It’s no secret. Law firms stay in business because we have paying clients. And the attorneys are encouraged (strongly encouraged) to continue to bring in new clients. Sometimes it’s relatively easy because the prospective client is a friend from college/law school/etc. Sometimes it’s not quite as easy; for example, it’s someone the attorney has never met but is a referral from another client, or it’s someone they’ve met by chance at a social or business event. Whoever it is, the attorney needs to go into the meeting prepared, and that means knowing about the prospective client’s business and business needs. That’s where Competitive Intelligence/CI comes into play. In business, it’s called Competitive Intelligence and it’s a science unto itself. In law firms, it’s more frequently called Business Development, and each firm has their own way of handling it.
The firm marketing department can put together a flashy folder with information about how great the firm and the attorney are. But Marketing doesn’t usually do research on the prospective client’s business. Either the attorney or someone from Marketing will come to the library (in reality, they’ll call or email) and say they need information on XYZ Corp. If the Library (or whatever it’s called in the firm) is on good terms with Marketing, they’ll give you at least a few days lead time. The lead time generally sets the tone for the amount of information that can be provided.
Firm researchers, as a rule, know their attorneys. They know whether the attorney wants a short summary with a few talking points, or if the attorney wants every article ever written that mentions XYZ Corp. With large public or private companies, we can put together a pretty comprehensive package of information. Smaller private companies just don’t have the same volume of publicly-available information. At a minimum, the information should include a summary of the company’s business, the names of their executives, and some more detailed information about whoever the attorney is meeting.
The type of meeting also plays a role in the report. If it’s a short lunch meeting, the attorney doesn’t need as much information, but does need some good talking points. Both about XYZ Corp. and, ideally, some common ground with the client representative – kids, sports, alumni associations. For a more formal meeting, the attorneys need to know more about the client’s business and their business needs. The amount of detail that we can provide varies with each firm’s subscriptions and their staffing. And, the lead time. 30 minutes notice gets the bare basics; a week gets the attorney a lot more. Some firms put together detailed “briefing books”, some just provide a canned report from one of the databases. My reports generally fall somewhere in the middle.
First, I include a summary of XYZ Corp. – frequently cut-and-pasted from one of the business databases. I’ll include a list of their top executives, and a biography of the General Counsel as well as anyone with whom the attorney is meeting. I’ll include recent news articles, as well as highlighting any recent corporate achievements or red flags, especially bankruptcies or a lot of litigation. Yes, some analysis is needed to do this last part – I have to cull articles and look for things that will help the attorney make a good presentation. This isn’t practicing law, there are no legal issues involved. I’m simply reviewing the information and determining what I think is relevant for a business presentation. [Yes, sometimes an attorney will ask for a quick legal analysis in conjunction with a business development presentation, but that’s not the norm.]
What I try to do is give the attorney as much relevant information as possible without overloading them. I do have the occasional attorney who wants to see every news article, and I’m happy to send those, but most just want a few recent articles. I put a summary at the front, and a quick note about any attachments. Then the attorney has the salient information in a short, hopefully one-page document, and can look at the attachments at his/her leisure. This works at my firm. [Unfortunately I don’t have a “canned” format for these reports, so I have no shareable documents.] I’ve had fewer requests for business development reports over the last year, so I’m guessing the newer (I hesitate to say younger) attorneys are doing much of their own research on the Internet.