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A good friend recently switch from BigLaw to in-house, not as a lawyer but on the business side. He shared a story about working with some consultants on a project. The story caught my attention not for the subject matter, but instead for the billing practices of the consultants.

The company is revising its records management practices. Although simple sounding, these efforts involve all kinds of issues both legal and business related. Companies have so much data and so many compliance rules to follow and they need to minimize risk at the same time, So these efforts are not for sissies.

The story involves some consultants from an unnamed provider; not a law firm. At a recent meeting ten Subject Matter Expert (SME) consultants attended. They covered compliance, technology, economics, etc. Some were even PhDs … which I read as “expensive.” And these consultants fly in for regular meetings from around the country. I didn’t ask, but would venture they bill for travel time.

Is anyone at the company screaming about this service approach? No.

If this was a law firm instead of a consulting company, you know there would be screaming.

Where am I going with this? It’s not to defend law firms, but instead to gain perspective.

Why aren’t people screaming? Because they expect consultants to behave that way. They used to expect lawyers to do the same, but something changed and they no longer abide such behavior. What changed was Trust. In the market it appears that clients are treating their lawyers as opposing parties instead of trusted advisors. They feel lawyers are there to just bill as many hours as they can and get rich at the client’s expense.

With consultants, I figure clients trust that they will bill as many hours as they can. Either that, or the client is focused on an end-goal (in this case a new records management practice) and are less concerned about how that goal is achieved. So the clients have some level of trust or understanding about the service model of the consultants. This makes it clear what law firms need to do: address the trust issue.  Yes – firms still need to “reinvent” and join the future, but more importantly, they need to re-establish a trusted advisor role with their clients. Without that reaffirmed trust, all of the efforts on efficiency and cost savings may well fall short of meeting clients’ expectations.

And, oh yeah … the service being provided by the consulting company could easily be part of a law firm’s offerings. I’m just sayin …