If you hire a lawyer to consult on a business or personal problem and they give you advice, do you expect that advice to lead to positive results? Ron Ashkenas, managing partner of Schaffer Consulting, argues that business consultants should be held accountable for results in most situations. Should lawyers be held accountable for results as well?
The head of a large consumer products division felt that one of the keys to future growth would be a greater focus on emerging markets. To that end, she hired a large consulting firm to provide recommendations . . . [which] . . . didn’t take into consideration the readiness and capability of the managers and staff, both in the division and at corporate, to carry it out. As a result the client was unable to get her team on board and secure [the] necessary budget, and most of the recommendations were shelved.
The odd thing about this case is that afterwards the lead consultant felt that the project was a success . . . . After all, the study was done well, with the highest standards of analytic rigor and thinking. The failure to implement and achieve any results was the division manager’s problem, so the consulting firm – which was paid a very large fee for this work – was off the hook. Even more troubling was the unwillingness of the client to hold the consultant even partly accountable for the lack of results.
We agree with Mr. Ashkenas’ conclusion, which can be retooled to apply to lawyers:
Obviously investing in a [legal consultation] without getting a [positive result] is not a good business practice. But unfortunately this is an all-too-recurring pattern . . . One reason for this pattern . . . is the belief that most [legal] problems can be solved through rigorous [and costly] analysis to develop the “right” answer. What [clients] – and many [lawyers] – miss is that when the right answer cannot be implemented successfully, it is in fact the wrong answer. Yes, it might be right in theory but if it can’t be put into practice and yield results, it’s basically worthless . . .
So the next time you retain the services of a lawyer, don’t give him/her “a free pass that exonerates [him/her] from producing results. Instead, change the definition of [the] job,” so he/she is “accountable for creating value.”