Law Firms -- Figuring Out What's Ahead
In an increasingly competitive market, law firms that can read the future stand the best chance of success. But since most law firms don't have a CTRO (chief tealeaf-reading officer) on staff, they need to look to more conventional techniques. Bruce McEwen offers some ideas in his post How Can You Know What's Next? Among other things, law firms can actively scan for information on future trends:
In contrast to passive is active scanning, where one poses a question to oneself (or one's firm) and proceeds to look for answers in whatever one normally comes across: For example, an ad agency might ask everyone to start reading and viewing things from the perspective of what the impact of Tivo will be on the traditional 30-second ad. For a law firm, the "active scanning" question might be: What macroeconomic trends are emerging that suggest practice areas we want to develop in preparation for the next 3-5 years? For example, who saw private equity and hedge funds coming? If your firm didn't -- especially after the passage of Sarbanes-Oxley in 2002 -- what were you thinking?
McEwen also writes that there's serendipitous scanning, "where you purposefully expose yourself to material you wouldn't see otherwise." He describes:
Famously, when Buckminster Fuller was travelling, he would pick up a magazine at the airport bookshop at random and proceed to read it cover-to-cover on the plane, looking for new perspectives on life he was not otherwise exposed to. This may seem a bit far out for you, but what if you made a point of packing your carry-on with reading material from the bedside tables of your spouse, your kids, and a random selection of your partners (trust me, they'll be flattered you asked!)?
The Boston Globe has this advice (6/19/06) for law firms: competitive intelligence. According to the article, competitive intelligence is:
Sometimes called corporate spying, opposition research, or simply market analysis, the term refers to marketplace knowledge that can be used to make business decisions.
From the article, here's how a law firm might incorporate competitive intelligence in comparison with how many firms currently make decisions:
For lawyers, that [competitive intelligence] analysis might mean understanding how an upcoming merger of law firms could change the competitive landscape, how an anticipated regulatory change could affect business, when a practice area is ripe for expansion, or whether the arrival of a national law firm poses a threat. Without that knowledge, a law firm could overlook a promising opportunity to merge or lose a lucrative client to a rival firm.
These are tactical considerations that sound basic to many business people and perhaps even obvious. But some law firms have been known to make strategic decisions based on little more than intuition, gut instinct, or such ill-considered factors as opening a new office based on the desire of a single client, expanding overseas because a rival has done so, or allowing a bigger-is-better mentality to drive a decision to merge.
Whatever you call it -- active or serendipitous scanning or competitive intelligence -- clearly larger firms are realizing that they must incorporate these techniques to play in an increasingly competitive environment. Is your firm looking ahead?
Posted by Carolyn Elefant on June 21, 2006 at 05:12 PM | Permalink
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