How Attorneys Can Use Legal Data for Business Development and Intelligence

By Josh Blandi, CEO, Unicourt

Legal data is an equalizing force giving lawyers the ability to sharpen their business development efforts and hone their business intelligence gathering, regardless of the size of their law firm.

This article is also the first in a three-part series, where the next two articles will look at how legal data can be used for lateral legal recruiting and long-term law practice planning

Using legal data for business development and intelligence is no longer something reserved only for BigLaw. With the expansion of the legal tech ecosystem and improved access to tools like litigation data, small law firms and mid-sized firms can take advantage of these advances to gain a competitive edge in the legal services market.

Start with What You Know (or Thought You Knew)

For law firms with little to no experience using litigation data to fuel their legal marketing and business development efforts, the first step is deciding where to start. 

A solid starting point for most firms, and especially defense firms, is to more intentionally examine your client roster. In other words, start where you are, with what you know: your clients. Return to the same well to see if there is more water and get a better sense of the scope of available opportunities. 

First, use litigation data to gather reporting for the last couple years on all of the cases involving one of your top clients that you want to do more business with, and see how much of your client’s legal work you’re getting compared to their total volume of cases. 

Here are some of the key questions to ask when looking at your client’s litigation data:

  • What percentage of their overall litigation work are they sending your way? 
  • Are there more lucrative types of cases you’d want to take on that are being sent to other law firms? 
  • If your client has a steady volume of cases that are outside of your typical practice areas, would you be willing to expand your practice in order to gain new business? 
  • What are your trends looking like? Even if it seems like you’re getting more cases year-over-year, in looking at the data, is your total market share with your client increasing or decreasing over time?

These are simple, yet insightful questions that can help small law firms and mid-sized firms determine whether they need to work harder to get more business from their perceived top clients or transition to looking for opportunities from other clients that may have viable long-term opportunities hidden in their litigation data. 

Competitive Intelligence: What’s With the Competition?

Besides using litigation data to seek new business opportunities from existing clients, you can also leverage it to gain competitive intelligence on the top law firms in the jurisdictions, practice areas and specific, niche types of cases your firm focuses on.

As with looking at your clients’ cases, the first step is to gather litigation data for a couple of years on all of the matters a competitor firm has been handling. You want to see who their clients are and how much work they are pulling down from each of their clients.

Here are some of the questions to ask when looking at your competitor’s litigation data:

  • Do you have any overlap in clients?
  • Are there large clients that overshadow your competitor’s caseload?
  • What are their trends like? Do they have any clients that consistently send them a high volume of cases year-over-year, and are they losing or gaining market share with any of their clients?
  • What are their success stories? Are there any outliers in their litigation history or profitable types of cases they handle that you could seek to incorporate into your own practice?

Look closely at competitors with local and national name recognition as well as top-performing law firms in your practice areas based on empirical data. In addition, it may be worthwhile to go back to your top clients’ litigation data and scrutinize the Rolodexes of the other firms they’re hiring.

Simply put, if your clients are hiring other firms to handle matters in the same practice areas your firm handles, the odds are those law firms represent other clients in those same practice areas for you to target with marketing efforts.

Legal Data Is Not Just for BigLaw

By using litigation data to gain competitive intelligence on your clients, you can focus your business development efforts on visible opportunities with those who you know best. You’ve already invested substantial time, effort and relational capital into these connections, so nurture and grow those relationships where possible.

After exhausting the opportunities with your clients, digging into your competitors’ client roster is the next logical step. It can reveal additional opportunities, provide insights on their successes and shortcomings, and give you a data-driven method for benchmarking your firm against direct competitors to set realistic business development goals for your firm.

Above all, start somewhere. Legal data is not just a tool for BigLaw anymore, and it’s time to start using it to your advantage.

Deep Dive

Want a deeper dive into this topic? Join us for the Leading Law Roundtable on October 21 at noon to talk with Jeff Cox of Unicourt about how small firms can use legal data for business development. 

Register for this free Roundtable discussion at Leading Law.

Josh Blandi is the CEO and co-founder of UniCourt, a SaaS offering using machine learning to disrupt the way court records are organized, accessed and used. This article first appeared in Attorney at Work and here on the Unicourt blog. Follow Josh on Twitter @JoshBlandi.

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Nicky Dunlap

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