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    March 29th, 2010

    ♫ If we put our heads together our hearts will tell us what to do…♫

    Lyrics and Music by Lorene Allen, Loretta Lynn, recorded by Loretta Lynn and Ernest Tubb.

    Now that the 2010 Olympics and Para-Olympics in Vancouver are over and ABA TECHSHOW in Chicago is concluded for another year, it is back to business!

    My overview of Techshow 2010 is being published concurrently by the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia in their manazine “The Verdict” as well as here, so there will be a short delay while the print version comes out. That post will cover the themes and tips that I garnered from ABA Techshow this year. It was a fabulous program and kudos to all who had a hand in organizing it. Stay tuned!

    In the meantime, I thought I would try to highlight one theme that struck me when talking to the lawyers and others who were at Techshow this year. One factor that became apparent was the openness of some lawyers to bring in consultants to assist in the tweaking of the management of their firms versus the (apparent) reluctance of others to do the same.

    So I thought it would be appropriate to outline the framework (a checklist, if you will) with regard to making maximum use of an outside consultant to help you tweak some aspect of your practice. This checklist is intended to be matter-neutral; it is really intended to serve as a framework to ensure that a consulting engagement starts out on the right foot and continues from there to a successful conclusion.

    Accordingly, here are my views on the steps in the formation of a successful law firm – consultant engagement:

    • Scope: The firm should have a good idea of the question, problem or issue that is is facing before they call in the consultant. The less-specific the question or issue posed to the consultant, the greater the chance that the consult will not go the way the firm intended.
    • Goals: The firm certainly should be able to outline, at least in general terms, their hard objectives that they wish achieved once the consult is at an end. Covey said it best: “Begin with the End in Mind”. Certainly the goals can be refined and sharpened in the dialogue around forming the consult – but having the firm start out by being able to describe their goals in S.M.A.R.T terms (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely) goes a long way toward using a consultant effectively.
    • Information: The information flows must be bi-directional for the consult to be a success. The law firm will be seeking information – and guidance – from the consultant; and the consultant, in exchange, will be seeking information from the firm in order to provide that advice. It is certainly uncomfortable bearing your soul to an outsider (just remember what it is like visiting a doctor and having to describe a medical symptom or symptoms). However, the ability to be frank and face the (certainly uncomfortable) facts that all is not as you desire it to be only empowers you and the consultant, to get at the heart of the matter with as little wasted time and effort as possible.
    • Roles: Many firms have an impression that their role in the consult is passive…it is up to the consultant to do the work. While the consultant certainly has a big role to play, failing to have the firm and the members therein fully engaged in the project can only lead to disaster. Once the consultant is gone, the firm must take those suggestions and implement them. Accordingly the greater the degree to which the members of the firm have input into and form part of the engagement the better the overall result and buy-in from all concerned.
    • Result of the Engagement: The firm and the consultant should be able to agree on the form of the final product. Will it be a detailed, narrative report with supporting references? Will it be a point-form document supported by a presentation to select member of the firm? Is it a two-part report – one for general circulation and one part that only the management team would see? Having agreement on the form of delivery of the consultant’s report will avoid misunderstandings and disappointment later…
    • Your Engagement: The consult does not happen in a vacuum. The consultant will need to keep an open (and depending on the type of engagement) continuous dialogue with the firm. Furthermore, except in very exceptional circumstances, the consultant will need access to a wide variety of people across the firm. Oftentimes the ‘dynamics’ operating in the firm cannot be fully appreciated (read: find out where the minefields lie) without the ability to speak to members of the firm at will. Furthermore the consultant will most likely require the firm to answer questions and fill-in information as they digest what they are seeing and hearing in the firm. Accordingly, your engagement as the ‘point person’ (or such other person as you may delegate) will be a necessary condition to the successful completion of the engagement.
    • Timeline and cost: Both you and the consultant will be looking at delivering the final product within a certain time frame at a certain cost. It is favourable if both of those timelines and cost expectations happen to coincide! Having a dialogue and agreement on what is to be delivered and within what time frame allows you to have a degree of certainly over the outcome of the consult and gives the consult the ability to determine if what is being asked of them is possible within the time and budget specified. If the timelines and/or budget do not match, then further negotiation must occur to reach agreement on this aspect of the consult.
    • Confidentiality: Certainly you have the right to expect full confidentiality from the consultant. The consultant, for their part, will be looking to you to scope out what part(s) of the results will be shared with whom. This may result in the final report being delivered in different forms to different audiences. This may not be fully determined until the draft of the report is presented to upper management and agreement reached on how the results are to be shared with the law firm. Certainly different types of consults have impact at different levels and the firm and the consultant need to be in agreement on what is said to whom and when.
    • Feedback: Assuming you want to work with this consultant again, it is necessary for you to provide feedback to the consultant on their report. It may be that this is done in two stages: immediately on the receipt of the report (in whatever form it takes) and then longer…say 6 months to a year later. This provides the consultant with some well-needed information – namely a long baseline overview of their suggestions, the degree to which they were implemented; any reason(s) why all or part of their report was not implemented and most importantly, the results of the suggestions that were implemented. The consultant is not responsible for implementation, but providing considered feedback on how their results were implemented along with any speed bumps incurred along the way will only benefit you as well as the consultant in future engagements.

    Recall that law firms are mostly staffed by dependable, reliable steady-as-you-go personality types who are not the ones who welcome change – they see change as a threat and a risk. Accordingly the whole discipline of change management – namely adapting law firms to change, is an uphill battle at best. Working effectively with a consultant in determining what needs to change is a good first step in this regard.

    Managing partners, executive directors, team leaders and practice group leaders must be models and leaders of change – your role in this process is to champion the process and be seen to not only be open to the ideas of change but to implement them yourself. If we effectively put our heads together – consultants and law firms – then our hearts will tell us what to do!

    This entry was posted on Monday, March 29th, 2010 at 5:19 am and is filed under Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Technology, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

    2 Responses to “Techshow 2010 Thoughts…”
    1. James Says:

      I was actually looking for some Website Consultants

      But after reading your post I am gonna need some legal help too and would love if you had any body available in SW Virginia. That knows how to deal with a Commonwealth state. Please rely to my comment and I will check back soon.

    2. Kennedy-Mighell Report, Episode #27: The Internet Operating System | The Kennedy-Mighell Report Says:

      [...] Dave Bilinsky: TECHSHOW 2010 Thoughts… [...]

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