Monday, September 29, 2008

CI Pro Interview with Christopher Batio

Name: Christopher Batio
Title: Assistant Director for Business Development and Competitive Intelligence
Firm: Crowell & Moring, LLP

Since: January 2005
Profiles: LinkedIn

Q: What is your job description at Crowell & Moring?

A: I oversee all business development activity, including proposals, pitches, lateral biz dev planning, biz dev tools, and CI. I also do some training in biz dev planning for young attorneys and am developing a presentation on effective ways for lawyers to use online networking.

Q: Who are your typical CI clients at X?

A: My typical clients are practice group chairs, supervising client partners, young partners and counsel building their book of business, and lateral attorneys working to transition business to Crowell & Moring. I also work with non-attorney professionals in our Public Policy Group and International Trade Consulting Group. When we are trying to win significant new business or retain a long-time client, I am usually at the center of things.

Q: What are three common KITs you’re often asked to address?

A: KITs we often deal with include: 1) developing data on competition decision makers, 2) identifying competitors and their strengths and weaknesses, 3) identifying potential lateral attorney recruits, and 4) developing data on client issues to suggest cross-selling opportunities.

Q: How is the intelligence function organized at your firm? To whom do you report?

A: Our CI function rests within our Marketing and Business Development Department, but we often work with our Library Research Services Team for support. I report to the Director of Marketing and the CMO of our firm.

Q: What experience or training prepared you most for the CI work you do now at Crowell?

A: While managing proposal teams for KPMG and GE, I worked to analyze more than 300 different companies during competitive pursuits. This experience helped teach me more than any other about how to glean useful information from public sources and then analyze it to develop meaningful CI.

Q: What formal CI training have you had?

A: I have read extensively on CI since I first began doing professional services marketing in 1998, focusing on material by Leonard Fuld and Ben Gilad. I have also attended seminars run by Fuld & Company, Ann Lee Gibson, and SCIP over the years.

Q: Where do you go for ongoing CI training and mentoring?

A: Ann Lee Gibson (of course!) and my boss, José Cunningham.

Prudence and analysis

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about analysis, both in terms of competitive intelligence and in terms that affect me directly—like investment decisions, career management, whom to vote for, how my industry will be affected by the events on Wall Street and in Washington—things like that.

Anyone who has a passing acquaintance with competitive intelligence knows that analysis lies at its heart. Analysis is everything CI professionals do with information they gather to identify patterns and produce intelligence their decision-making clients use to improve their decisions.

With these issues on my mind, a paragraph in a recent New York Times column by David Brooks, "Why Experience Matters,"
caught my eye:

“What is prudence? It is the ability to grasp the unique pattern of a specific situation. It is the ability to absorb the vast flow of information and still discern the essential current of events — the things that go together and the things that will never go together. It is the ability to engage in complex deliberations and feel which arguments have the most weight.”
Hmmm, I thought, this sounds like analysis. In fact, I like very much Brooks’s definition of prudence as a synonym for analysis. His prudence is no Nervous Nellie of a virtue, but sagacity, shrewdness, intellectual discipline, and good judgment rolled up into one helluva risk-minimizing Athena-like attribute.

Brooks goes on to posit that prudence is acquired through experience. He says one gains experience through personal involvement and the study of history. He says prudent leaders have the ability to build and test models “… and apply those [models] to current circumstances to evaluate what’s important and what’s not, who can be persuaded and who can’t, what has worked and what hasn’t.”

I don’t recall seeing anywhere any better description of analysis and decision-making. I’m only surprised it came in the form of a political column. (Memo to self: Keep inspecting those assumptions.)

Finally, these connections among prudence, experience, and analysis also inform another ongoing argument I have with myself: When law firms build and staff their CI units, should they (1) hire CI professionals from other industries who have strong analytical skills, but no legal industry experience or (2) reassign people within the law firm to this unit who have strong industry knowledge and experience, demonstrated analytical instincts, but no CI analytical training or experience? Although this is a topic for another column, I already think the best answer will not be a simple “either-or” one.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Heller to dissolve tomorrow

According to a brief article published by The Recorder at Cal Law sometime after 1:00 pm Pacific time this afternoon, partners of the Bay Area-based law firm of Heller Ehrman will vote to voluntarily dissolve the firm tomorrow, Friday, September 26.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

CI Pro Interview with Jan Rivers of Dorsey & Whitney

This is the second in a series of interviews I’m conducting with CI professionals who work in law firms. My goal is to understand better their backgrounds, skills, reporting structures, contributions, and outlooks.

