The Benefits of Hiring a Consultant
I was once in a meeting with a potential client where we were discussing whether it would be beneficial for him to engage me as an advisor. After spending a good deal of time talking about his current situation, his frustrations in moving forward, my qualifications, and the direction our consultations might take if he engaged me, he said to me, A consultant is a guy who looks at your watch and tells you what time it is. Why should I pay you a lot of money to tell me things I either already know or could figure out for myself?I looked at him and replied, Because I look at peoples watches all day long and I noticed that your watch is running two hours slow. I can help you fix that without your having to learn to be a watchmaker.
Sir Francis Bacon famously said, Knowledge is Power. However, with all due respect to Sir Francis, knowledge by itself is not power. The power of knowledge emanates from understanding how to put that knowledge to use effectively. Much of the value that a consultant can bring to your practice or career is not about the knowledge he brings you, but his ability to help you use that knowledge in ways that assist you in achieving desired results.
Certainly there are areas where an advisor can contribute to your knowledge base, teaching you things you don’t know, but seldom are these insights so unique or revolutionary that you couldn’t learn them yourself if you had unlimited time to research and/or gain experience through trial and error. However, time is a precious and non renewable resource. So, the greatest value a consultant has to you is his ability to save you time.
While the transfer of knowledge is an important part of the advisor’s value to you, it is a very small part of the overall benefit of consulting. His most important role is to help you examine your objectives, values and behaviors, with the goal of accelerating your progress towards a successful practice on your own terms. This is done by adding various new perspectives to the way you view your practice, including how you relate to it and how you behave within it. Once these foundations are established, appropriate action plans can be developed that will increase the likelihood of achieving your objectives.
Big Picture Perspective
Albert Einstein is oft quoted as having said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” One of the difficulties in expanding the boundaries of your existing practice is that the methodology you used to get you to your current level of success often confines you at that level. This creates an emotional and intellectual box that is very difficult to transcend. It is normal to feel anxiety about changing procedures and behaviors that have worked for you for so many years. Therefore, most practitioners stay with the tried and true, while simultaneously wondering why they have hit a wall. The problem is that they have a small picture perspective based on limited experience and a reluctance to make changes due to fear of the unknown.
Consultants are constantly speaking with people in your field and determining what is and is not working for them. This gives them a big picture perspective that includes ideas, strategies and tactics that have worked over a broad range of practices, and can be reliably adapted to your practice. It allows you to benefit from the research, the innovations, and the trials and errors of others, without actually having to spend the time making the mistakes they made along the way. A consultant can provide shortcuts that save precious time and reassure you that changing your methodology will not cause your practice to crash and burn, but rather reach new heights.
One of the biggest benefits of hiring an advisor is to help you clarify your goals. So many lawyers I meet have little idea where they would like their practices to be headed. They react to their practices rather than directing them. They focus on being excellent practitioners without giving much thought to what they really want their practices to be. They are like great pilots who can perform complex maneuvers flawlessly, but have no flight plan and no destination. They just fly with impressive precision.
All of strategic planning comes down to three basic questions:
- Where am I?
- Where do I want to go?
- How do I get there?
Most people are pretty clear on the answer to the first question. They can tell you in great detail where they are in their practices, including all the things with which they are frustrated. Then I ask question number two and I get blank stares. When I probe further, I get generalities like, â€œI want to make more money or, I wish I didn’t have to work so many hours so I could see my kids.
A good consultant can aid you in identifying objectives that help you meet your personal and professional goals. He can help you define what success in your practice means to you, and how that can harmoniously contribute to the personal goals you have in your life. It is only when you have a clear vision of where you are headed that you can determine the best way to answer question number three.
Formulating a Clear Plan
After you have developed your objectives, the formulation of the plan is the area where the consultant’s big picture perspective can help you choose the right knowledge to turn into power. When I am working with a lawyer, and we agree on specific objectives, it opens up a flood of re-evaluation and innovative thinking on the attorney’s part. Suddenly, he realizes there are many things he is doing that are obviously not leading him to his goal. He also begins to think about things he could be doing to get there. Frequently, he starts throwing out ideas and asking my opinion even before I suggest the first strategy. He starts looking at his own watch, and asking me if he has the correct time.
Having looked at hundreds of practices, I can help him select the ideas that have the highest probability of propelling him towards his goals. Between my broad based experience and his understanding of the intricacies of his practice, we can formulate a clear plan for the strategies and tactics that need to be employed.
When this process is complete, invariably my client has a sense of excitement and a strong feeling of positive expectancy that he will be able to move his practice towards his desired objectives. He can’t wait to get started working his plan.
Having a clear plan is a powerful thing; however it is only the beginning. Old habits die hard, even if you know they are hurting you. Habits are the result of years of repetition, having done the same thing the same way thousands of times. When we develop a habit, for the most part we have stopped thinking. We are blindly reacting out of rote. Habits make our lives easier for just that reason. Imagine how insane we would all be if we had to consciously think about each part of the process of tying our shoes, buttoning our shirts, driving to work, etc. At some point in all our lives we actually did have to think about every step in each of those tasks. We learned with great initial frustration how to make those shoelaces magically come together in that cool slip knot. Then after doing it several hundred times we stopped thinking about it and just did it.
In a lot of ways, your practice gets just like that. You come in, begin your rituals, and go through your day with a good deal of habitual consistency.You have routines for prioritizing projects, taking calls, reading e-mails, paying bills, etc. They are comfortable, and you don’t need to think about them. You think about what you have to do, but not about how you will go about doing it. That is mostly second nature.
