Competitive Intelligence Strategic Foresight
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Member Intel Q&A - Jeff Cohan

Jeff Cohan

SCIP Board alum Jeff Cohan is a project manager for LAC Group, in their knowledge and information services division. In his current role, he's responsible for managing the library at the international law firm Kelley Drye and Warren.  We recently spoke with Jeff about outsourcing trends in the legal industry, where strategic intelligence and analysis can have the greatest impact on business development, and how to leverage best practices from other industries.



"It falls on the analysis and research staff to present and analyze scenarios. When this doesn't happen, it's often because decision makers aren't aware of our abilities. Unfortunately, in this case there's a real danger that any decisions made will be ill-informed."

Tell us about yourself.

I currently work as Project Manager at LAC Group, managing the library and library services at Kelley, Drye, and Warren, providing leadership and support around managing information tools, competitive intelligence, knowledge management, strategic analysis, and staff training and supervision. Prior to this, I was a management consultant for LAC, and library manager for several other law firms directly as their employee.


It's interesting that you don’t work for the law firm directly. 

For economic reasons, most law firms are relocating support services to less expensive geographies, or outsourcing entire departments to firms such as LAC Group. In addition to the cost and service benefits to law firms, there's also been a professional benefit to me.  At LAC, I'm part of an organization with over 300 information professionals. I didn't have that level of support earlier in my career, but having it now is very valuable, in much the same way that being a member of SCIP or other professional membership organizations is valuable.


How so?

SCIP has been very important to my career development because it provides me with the background and support to fulfill my CI and Strategic Analysis duties. Those areas were not always part of my role, but I needed to assume them in order to meet the increasing standards of my profession. In law firms, business development and retention are important aspects of the overall business model, and as chief researcher, my analyses need to be insightful and easily digested.  SCIP has positioned me well for this challenge, and similarly, at LAC, there is also a large pool of expertise for me to draw upon.


How has shifting demand for CI and strategic intelligence skills impacted the legal support profession?

The legal landscape is very competitive. There is a narrow concentration of the most profitable firms, with revenues per partner decreasing dramatically after that.  Not surprisingly, many firms fail to make it on their own, and the industry continues to consolidate. While the attorneys we work for are highly compensated, there is a limited amount of legal work to support them.  Therefore, competitive research and analysis is very important to every effort and business decision that a law firm makes. This requires the researcher to understand the business goals and objectives, the needs and potential needs of a legal consumer or segment, the likelihood of success, and the evaluation of threats. It's not sufficient to simply hand a colleague data without contextualizing it and providing some guiding analysis. 


I've found many of the techniques and skills I learned at SCIP to be of tremendous value in these pursuits.  Also, by way of background, it’s worth mentioning that law librarians and research professionals have traditionally been restricted from providing legal analysis when doing legal research. In this function, you're limited to providing relevant materials. Were you to provide legal analysis, that could be construed as the unauthorized practice of law. When considering the operations concerns of the law firm business however, analysis is expected. Therefore, it’s a new skillset for many. Moreover, it often requires working with new constituents and patrons. This whole re-dedication of effort and focus is very different, but something best accomplished by a case study of SCIP and allied professionals within our organization. Best practices matter.


What are some specific CI and analysis tasks that occur in most law firms?
On the most basic level, there is business development, which usually is done in one of two ways: either an attorney has a specific contact, or the researcher is asked to prospect. Both assignments involve looking at the potential target, their workload, and how it has been apportioned. It also requires real-time alerting and monitoring to ongoing needs. Since one of my professional competencies is in the area of knowledge management, I develop tools to quickly identify expertise and costs associated with current and alternative pricing models. The goal is not only to identify opportunities, but to contextualize them to make sense within our organization. I think this is generally accepted protocol in most organizations. Other growth might be fostered by expansion. This can mean adding additional legal services to current clients, operating in a new geography, or growing through a lateral acquisition. In order to be well conceived, each of these requires solid research and analysis. Finally, threats have to be assessed and answered with appropriate scenario planning. That can mean loss of a client or attorney, an economic downturn, natural disasters, or some other factor that is central to your revenue model. It falls on the analysis and research staff to present and analyze these scenarios. When this doesn't happen, it's often because decision makers aren't aware of their abilities. Unfortunately, in this case there's a real danger that any decisions made will be ill-informed.


Is that what separates the winners and the losers?


How does SCIP help overcome the problem of skill recognition and empower research and analysis professionals in the legal profession?

SCIP does a lot. First off, it's personally empowering. Not only because the organization helps develop critical skills, but more so because they bring in fresh perspectives from diverse industries and geographies. Law firms are progressive, and while the pressures of alternative service providers are relatively new, they're multiplying quickly. This has created a situation where law firms need state-of-the-art and cutting edge CI and strategic analysis, neither of which has traditionally been their forte.  Given that, we need insights and connections outside of our industry, from those who have successfully overcome the challenges we're facing. I rely on SCIP for that.  For example, one of my best experiences was attending an annual meeting and attending a wide variety of sessions.  A SCIP conference isn't a trade show; it’s a learning event geared toward professional development. Regardless of one’s level of expertise, we all grow together. For me, that is the true essence of a professional organization. While several professional library organizations have CI sections, they don’t provide the type of global understanding and connections needed for taking on new and unresolved issues. For that, we need to look outside our industry. SCIP's materials have helped raise the profile of my profession in the legal industry and present succinct business cases that resonate with superiors. Also, as the only global organization of its kind, SCIP simply is the best recognized out there.


You’ve been a member of the SCIP Board and your term will soon end. What more would you like to accomplish as a legacy?

Tremendous advances in technology have changed the nature of the profession in terms of how we manage data in a way that leads to the best analysis. Specifically, these advances have drastically improved our ability to manage, trend and aggregate data in a way that leads to the best analysis. But technology on its own isn't enough; we need critical skills that reach deep into the historical strengths of our organization and membership. I think SCIP has balanced these two concerns well.  One of the things I'm most proud of has been the vision and focus which allowed this Board to embrace SCIP's history and project a relevant course in to the future. 


Get involved 

One of greatest values of SCIP is the power of our member community. The experience, knowledge, and intellect of our members are unparalleled. To build off these strengths, SCIP is launching a program to highlight our members and the great work that they do. Are you interested in sharing your story? Please contact us to nominate yourself or a colleague.


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