Name: Jan Rivers
Title: Competitive Intelligence Liaison
Firm: Dorsey & Whitney LLP
Since: 2002
LinkedIn and Law Libraries Ning

Q: What’s your job description at Dorsey & Whitney?

A: I conduct competitive intelligence for the firm’s marketing and strategic initiatives.

Q: What’s your formal educational background?

A: My undergraduate degree was in mass communications, with other undergrad work in international relations. I also have a Master’s degree in Library Science.

Q: Who are your typical clients at the firm?

A: My typical clients are Marketing and Business Development, firm management and operational departments, and practice groups. I work with everyone from financial analysts to the management committee to recruiting personnel to practice heads to marketing directors to partners and associates. This is across all offices.

Q: How is the intelligence function organized at your firm and to whom do you report?

A: The CI function is part of the firm’s Information Resources Center, formerly known as the library. I report to the Director of Information Resources and have a dotted line relationship to the Marketing and Business Development department. I attend both groups’ meetings and both have input on my performance review, etc.

Q: What experience or training has prepared you most for the CI work you’re doing now?

A: I think my experience at Arthur Andersen prepared me the most for the CI work I do at Dorsey. I was with Andersen for six years before joining Dorsey, lastly as a manager in the Risk Management Services Group. Prior to that at Andersen I was part of the AskNetwork, a business unit within Knowledge Enterprises. We were a research, database development and information resource procurement group serving external, as well as internal, clients and were on the practice side of the business, not the support staff side. The corporate experience was invaluable not only from the research side, but from the operational side as well. We had to bid for work, estimate large research and database development project costs for clients, etc. I was a team leader and manager in the AskNetwork, thus was involved in the team’s operations, strategic planning and other initiatives. It was like being on the management team of a business, which has been great experience for understanding what drives business and strategy. I also have a communications/ journalism background, which has been helpful in knowing how to write and put together reports.

Q: Where do you look for professional inspiration and mentors?

A: For ongoing CI training and mentoring, I go to both the Special Libraries Association's Competitive Intelligence Division and to the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals. I also go to the American Association of Law Libraries' Competitive Intelligence Caucus (disclaimer: I'm a co-founder). Additionally, I network with a number of other law firm CI professionals.

Q: How would you describe the future of CI in the legal industry?

A: I think that CI will continue to gain momentum and will not be seen as a "nice-to-have" capability, but as a necessary one. This is already happening, but it will accelerate as more firms establish a CI function. CI will eventually become a distinct unit within law firms co-existing alongside Marketing/Business Development, Information Resources, and other departments. Some firms are closer to this than others, but as the function further develops and becomes a standard part of firm operations, it will move into a more formalized structure of its own.

Monday, September 22, 2008

It's Hard to Accept Intelligence That Breaks Your Heart

It must be very difficult to accept intelligence that foretells your demise or says your dearest strategies and models have failed. That’s the situation in which the major investment banks found themselves in the last few weeks and where many commercial banks also find themselves. It’s also the situation some US-based law firms are in now.

As most readers from law firms know, two Bay Area-based firms, Heller and Thelen, are visibly struggling with “you’re probably not going to make it” warnings, as they seek to find merger partners.

Eleven months ago I prepared a report for a client that was considering expanding in the Bay Area, which included this statement:

At least half a dozen large Bay Area law firms are showing signs of stress. If one or more of these firms were acquired or dissolved, the health of the remaining major firms practicing in the Bay Area—in San Francisco and the Valley and even beyond—would improve. Such change(s) would make a dramatically positive difference for a few firms.
Heller and Thelen were among the six stressed firms I reviewed, although they were in trouble for different reasons.

