Leveraging research analytics to build insight and revenue

by Ark Group

The following piece was authored by Scott D Bailey*, global research services director at Squire Patton Boggs, for the Ark Group publication The Evolution of the Law Firm Library Function: Transformation and integration into the business of law

He proposes that, with the right people, processes, and tools, law firm libraries can move from learning about the firm in a supporting role to preparing and leading actionable business processes in advance. Partnering with the multiple practice relationships and business development leaders to act on these insights will affix the law firm library in a permanent and valued place in the law firm business model of tomorrow.

The relentless need for business development (BD) intelligence: a major challenge for law firms

Law firm libraries and research services departments have always played a critical role in law firm business success. They support the business development (BD) team and practices by helping maintain current awareness about industries and providing information about clients’ and prospects’ business and risk environment. However, as the competition for legal services increases, two new types of capabilities are increasingly required: (1) proactive support, which means that librarians and researchers initiate research before an attorney or BD staff member requests it; and (2) anticipatory intelligence, which identifies events and trends that may cause a client or prospect to require legal services in the future.

An increasing number of library departments realize that they must increase their value to the firm by moving from being reactive to proactive in finding new business opportunities for the firm. However, doing so requires process improvement and change management. Some researchers are not accustomed to taking a highly proactive approach to information gathering. They may not see it as their role to anticipate business development opportunities and initiate research.

The nexus between research services and new business development is changing rapidly due to competition and technology evolution. It is no longer enough to respond to research requests. Research teams must now capture knowledge about clients and prospects by proactively conducting research, producing new kinds of alerts and newsletters, utilizing the best eResources and building predictive models. They need to proactively deliver BD research products designed for specific practice areas, types of attorneys, regions, and types of matters. If they wait until the law firm receives an RFP or an attorney requests BD-related research, they have waited too long.

Library and research services directors are increasingly aware that they need to continually optimize their capabilities, across people, process, technology, data and governance to enable their firms to spot emerging opportunities, win a larger percentage of them, and develop closer attorney-client relationships that ultimately deliver more value to clients.

Why aren’t some law firm research departments already making these changes? Because those firms face many fundamental challenges, including the following:

  • Research requests from Attorneys and BD staff submitted in an unplanned, ad-hoc manner. Law firms do not have procedures or systems in place to automatically trigger research requests when certain market, regulatory, legal or client-onboarding events occur. Relying on BD staff or lawyers to remember to request BD research is inefficient and unreliable.
  • Limitations to current staffing, strategies, and scale. Law firms vary widely in their research analysis capability. In small firms, attorneys may do their own research; in multinational firms, entire research staffs may be available. Some law firms outsource research and analysis. While some law firms have dramatically increased their BD research headcount in recent years, some have reduced their research librarian staffs. Firms are struggling to keep up with the fast pace of intelligence development, and how best to stay on top of it may present quite a challenge to them.
  • An overwhelming workload of research requests. In some firms, the core research processes are not able to keep up with demand, and need to be improved before research can become more proactive and sophisticated. Some law firm research teams are so overwhelmed by the volume of requests that they currently receive that they find it difficult to imagine become more proactive.
  • Loss of institutional knowledge. When firms’ most experienced researchers, librarians and analysts leave or retire, valuable institutional knowledge is at risk of being lost. Piecing together an understanding of BD research support needs from historical email communications after the fact is difficult.

The bottom line is that law firm libraries and research teams should become more proactive in supporting BD, but they are often distracted by day-to-day priorities; they need help making this transition. So what can law firms do to prepare themselves to meet the challenges of the new business development environment? How do they transition from becoming reactive to proactive? The first step in understanding how to become more proactive and help BD to anticipate events that drive demand for legal services is to examine past research requests and understand their context.

Transitioning from reactivity to proactivity

Law firms can meet the demands for BD research support more effectively by transitioning from being reactive to being proactive. Specifically, here are the steps to making this transition:

  1. Thoroughly assess the existing BD research resources and processes;
  2. Encourage all staff members to be more proactive about supporting BD;
  3. Analyze past and current research requests to discern patterns;
  4. Apply business intelligence analytics to your current “ticketing” system;
  5. Retrain your library and research staff members;
  6. Optimize your understanding of your clients’ needs; and
  7. Standardize all your firm’s procedures, practices, and research products.

STEP 1: Assess the resources and functional areas you already have at your firm

All law libraries need a framework for systematically analyzing their core capabilities – the people, process, technology, and data – involved in library and research activities relevant to supporting business development. Here are some example components of this analysis process:

  • Monitor research support capabilities, with an emphasis on current and predictive awareness;
  • Review your firm’s subscription information products and services, especially going beyond those generally available; and
  • Train new associates and staff on research methods and systems.

