There is impactful value in using an unbiased legal operations consultant to improve your business or legal operations. These consultants, if you choose wisely, are experienced professionals dedicated to saving you time and money – and they will deliver.
However, be aware that there are many in the legal market who represent themselves as independent while, in fact, selling software, providing managed services, focusing on other “core” services, or taking referral and/or software fees for the solutions they recommend. When selecting a consultant, you should ask pointed “how do you make money”-type questions and review consultant websites for consistency; this will ensure they focus on your needs, not just theirs.
Experienced, independent legal operations consultants will provide an honest, independent and thorough assessment of your needs and environment, serving as your trusted advisor in providing recommendations and assistance with projects and issue resolution. Consider their use when you require some extra horsepower, specialized skills, or an outside and non-political perspective. Also, contemplate their use when building or doing something once or for the first time.
Unbiased legal operations consultants are effective
Going on 30 years as an independent advisor to law department leadership teams and legal operations professionals, I have both consulted to as well as hired consultants to assist with projects for the various law departments I have advised and worked for. In doing so, I have seen tremendous advantage in using the right legal operations consultants. I often compare the need for such service in the same way a homeowner needs an interior designer. Such reasons include the following:
- You’re going to save money—although you’ll have to pay additional consulting fees, the truth is that hiring a legal operations consultant can help you avoid costly mistakes and help you make “design decisions” that will increase the operational efficiency and effectiveness of your internal processes. And if you are on a tight budget (and who isn’t), a consultant is going to know how to get the best value out of what you can spend. An experienced consultant is used to working on a line-item budget and will help you understand where your dollars are going.
- You’re going to save time—an experienced legal operations consultant will have a trained sense of what needs to be done and when it needs to be done, and they will be able to anticipate any obstacles that may come up. They will be lead or assist with projects you may not have the capacity or capability to take on yourself and, as is typically the case, will get it done faster.
- You’re going to get a professional assessment—skilled legal operations consultants have likely served in a legal operations role of some form over many years and have experience in having seen multiple issues arise and play out to a satisfactory resolution. A trained pair of eyes will see things you’re guaranteed to miss because your either too close to the action or too busy to strategically focus on the issues at hand. Legal operations can be a delicate balance of both art and science and good consultants know how to put both together.
- You’re going to have a trusted advisor—a good legal operations consultant knows how to navigate the political waters within a complex organization. Most importantly, as an organizational “outsider”, they are more willing to engage in difficult conversation (e.g., budget requirements) while being perceived as independent in thought and action. I’ve been in situations where the consultant says something similar to that of the internal resource, yet the consultant’s autonomy is granted a higher level of serious review and perceived objectivity.
Unbiased legal operations consultants are independent
When I began my career as a legal operations consultant, client’s placed great emphasis on having an independent advisor whose recommendations were free and clear of “bias”. Consulting bias can come in many forms, including having a financial interest in recommendations or project outcomes and offering services that represent a potential conflict of interest. An independent consultant may work autonomously; however, true independence comes from a mindset free and unencumbered in thought and process and relationship.
Today, you will be hard pressed to find consultancies that meet this definition. Most consultants are part of a broader organizational structure that, in addition to “consulting”, offer managed services and/or make and sell software. While not absolute, consulting services are often used as a wedge to get in the door, a means to identify a need which can best be fulfilled by other company services or software offerings.
Of course, it is understandable as to why service companies prefer this operating model. True consulting services are almost always project-based, with short-term engagement and infrequent billings. On the other end of the service spectrum, one far more lucrative, managed services and software sales are longer-term in duration and involve a recurring revenue stream. For many service companies, consulting services allow these organizations to “start small but go big”.
There are many clients who may not care about these potential conflicts of interest or have lulled themselves into believing so. In their view, so long as someone is competent in their analysis and recommendation—someone who can provide a solution—it is the results that matter, not how you get there. Maybe so, but I for one think not. At a minimum, I would ask the question…what else are they selling? Is the consultant offering contract review services, the best advisor to help define my contracting workflows? Is the expert with the software reseller agreement the best person to help with my technology selection? Is the company selling a data analytics tool the best organization to help define my metrics and reporting requirements?
This type of consultant may indeed reach the right conclusion…but they are certainly not unbiased.
Unbiased legal operations consultants provide value
Consultants often get a bad rap. The adage “don’t take my watch to tell me what time it is” is often perceived as applicable when describing consulting services. In fact, good advice and counsel from an unbiased and independent legal operations consultant can prove invaluable in the same way that clients find other professional services to be invaluable.
Whatever the need, the unbiased legal operations consultant will serve as an important adjunct to any legal team.