Over the years, Heller did many things right and built an admirable brand with a strong culture. Following the tech bubble, the firm was quick to jump on the life sciences bandwagon in 2002-2003. But in 2004 and 2005 the firm’s revenue and profit trends faded. The firm responded with partner de-equitizations, staff cuts, and other cuts and lowered expectations. If the firm made any strategic changes, those weren’t visible from the outside, although considerable business development flogging was evident. Still, “work harder, build revenue, cut costs, and de-equitize partners” is not a strategy.

Nearly three years later, after seeking and not finding a merger partner, Heller is considering dissolution, among other options. Their candor on this point is refreshing and, although deeply depressing to loyal Hellerites, will probably ensure that Heller’s best remaining legal DNA mates with the best possible other legal DNA at other firms.

Thelen, another Bay Area firm whose brand is less burnished than Heller, is regularly losing partners and groups while they seek a merger partner—their third. The firm has already squandered opportunities to grow and diversify through mergers it initiated with two New York-based firms, Reid & Priest and Brown & Raysman, but both mergers resulted in little permanent gain. Thelen’s growth strategy, to expand beyond its old-economy practices like construction law into financial, IP, and other practices, was upended by internal West Coast vs. East Coast rivalries. The West Coast winners were merciless, and the East Coast losers fled, as did some West Coast partners who found more peaceful places to practice law.

Memo to file: Collaborate, don’t compete, to achieve post-merger assimilation.

The Bay Area is not the only US geographic market that would be healthier with fewer corporate law firms; Atlanta, Boston, and Philadelphia have long been too crowded. And now it seems New York will experience law firm mergers and failures too. Obvious NYC candidates for hastened demise are firms that have lost big clients and will see double-digit percentage losses in firm-wide revenue and that have a very high transactional to litigation capability ratio.

Bruce MacEwen, the estimable law firm economist who blogs at, reminded readers on Sunday that the most basic strategy key intelligence topics now apply: What are your firm’s strengths, and how much does the marketplace need what you have to offer?

Fortunes, careers, and reputations are made in exciting times like these. And hearts are broken, too.

The death of i-banks and the future of law firms that served them

It’s a brave new world this Monday morning. The last two large Wall Street investment banks left standing, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, disappeared over the weekend. And if they didn’t exactly disappear, they’re no longer i-banks either.

On Sunday, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley agreed to become bank holding companies, which are subject to much more stringent regulatory oversight by the Federal Reserve. This oversight will significantly increase their financial transparency. The change will also reduce the banks’ abilities to take big risks and make huge profits. They’ll have to put more of their own money into deals they put together. When borrowing large amounts of money to invest themselves, they’ll likely pay more for that money. Going forward, they won’t be able to invest nearly as much in non-financial companies as before.

What do these changes, effects, and possible unintended consequences mean for Wall Street law firms that evolved to fit i-banks’ needs and benefitted enormously from their success?

To address this very large question, let’s look first at what the changes are likely to include. Under the rosiest scenario, where the Federal Reserve’s actions and interventions have the desired effects, there’s considerable agreement that:

1. Credit will gradually become more available, and financings at all levels will move forward again.

2. No one will use the R word, but thawing credit doesn’t alter the fact that the U.S. is in an economic slump (the S word), a condition that will last who knows how long.

3. The bloodletting in the financial sector is not over; more banks will fail, in the US and abroad.

4. Profits in the financial sector will be down near-term and probably much longer.

5. At some point, investors will begin loosening their grip on record levels of cash and start investing again.

6. US markets are in a bear market, although global markets will reverse sooner.

7. Short-selling has been “temporarily” banned in some markets (I’m keeping the air quotes for now), and it’s rumored these bans may be extended.

8. Consolidation within the financial sector will continue, yielding near-term deal work.

9. Regulatory expansion in the financial sector will be a huge boon to the legal industry.

10. Litigation involving the financial sector and those who work there will be huge, with expected benefits for big litigation shops.

