Partners don’t listen to outside advisors for several reasons – most of them good ones! Here are a few. I also provide some thoughts on what consultants could do more of, less of and differently to build better working collaborations with firms:
- The advisors haven’t established their credibility. Consultants need to commit to the legal sector and not be dabblers! They need to demonstrate their deep understanding of the legal market and the typical goings on inside law firms.
- The advisors haven’t established sufficient rapport. Advisors should invest in building relationships with firms. Ask lots of questions and listen well and then demonstrate that they share similar values to the partner or firm.
- More importantly, the advisor may not be fully trusted. Consultants need to demonstrate that they genuinely have the firm’s interests uppermost in their mind (rather than just selling them something!)
- Lawyers have been trained to be cautious and risk averse. Advisors do better if they collect all the evidence before asking partners to commit to anything.
- Most partners are cynical. They are used to hearing somebody say one thing and do something else! This relates to the trust point above. Consultants will do better if they bear this in mind and demonstrate a consistency in their messages and actions.
- Lawyers are bright and used to expressing their arguments in a logical fashion (eg ‘there are three good reasons why we should negotiate in this way…’ etc). Many inputs from consultants are founded on less tangible visions which are hard to grasp intellectually. Consultants need to back up their propositions with hard data and ideally evidence that their suggestions work.
- Partners like having control. A change programme being proposed by consultants invariably has actions requiring a consultation process on some aspects of the change. This is difficult to say ‘yes’ to because the partners risk losing control of the outcomes. Advisors need to be sensitive to this underlying fear and provide reassurances that the partners will be supported in the change process.
- Most partners haven’t been trained in how to make big decisions. They may be invited to a New Partner Induction course but the average partner gets little training or coaching in how to run a complex business. Consultants find it frustrating that decisions take so long and vacillate between yes/no/maybe so easily. Advisors can help with the decision-making process by running workshops and using decision-making tools such as the Ease-Effect matrix, criteria weighting and scoring processes etc
- Lawyers are experts. Their usual mode of behaviour is to tell clients things (eg what the law allows, what it doesn’t etc). Many consultants focus less on knowledge and more on process. Partners can find this difficult to grasp. Advisors need to convince lawyers why a rigorous process is so important in managing change.
- Partners prefer silver bullets to common sense solutions. Sometimes the simple-but-hard solutions, such as ‘eat less, exercise more’, are not what partners want to hear. They know that already. They prefer solutions that they hadn’t thought of, that are easier to implement. Consultants should consider offering a mix of recommendations.
The legal market is changing and law firms themselves continue to need to undergo lots of change. They’ll need help to do this, so we need to have better working relationships between the firms and their external advisors. I hope this provides some useful tips.
For a fun look at consultants, see https://tonyreiss.com/2013/05/07/a-fable-on-how-the-world-sees-management-consultancy-and-hr/
It’s not just lawyers!
There are some things that cut across all businesses eg. How to answer telephones properly, what good customer service looks like. But other things such as how to treat fee earners and how to bring in niche work requires more in depth knowledge, that means not dabbling in law firms as has been suggested. Endless ideas but no help to put them into practice can be very frustrating it can often put the blockers on getting something important done. We don’t have the specialist staff to get some things done. Offering to roll up your sleeves and get on with an identified task would add so much to the process. An all rounder not just a teacher/coach. A full holistic approach. This could move progress forward by months or even years. There just aren’t the people out there to undertake one off specialist tasks.
You refer to the importance of what I call the implementation phase of any project. Totally agree. Even great ideas will fail if not implemented properly. This generates a conundrum though because consultants can be expensive to be fully engaged in implementation. The IT consultants are probably best at this???
I completely agree with the assessment here. As someone who has worked with attorneys for over 30 years, law firms are different than other business structures. Businesses with the revenue and expenses of law firms that are run by several (or many) owners who are not related, are rare. We all want to have a say on what happens with our business. Also, law firms don’t have excess capacity to handle projects. They have people who are very busy on day-to-day activities. Consultants need to come in with a plan and put the systems in place for the plan to work within the firm or simply carry out the plan. Handing partners a report with a recommendation does not help a busy partners.
Good point. I hadn’t specifically mentioned the ‘partnership’ model being so different to the ‘corporate’ model. It’s important for consultants to get this under their skin
As one who is from “the other side” as a law firm administrator for over 20 years, I am with Diane on her comments. I might add that the best consultant/lawyer relationships include the following:
1. References from people lawyers know and trust. Lawyers may not know, understand, have the time or patience for anything that will cause them change or to part with profits BUT, if they can be assured someone else experienced good results? Well, reputation speaks miles – lawyers can relate.
2. The most readily accepted consultants do not call themselves “consultants”. Consultants have had a bad rap at taking a “my way or the highway” approach. Cloning what worked at one firm to all their law firm clients – there must be a better title for someone with expertise in the legal industry, who genuinely cares for and is passionate about improving law firm teams, refining and innovating business processes, improving profit and the firm’s future. I like “Business Partner” because that is friendly yet, professional.