry landscape.
  • Competitive intelligence does not rely on poorer quality data in the legal field than in other fields. Gediman emphasizes the importance of evaluating and interpreting the available data. I would also point out that lawyers might be more critical of the quality of data underlying CI than those in other fields. Lawyers tend to be risk-averse and are accustomed to pointing out the flaws in arguments. Even the best CI is likely going to be an educated guess about which risks to take, so it should not be surprising if some lawyers justify their resistance to change by doubting the quality of the data that supports a recommendation to take a risk by making a change.

In “CI & Law Firms: The Analysis Conundrum,” Gediman responds to Passarella’s follow-up article, “Law Firms Bulking Up Intelligence Analysis Arms.” Once again, I find myself siding with Gediman, this time as he defends law librarians’ analysis capabilities. Instead of a bright-line distinction between law librarians and CI professionals, Gediman rightly points out the significant overlap between the necessary skillsets and job responsibilities. It has definitely been my experience that when law librarians provide CI to firm leadership, it is presented with analysis, as actionable information; not as data dumps or as academic studies. I especially appreciate Gediman’s providing concrete examples by listing some standout CI professionals with librarian training and law librarian experience: Zena Applebaum, Jan Rivers, and Emily Rushing.