11. Bankruptcy and business reorganization work will be abundant.

One law firm success theorem says firms should serve sectors that are highly profitable. The no-longer-i-banks are not the highly attractive profitability destination they once were. That leaves hedge funds and private equity, and regulators are already headed in those directions. That leaves the big global banks, which, for the next era, will rule.

Sooner rather than later, human ingenuity and greed (in service to the urges humans have to compete and survive) will produce new financing models and instruments that investors will find seductive. Paradigms will shift. I do not believe there is any way regulatory agencies can guard against this kind of creativity. Smarter people will always outplay dumber ones. I’m not saying greed is always good, but I am saying greed (in our lifetime) is inextinguishable.

What is truly astonishing to me is that the intelligence world is relatively quiet about all these events. Why were so many people, companies, industries, and experts of all kinds (including lawyers) caught so flat-footed?

What do you think about all this? What do you think is likely to happen to Wall Street law firms—both near-term and long-term? Which legal practices will profit from these events? Which are endangered? Which new practices might emerge? What kinds of law firm mergers might these events precipitate? Which firms might fail and shockingly so?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The power of myths to (mis)interpret dramatic events

I enjoy and appreciate the work of financial analysts and journalists who write for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and other such periodicals. I also find it hard not to sneak a peek at the comments passionate readers post at the papers’ online sites. These comments sometimes offer psychological insights into how investors might respond to market events and other times are just good for a hoot.

On days like yesterday, when the Dow dropped 449 points following the $85 billion Fed bailout of A.I.G., one would think the economic events themselves would offer readers all the drama they could handle. It turns out that’s not the case. Yesterday, drama queens of all genders chimed in by the hundreds to comment on the events of the day. They reminded me that everybody fancies themselves an analyst who yearns to share their findings and influence decision-makers.

While reading their irate, simplistic, cynical, obsessive, hectoring, lecturing, and occasionally insightful comments, I also pondered the power of myths to explain and interpret frightening times and to give comfort. In the reader comments I read I saw the financial market meltdown and theoretical solutions explained most frequently in terms of good vs. evil; redemption through failure; redemption through sacrifice; the great savior; the hero’s journey; purification through disaster, et cetera—and I do mean et cetera!

One of several conclusions I came to at the end of a long day, spent trying to get a handle on what these financial events might mean for the legal industry, is that neither analysts nor decision-makers are immune from the influence of mythology to interpret dramatic events.

Although analysts might be justified in (and get away with) harnessing the power of myths when presenting actionable intelligence to decision-makers, we must guard against letting myths influence the hypotheses we test and the evidence we gather and consider (or fail to gather and consider).

Sometimes we really will find something new under the sun.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

CI Pro Interview with Bill Fiora of Nixon Peabody

This is the first in a series of interviews I’m conducting with CI pros who work in law firms. My goal is to understand better their backgrounds, skills, reporting structures, contributions, and outlooks.

Name: Bill Fiora
Title: Manager of Competitive Intelligence
Firm: Nixon Peabody LLP
Since: October 2007

Q: What’s your job description at Nixon Peabody?

A: My job here is to help the firm spot new growth and business development opportunities, in terms of geographies, client industries and within existing client relationships.

Q: Who are your typical CI clients at the firm?

A: My clients are the firm’s management committee. My assignments don’t come from individual partners.

Q: How did Nixon Peabody recruit you?

A: I could see that the function was very well positioned in terms of my having an impact on strategic issues and being able to focus on analysis, rather than on information collection.

Q: How is the intelligence function organized at your firm and to whom do you report?

A: I report into the Market Intelligence function, which at Nixon Peabody includes competitive intelligence, market research, and industry teams. I report directly to the Director of Market Intelligence, and she reports to the firm’s Chief Marketing Officer.

Q: What are some common key intelligence topics you’re asked to address?

A: Essentially, I try to figure out where our key client industries are going, what their areas of growth are, and where our firm might consider being in the next three to five years, both in the US and abroad.

Q: What experience or training has prepared you most for the CI work you’re doing now?

A: I’ve been working in CI so long it’s hard to say. My first intelligence job was with the CIA, where I worked for six and a half years. Then for ten years I was a CI consultant, helping companies establish and improve their CI capabilities. Through all that I’ve been able to see or learn quite a few best practices, traps, and key success factors.

