The Role of Intelligence in Legal Practice

JUNE 2024

In our May newsletter, Sibylline CEO Justin Crump raised the concept of “professional intelligence (PROSINT)” to explain the value of our services to functions outside the traditional security world, such as supply chain, communications and legal teams. The last example got me thinking: When we say, “lawyers can benefit from intelligence services,” what does that mean in practice?

You’d be forgiven for doubting how a profession that operates strictly within codified rules, regulations and boundaries can possibly benefit from a service more associated with grey areas and constructing inferences from incomplete information. There is inherent tension between the disciplined, fact-based approach required of lawyers and the intelligence practitioner’s mindset of connecting disparate data to assess the probability of an outcome. No matter how reasoned or “defensible” intelligence assessments are, they almost always lack the absolute stiffness and provability required in legal practice.

This compatibility issue isn’t the only concern. How does a lawyer protect attorney-client privilege when integrating intelligence third parties into legal strategy? What if intelligence gathering tactics run afoul of the rules of professional conduct governing attorneys’ behaviour? From a resourcing perspective, why spend on intelligence when you could allocate those funds towards more paralegals or research tools?

To address these concerns, we should start by reminding ourselves of the main purpose of intelligence, which is to offer clear insights that aid decision-making. We aren’t talking about finding the scrap of evidence or nugget of expertise that draws the line between litigators losing or winning a case. Rather, it’s the ability of intelligence services to add breadth to the context surrounding regulations, relationships, competitors’ actions, and more.

While the legal realm may seem niche, professional intelligence teams are adept at rapidly building subject-matter expertise on any topic. There are many practice areas whereby analysts can gain a deep appreciation for the precise requirements and “so what” factors that matter to lawyers. Among them:

Litigation and Disputes

This could be systematically mapping out an opposing party’s ties, interests and pressure points to identify new lines of inquiry, assessing favorable venues for trial, or checking narratives to see if they will strike the right chord. Even an arbitrator’s preparation can benefit from insights on framing, biases and likely responses to any enforcement mechanisms before proceedings begin.

Regulatory and Compliance

By continuously monitoring the political and business ecosystems surrounding a particular rule or agency, intelligence teams provide foresight. This can involve examining the ideological leanings of key government stakeholders, mapping the operations of competitors and non-profit advocacy groups, or assessing the influence of dissenting voices. This allows regulatory and compliance lawyers to advise from a position of strength without being caught flat-footed when new mandates emerge.

M&A and Transactions

For dealmakers, intelligence offers a dispassionate lens for identifying risks, misconduct, unethical business practices, and other “skeletons in the closet” during due diligence. At the same time, analysts can generate insights into any upside opportunities and synergies that could further support the rationale for a deal.

Investigations and Fraud

As career cousins of intelligence analysts, corporate investigators benefit from information analytics to identify potential leads and diagnose the entire scope of illicit activities. Whether investigating antitrust, embezzlement or insider threats, lawyers who integrate the multi-disciplinary skills that intelligence teams offer can gain an edge when building a strategy for responding to allegations.

Intellectual Property

We’re increasingly living in a knowledge-based economy where the aggressive pursuit of corporate IP by adversaries – traditionally competing businesses, increasingly nation-states – means lawyers need to know the risks early before drawing up strategies for IP litigation and protecting revenue streams. While intelligence analysts in the cyber world play a central role in alerting legal teams to suspicious activity before losses occur, non-technical analysts can also contribute by mapping the broader competitive landscape and analysing the potential for blowback after an intervention.

There are undoubtedly more examples where, with a little creativity, an analyst’s open-ended approach to uncovering, contextualising and strategically applying insights complements a lawyer’s traditionally rigid method of working. Legal departments need not reinvent themselves to embrace this opportunity; privilege and confidentiality risks do need to be managed, and lawyers should always look carefully into an intelligence provider’s ethics, compliance and tradecraft policies before engaging. But for those who find a way to integrate it responsibly, the rewards of informed decision-making are there for the taking.

Want us to suggest how intelligence can support other business functions? Contact us and we’ll write about it in our next newsletter!


By Jack Nott-Bower MSyI, Associate Director, Head of Training, Consulting & Knowledge

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