Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : August 2009

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 SOLO/SMALL FIRM PRACTITIONER

  

The MSBA is currently in the process of looking for new association software as well as content management software for the website and a website redesign. We have come to the realization that we need to use some outside assistance just to help us through the planning stage to determine what our needs are and which product might best suit those needs. As a result, we have been seeking a “consultant” to help us with this process.

What an experience! I decided that I needed to do some research for how to choose and prepare to work with a consultant and, coupled with my own experience, I thought I would share some ideas to help your firms with this process.

WHY WOULD A
solo or small firm choose to work with a consultant on these or other issues?
There are two main reasons: time and money.

What are some reasons a solo/small firm might benefit from working with a consultant? Although most solos/small firms think of using a consultant for technology-related issues, there are some other areas that consultants can address:

  • You may be considering a change to your technology and need to determine which software may help you be more effective.
  • You may have had a change in personnel and want to review your processes.
  • You may want to consider expanding your practice areas.
  • You may need help attracting new or better clients.
  • If you are concerned about some of your management procedures and policies and want to have an outsider evaluate how you perform some tasks and offer suggestions to be more efficient.
  • You may be considering buying another practice or selling your own.

Why would a solo or small firm choose to work with a consultant on these or other issues? There are two main reasons: time and money. Most solo and small firms do not have the time to do some of the research and planning that consultants will do.

While there will be costs associated with working with a consultant, they should be viewed in terms of the amount of billable time you would use to find the same information and/or the money that a consultant could help you save in expenses or generate in fees.

Sometimes, the idea of choosing and working with a consultant can seem like more trouble than it is worth, but if you use some of these tips, you should find one that will help you achieve your results.

  • Understand what consultants do. Most of us think we know what they do, but that is no more likely than your clients really know what lawyers do. They help you move from your “current situation to a desired situation.” (“Eight Tips for Working with a Consultant”, by Julie Gable. Information Management Journal, July/August, 2007.)
  • Do your own homework. Determine why you need a consultant and what you want to achieve by using a consultant. Be as specific as possible, although after speaking with potential consultants you may adjust your scope. (“Up Front Clarity Will Lead to a Productive and Valuable Relationship,” by Jan B. King. “Working with a Consultant”)
  • When interviewing consultants, look for one who listens to your needs and concerns rather than simply telling you what he or she can do. You do not want someone who comes to the interview with his or her agenda. (“How to Find a Consultant that is Right For You”, by Ken Lizotte.)
  • Whether your focus is management or technology, make certain the consultant has experience working with law firms and, more specifically, solo and small law firms. This is in addition to determining their expertise in the management and/or technology areas. This may not be quite as critical if the consultant is just for hardware, but if it is software-related, experience with solo and small law firms is essential.
  • Get referrals from other solo and small law firms.
  • Get references from potential consultants and be certain that you receive references from other law firms. Ask the consultant what he/she did before becoming a consultant. (“Working with a Consultant”, by Jan B. King.)
  • The devil is in the details. Once you decide upon a consultant, determine the detailed scope of the engagement. Put everything in writing. Be very specific about what you are paying for and what is not part of the agreement. This is not unlike the way your should be managing your client fee agreements. Understand that any changes in the scope or direction of the project will probably result in increased fees. Make certain that you include a clause in agreement regarding confidentiality of your information. In addition, establish the fee/billing/payment arrangements in the beginning just as you would for your clients.
  • Work with your consultant the same way you want your clients to work with you. Be part of the process and monitor the progress.
  • When the consultant presents his/her report, it is based on an objective point of view and may not be what you want to hear. You actually need to be prepared to hear some information that will not be what you want to hear. You will have to review that carefully and hopefully heed the consultant’s advice/recommendation, otherwise, there is no purpose in spending the time, money and effort.

I do recommend that solo and small firm practitioners invest some resources in working with a consultant if he or she feels there are management or technical issues that need to be seen from an outside point of view. It is not about spending money, which can be tight for some firms, but rather investing in improving your practice so that you are as efficient as possible and, ultimately, as profitable as possible.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: August 2009

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