Q: What’s your formal educational background?

A: I majored in government and history as an undergraduate and have a master’s degree in international affairs.

Q: What formal CI training have you had?

A: Very little, actually. The last formal CI training I had was when I was working for the federal government. Since then I’ve been delivering more training than I’ve been taking.

Q: What’s been your involvement in the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP)?

A: I joined SCIP in 1995. Since 2003, I’ve been a member of SCIP’s national board, first as a member-at-large and the last two years as SCIP’s treasurer. I’ve also served on the steering committee for a local Boston chapter. I’ve written articles for SCIP’s publications and presented at most of SCIP’s annual conferences and at chapter meetings on topics like analysis and dissemination. The dissemination aspect of CI is something I care a lot about, making sure CI deliverables are relevant, succinct, and forward-looking, not just summations of what’s already been published.

Q: Where do you look for professional inspiration and mentors?

A: These days, most of my mentors aren’t in the CI field, but do strategy work in corporations or specialize in information delivery methods, visualization, and writing techniques. I’m spending less time these days learning how to get information and more time learning how to present information in ways that will have an impact on decision-makers. They include visual designers, professional writers, psychologists, and people like Edward Tufte. I also study how consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, Deloitte, and leading business publications present information and analysis visually.

Q: What aptitudes do you think are necessary in a good CI professional?

A: You’ve got to have an insatiable curiosity and be comfortable with ambiguity. You must also be able to write very well, which is probably the most underappreciated skill in business.

Q: How would you describe the future of CI in the legal industry?

A: I think CI definitely has a bright future in the legal industry as law firms get larger, competition intensifies, and our clients' global business issues become even more complex. This has already happened in the larger accounting and consulting firms, which established sophisticated CI functions when their industry went through similar changes. Right now, CI is a hot topic in law firms, but only those firms that approach CI in a serious manner and position it as a strategic function will see a competitive advantage. In time, those firms that try to do CI halfway or on the cheap eventually will go back to business as usual.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Coming soon – real live law firm CI pros!

Competitive intelligence can be a lonely business. Those law firm CI pros who started their careers in government agencies or law enforcement bring to this discipline a security consciousness that can be intimidating. Their tendencies toward secrecy and isolation can rub off on the rest of us. Secrecy can also provide cover for those new to CI who are faking it until they can make it, a time-honored upward mobility tactic.

In 2008, it’s not much of an exaggeration to call law firm CI professionals pioneers. CI is not a new discipline, but law firms are just beginning to understand the CI function and how to obtain CI’s greatest benefits. In fact, today’s law firm CI field reminds me of law firm marketing 20-25 years ago, when marketing wasn't a new field, but law firm marketing certainly was.

As an old-time law firm marketer and in the spirit of Web 2.0 transparency, I want to help budding law firm CI practitioners and those who need to learn how CI can benefit law firms meet some real law firm CI pros.

Starting tomorrow right here in River City (this blog), I will interview law firm CI professionals who are willing to answer some basic questions. Over time, we’ll learn how their backgrounds, job descriptions, and reporting structures vary. Later, we’ll learn more about some analytics they use in their jobs.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

SCIP offers CI training in fall 2008

I’ve long believed law firm CI workers should belong to the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals ( For many years I’ve been a member of SCIP and think it’s a great organization for education, mentoring, and networking.

SCIP has some good programs coming up in the next few months. A couple of good courses for those new to law firm CI will be on tap next week in the Washington, DC area:

CI 101® and CI 202™
September 8-9, 2008
Westin Hotel, Alexandria, VA

Starting and Managing a CI Function (New!)
September 10-11, 2008
Westin Hotel, Alexandria, VA

European Summit 08
October 20-22, 2008
Crowne Plaza, Rome, Italy

Financial Analysis Courses I through IV
December 2-5, 2008
Hilton Old Town, Alexandria, VA

For fuller listings and descriptions of SCIP’s 2008 fall training offerings, visit SCIP’s
Events Calendar.