Tech Audit

Really Simple Competitive Intelligence

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Illustration by Stuart Bradford

Gathering information on your client isn’t spying, and do­ing research on yourself isn’t egotism—it’s good business practice. Clients increasingly look to lawyers who know their business and industry well, and a common client wish is that their lawyers alert them to issues in advance, and not simply react when the client calls.

All of this has generated a new interest in something called competitive intelligence. CI addresses ways to get information you can use to be more effective in competing for business and serving clients. If you monitor court filings for your clients’ names, you might alert them to a filing and send a pleading well before they hear it elsewhere. You’re being helpful—and more likely to get the new assignment. If you monitor news items containing your firm’s name, you won’t be surprised when a client mentions the story he or she read about your firm.


While sophisticated, expensive and impressive CI tools are available, let’s look at two free tools that will give you a good taste of what CI is and how it can help you. Both tools fall into the category of alerts.

The first tool is e-mail alerts. An e-mail alert is like a customized e-mail newsletter on the subject of your choice.

A great example is Google Alerts. You first create a Google account. Then enter a search term (for example, your name), specify the type of search (comprehensive, news, blogs, Web), choose a frequency (daily, weekly or as it happens), and enter your e-mail address. You’ll receive regular e-mails from Google with a selection of items that best match your search terms.

If your e-mail inbox is already overflowing from other sources, then you will want to experiment with another type of free alert tool known as an RSS feed. RSS stands for really simple syndication, but all you need to know is how it can work for you. RSS feeds are a way to have items from frequently updated sites (like blogs) delivered to you without the need for visiting those sites individually.

You subscribe to RSS feeds (some­times called news feeds) and you read them in a news reader. For our purposes, let’s use the free Google Reader to illustrate news readers and RSS.

Once again, you set up a Google account. You can then add RSS subscriptions to your Google Reader. New information will be available in the Google Reader almost immediately after the news is posted on the underlying website or blog.

You can subscribe to RSS feeds of blogs, newspapers and many other sources as long as they offer the service. Even better, you can subscribe to RSS feeds on specific search terms.

Let’s use Yahoo News as an example. If you go to the Yahoo News site and click through to the RSS page, you’ll see a list of feeds for news and an option for creating a feed based on your own search terms. Enter your search term, add the feed URL you choose to your Google Read­er subscriptions, and you’ll be automatically updated when Yahoo News items appear with your search terms.

(Typing in Oscars and signing up with three feed URLs uncovered links to 35 news items in less than a half hour.)


There are other places to create these search feeds. Technorati is a popular tool for creating feeds that monitor blogs. Start with a search feed or Google Alert on your name, your firm’s name or a major client’s name and a subject of interest to you. This approach will give you a good introduction.

These tools can keep you up to date on topics that interest you. You can monitor what is happening with your clients or your practice area, specific cases or news items. Best of all, you get information that can improve your services, your relationships and your competitiveness.

Web Extras:

Google Alerts

Google Reader

Yahoo News


Dennis Kennedy is a St. Louis-based computer lawyer and legal technology consultant. His website,, is the home of his blog. Contact him at [email protected].

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