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In this two-part blog series, Jenny Schwope of Calibrate speaks with Marcie Borgal Shunk about some of the key differentiators for law firm Competitive Intelligence (CI) professionals and how they directly impact innovation and can improve your firm’s bottom line.

Marcie Borgal Shunk is President & Founder of The Tilt Institute, specializing in helping law firms create data-driven change for competitive advantage. Marcie works with leaders to develop effective go-to-market plans and motivate action. She is a frequent speaker on competitive intelligence, client relationship dynamics and the future of law, is an ALM Legal Intelligence fellow, and is regularly featured in leading publications including The American Lawyer, Law360, Bloomberg Law and The Legal Intelligencer.

Marcie Borgal Shunk
Q: You are considered an expert in legal competitive intelligence (CI) strategies. Tell us more about how you define competitive intelligence and how this drives law firm innovation.

A: That’s a great question. People have many different understandings of competitive intelligence and what it is. It is often confused with exclusively being about competitors, which is a narrow definition that can be both limiting and misleading. I prefer to go with the definition put forth by most academics and leaders in the field, including Ben Gilad, which is competitive intelligence is any analysis that helps to inform strategy and decision-making. In other words, insights gleaned from analysis of market position, clients, client industries, financial and operational benchmarks, macro-trends, and, of course, competitors and the competitive landscape, all fall under the umbrella of competitive intelligence. The key that differentiates competitive intelligence from say, data gathering or research, is the analysis itself. If there are no findings, it’s not intelligence.

Q: What sparked your interest in CI and what fuels your passion for helping law firms with their CI capabilities?

A: I’ve been working with data my whole life. In undergrad, I was a social science major and learned statistics and survey design, which I applied mostly to understanding race relations and cultural trends at the time. After college, I worked in economic consulting and then in market research, eventually landing at The BTI Consulting Group where I helped build the legal vertical. That’s really where my passion for working with law firms ignited – I had wanted to be a lawyer earlier in life and what I found instead is the opportunity to work with lawyers – who tend to be smart, skeptical and engaged – and pursue my love of data analytics. There is nothing better than putting together all the puzzle pieces in an analysis to find the best opportunity or approach to market, and then working with clients to make it happen.

Q: What role does law firm leadership play in driving the success of law firm CI?

A: Well, that depends. Many law firms use their CI functions to drive business development efforts. In this context, CI functions need support and collaboration primarily from the marketing and BD folks.

In a smaller number of firms, CI is playing a more proactive, strategic role – ultimately, this is where I’d like to see the industry evolve as a whole. In these firms, CI is integrated with strategic decisions – ways to target clients, where to expand geographically, prioritizing burgeoning sectors or service needs. This is where leadership is essential – it is incumbent upon leaders to demand data before decisions, and to translate CI into action. Leaders who look to CI roles to inform their strategy and decisions set an example. Leaders who then transform data into action steps and motivate others to get on board – those leaders are rare. They are the ones who will get the most out of CI and will help to elevate the role of CI in law firms.

Q: If CI is fully utilized in a law firm, what are the top 3 benefits you have seen as a result?

A: A few years back, we teamed up with Acritas to study the Evolution of CI in Law Firms. The most pronounced benefit for those firms that had more effective CI functions was financial – they had higher revenue growth by a small margin and higher growth in profit metrics – PPP, PPL and RPL – by up to 50%. That was a pretty remarkable finding.

Other benefits, of course, include making better investments overall with lower risk and higher reward and making better use of scarce resources. Lawyers have plenty on their plates. CI, done well, can give lawyers key insights into clients and sectors, a sense of the most profitable targets, and a much better handle on where the best opportunities are. It offers more bang for the buck, so to speak.

In Part 2 of this blog series, we explore key considerations for hiring your next law firm CI professional.

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