Then we introduce this great new business plan about which you are completely stoked. It will require that you rethink how you do things and how you set priorities. This is where the process can begin to break down if there is not some outside force helping you to change your habits. Habits are comfortable, but success lies outside your comfort zone. Often people need more than just the excitement of the plan to push them past those boundaries. This is where the consultant can play a pivotal role.
The practice of law is fraught with constant imperatives and converging priorities, often imposed upon the practitioner by others like partners, judges, court calendars, and clients. Despite her best intentions, an attorney may find herself so busy fighting fires and responding to urgent imperatives that she may forget to set aside the time to execute the new tactics defined in her plan.
Facilitation is one of a consultant’s most important roles in helping the practitioner move towards success after formulation of the plan. Once the plan is in place, follow-up is the key to changing habits and making the plan a reality. The job of the consultant at this point is to help the lawyer reorient her priorities and make time to work on the plan. Without outside help, it is difficult for the practitioner to resist her well ingrained habit of responding to urgent imperatives, and the business plan often gets pushed to the back burner.
The vast majority of clients I work with are entrepreneurs.They are solo practitioners or members of small firms. The great thing about being your own boss is that you have a good deal of control over your destiny. The bad thing about it is you have no one to hold you accountable to the things you are trying to accomplish. Too often I see attorneys in small firm environments cede control of their practices to forces beyond their sway. They become slaves of their practices, reacting to circumstances and the wills of others, rather than directing their practices proactively. Without someone constantly reminding them to keep their eyes on the ball, they will often remain trapped in this reactive mode.
Most of my clients work with me for a period of at least six months, and many have been working with me for more than a decade. Generally, we can bang out a plan they are excited about within two months. After that it is all about accountability. I explain to my clients that during the ensuing months I will be like their personal trainer, working with them to execute their plans and get results. They commit to me, and to themselves, that they will make the time to work their plans, and then meet with me periodically to discuss activities they executed consistent with their plans.
Having someone holding him accountable has a strong psychological effect that greatly increases the probability an attorney will execute the plan. Psychologically, the lawyer feels that he and the consultant are a team, and he doesn’t want to let the team down. This is a lot more powerful a motivator than if he were working alone and just letting himself down. He can rationalize that away, but having to explain to someone else that he let the team down is far more difficult and embarrassing. The result is that the lawyer begins working the plan, which generates a number of practical questions the consultant can answer, helping the lawyer to learn by doing.
As time passes and the attorney becomes more consistent in executing these tactics, they become incorporated as new habits. This is the “cultivation of success habits” which make highly effective behaviors a part of the lawyer’s every day routine. Once these habits are ingrained, the pursuit of success becomes almost automatic and the lawyer begins to see consistent positive outcomes.
Another benefit of having an advisor is his ability to help the attorney believe the plan will work. Confidence is of paramount importance in maintaining momentum and the motivation to keep working the plan.
Most confidence is based in experience. Confidence is a feeling of positive expectancy that one can succeed at something based upon the experience of having succeeded at it before. The more confident you are, the more motivated you are to act. The less confident, the more you will worry, doubt, and hesitate, fearing failure and embarrassment. Lack of confidence in trying new tactics is one of the primary reasons that lawyers stay with their habits and fail to execute their plans. Even though they are frustrated with where they are, they are confident that what they are currently doing is dependable, and thus their security won’t be threatened. They fear if they try something new, it will not work and they will lose ground rather than gain it.
A good consultant helps his clients to bridge the confidence gap. Though the attorney may be excited about his goals and his plan, the plan will likely be filled with action items with which the attorney has little experience. Little experience means little confidence.
The consultant can help the attorney to believe in himself through encouragement, and by relating stories of others who succeeded by using the same tactics, even though they had never tried them before. As the attorney executes the plan and begins to see success, the consultant reinforces that success and helps the lawyer build confidence through a combination of congratulatory praise and further encouragement. This dynamic enhances the lawyer’s feeling of positive expectancy, and increases the likelihood that he will continue to work the plan. Ultimately, nothing succeeds like success, and the attorney begins to execute effectively without needing the reinforcement. At this point the consultant’s role is primarily to advise the attorney on mid-course corrections, and to make sure the attorney doesn’t fall into old habits by letting urgent imperatives hijack the plan.
Consultants play many valuable roles that can be of great benefit to attorneys. They can help focus and define the lawyer’s objectives and help formulate a clear plan for reaching those objectives. Their broad base of experience can save the lawyer time by not having to reinvent the wheel and by avoiding common pitfalls. Once the plan is developed, the consultant can turn knowledge into power by helping the attorney act on what she knows through proper facilitation, accountability and confidence building. These benefits can greatly accelerate an attorney’ s path to success and a more fulfilling practice. Sir Francis Bacon: Meditationes Sacrae, 1597  This quote often attributed to Einstein has never been reliably sourced to any of his works. It is believed to be a paraphrase of a quote from “Atomic Education Urged by Einstein”, New York Times (25 May 1946)
Copyright © Art Italo, 2015. All rights reserved.
Other Articles by Art Italo:
Starting a Small Firm or Solo Practice
Marketing for the Small Firm and Solo Practitioner
Improve Law Firm Marketing Using Leveraged Networking
Art Italo is a consultant working exclusively with attorneys in the areas of legal marketing, strategic planning, law practice management and success coaching since 1992.
He has developed and refined the concept of Leveraged Networking after over 15,000 hours of individual consultations with attorneys. He has personally consulted with over 500 attorneys in Atlanta and across the U.S. with practices ranging from solo practitioners to partners with major firms. Art has more than 35 years of marketing and management experience and holds an A.B. from Brown University and an M.B.A. from Pace University.
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