Your assessment will provide answers to the following key questions:

  • How do people, internal and external to the firm, perceive the firm’s current processes?
  • How well documented are current processes and procedures?
  • What would be the ideal process?
  • What is standing in the way of this ideal capability being realized?
  • What obstacles are in place that currently impede the flow of information?
  • What is the current division of responsibility and activities among departments; is it optimized?
  • Are we under-utilizing expensive data resources?
  • How are we currently matching research needs to resource guides and e-resources; would automation allow us to do a better job?
  • How are analysts using the e-resources we have; are they taking full advantage of these resources?
  • Do we have the right human resources?
  • Do we have enough analysts in the right places?
  • Are we fully utilizing the people we do have available?
  • Should we outsource? If so, what?
  • Are we matching requests to the optimal people?

Process diagrams help to identify interventions that will enhance collaboration and improve outcomes. Process maps can graphically depict library business processes and the flow of information among organizations, roles, tasks, decisions, and IT. These artifacts can facilitate discussions about feedback loops and other dimensions of the sociotechnical system-of-systems.

All libraries would benefit by periodically stepping back and systematically evaluating how well they support the firm’s business priorities, and to what degree they are contributing to the firm’s desire to identify attractive business growth opportunities.

STEP 2: Encourage all staff members to be more proactive about new business development

The concept of “anticipatory intelligence” may be new to many attorneys, researchers, and librarians. The term refers to the ability to characterize and reduce uncertainty by providing decision makers with timely and accurate forecasts of significant global events. Beyond monitoring news about past events and current contexts, proactive law firms collect and analyze information about possible future events that might expose current and prospective clients to risk. At the same time, because these possible future events pose a risk to clients, they also provide an opportunity for practice groups. Successfully anticipating these events enables library and research directors, client development, practice group chairs and development managers to prepare accordingly.

Questions that researchers/librarians can ask to avoid missing business development opportunities for the firm are as follows:

  • Are we helping the firm focus its business development efforts effectively?
  • Are we prioritizing business development-related research projects strategically?
  • Are we proactively spotting business development opportunities before other firms do?
  • Are we able to identify meaningful industry patterns and insights, or do they go unobserved?
  • Are we providing strategic guidance to all firm and practice groups, especially insofar as it relates to business development?

These complex questions can only be addressed through effective collaboration involving chief marketing officers, business development directors, and library/research departments.

The need for expertise in anticipatory intelligence gathering cannot be over-emphasized, and law firms need to have access to expertise in this area. Indeed, compiling useful intelligence in order to profile a company is more than just a “fill-in-a template” exercise. A good company profile or background report outlines a company's business initiatives and global activities in a way that reveals potential needs for legal services. For example, when the M&A team requests a company profile about a Chinese public company that invests in the U.S. tech sector, an experienced research analyst should know that specific government ownership and certain transactions queries would trigger a review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

Research systems that are powered by artificial intelligence and that use advanced analytics are coming to the legaltech market. They will transform the way law firms focus business development efforts, ensuring that they direct their attention on the right industries, companies, and opportunities. Research directors can help shape the design of these systems and prioritize the integration of data sources.

STEP 3: Analyze the firm’s historical and current research requests

Law firm research departments receive tens of thousands of research requests via email each year. These research requests and their resolutions result in valuable data that not only help optimize the research department's internal processes but also accelerate the productivity of librarians and research analysts.

Figure 1: Research request map

Few firms are equipped to exploit this expanding universe of information systematically. With the right software tools and methods, law firms can analyze these emails to spot business development indicators and client development opportunities.

Technologies such as natural language processing (NLP), machine learning (ML), process mining, and information visualization can help libraries find meaningful patterns in past and current research requests. For example, the library may see that multiple attorneys are asking about the same new regulation that has potential to impact an entire industry. Marketing teams and lawyers can then write thought leadership content about this topic, proactively providing clients with timely guidance before they even request it.

STEP 4: Take a business intelligence approach to handling your firm’s “ticketing” system

Ticketing systems of all types are used to prioritize and triage research requests. Libraries often develop a taxonomy of research request types and systematize the production of the most common types; this not only accelerates research analyst productivity but also increases the efficient utilization of e-resources.

However, how do you create a proactive ticketing system? How do you turn a reactive system into a proactive one?

As always, the first step is to see what you already have and ask yourself questions about the current system:

  • Which attorneys send research requests to specific analysts? A decline in requests from lawyer A to research analyst B might indicate
    that the lawyer experienced poor service.
  • Which staff members are available to respond to requests and at what times? Does the current staffing align with spikes in research requests?
  • How many research requests does the firm get annually, monthly, by practice group, by location, by request type?
  • What is the average time to resolution by request type and by researcher?
  • How many go unresolved? More specifically, what percentage of requests go unresolved?
  • How many analysts are needed per number of requests? What is a suitable “case load” for an analyst?
  • Which individual research email inboxes get how many research requests,
    and from whom?
  • Which teams inside the research departments handle the most research requests?
  • What are the trends in the growth or decline of requests in each practice area?
  • Does the firm pay its employees overtime in order to handle the number of requests that come in?

Knowing the answers to these questions allows the firm to re-shape and optimize its ticketing system, maximizing the potential for staff to respond to additional, more proactive requests.

STEP 5: Train library/research staff

Training is critical to improving the ability of library staff to meet new business development intelligence needs. Library staff can learn to use structured analytic techniques, for example, for forecasting events. These kinds of tools can free up researchers to focus on proactive intelligence collection and analysis in the following areas:

  • Knowledge management;
  • Human and machine integration;
  • Semantic data management through the use of virtual knowledge graphs (understanding the relationships among data points); and
  • BD leadership development (including information sharing and effective collaboration).

Curating news feeds and producing newsletters are time-consuming processes. Not surprisingly, many librarians find themselves reacting to requests from attorneys who want them to set up alerts, as opposed to proactively suggesting to attorneys that the library set them up. For example, when a new bill is passed in Congress and has the potential to impact clients, the researcher has an opportunity to provide an alert to the relevant practice group proactively. Industry groups and BD teams deeply appreciate proactive action that can result in awareness about new business opportunities.

Librarians also need data about whether alert emails are opened and read, and what feedback is received about their relevance and usefulness. They especially need to know which deliverables resulted in actionable business development intelligence and led to new business. Unfortunately, current awareness and media monitoring software tools cannot consistently deliver high-value alerts on autopilot with “set-and-forget” configurations. It is therefore not enough for librarians to “police” the newsfeeds, tweak search parameters, and manually check that the retrieved articles appear to be relevant.

In today’s information-driven law firm, researchers and librarians are required to systematically measure the utility, relevance, and value of alerts and newsletters from the perspective of recipients (e.g., attorneys and BD staff); they also need to be able to measure engagement levels. The lightning speed of information puts intense pressure on research staff, but that’s not the only challenge. It is essential for staff members to interact with patrons to elicit feedback and to find out how to improve.

STEP 6: Do you really fully understand your client’s needs?

Librarians and research analysts need to partner with practice groups, industry teams and associated business development professionals to fully understand relevant business development opportunities. Together, they can identify the types of events that may trigger opportunities and – more importantly – indicators that these events might occur in the future. For example, negative social media sentiment about a product or experience with a service provider could be a leading indicator of an eventual product liability lawsuit. Stock price movements and insider trades could indicate potential opportunities for securities fraud litigation work.

STEP 7: Standardize BD research products and services

Law firm libraries can design templates for the firm’s most commonly requested business development research products and services. These can become “standard research products” that lawyers and business development staff can easily order online. Examples include:

  • News briefs/newsletters/bulletins. Current awareness news monitoring that leverages automatic summarization. Daily or weekly intelligence briefs cover topics, trends, and developments related to the law, government policy, regulation, industry developments, litigation, markets, and the economy.
  • Opportunity alert emails. When analysts spot a potential opportunity in a news article within the stream, they can complete a suitable business development opportunity template.
  • Business background reports, memos and briefing books. These products contain automatically integrated information from business and legal subscription resources about companies and industries; analysts would no longer need to copy and paste manually.
  • People profiles. Profiles of executives, general counsels, in-house counsel, opposing counsel, and legislators. Profiles can aggregate forward-looking statements about their business priorities, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) transactions, proposed regulations, and technology.
  • List of events and attendee. Highlighting the most relevant conferences and other types of events for showcasing thought leadership and networking with executives.
  • Contact information. For the chief of staff (CoS), legislative director (LD), or scheduler, for example.
  • Industry profiles. Providing details on the following:
  • What is the firm’s relationship with government X?
  • What is the firm’s experience with deal type X?
  • Description of an industry;
  • Lists of companies in an industry;
  • Lists of industry subject matter experts;
  • Which clients has lawyer X represented and in which cases?
  • Business relationships and corporate trees; and
  • Copy of an article.


This paper has identified key challenges law firms face in dealing with the unrelenting flow of BD research requests, along with strategies to meet these challenges head-on. The emphasis is on transitioning from a reactive to a proactive law firm in order to optimize the firm’s new business development opportunities. Fundamentally, libraries and research teams can power business development growth by enhancing their firm’s understanding of clients’ needs. Providing timely, accurate, and relevant anticipatory intelligence to business development teams gives law firms a competitive edge.

*Scott will be part of the “Kill the Library, Elevate the Service...?” panel at Ark Group’s Best Practices & Management Strategies for Law Firm Library, Research & Information Services conference taking place in New York, February 21st

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Ark Group

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If you have any questions about how we use cookies and other tracking technologies, please contact us at: privacy@jdsupra.com.

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