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Hiring the right consultant can be the single most important factor in a law firm technology project. But the idea of hiring and working with a technology consultant may strike fear into the heart of the firm’s technology committee, IS staff or administrator. It doesn’t have to be a painful ordeal if you approach hiring and working with a technology consultant in the same manner that your clients approach hiring and working with your firm. Just as clients must find a law firm that suits their individual needs, a firm must find a technology consultant that fits its particular objectives, size and culture. Technology consultants who offer their services to law firms and corporate legal departments may work for CPA firms, technology integrators, software companies or have their own practice. Although they come in all sizes and offer myriad services, there are two primary types: independent consultants and corporate consultants. INDEPENDENT VS. CORPORATE Independent consultants do not sell hardware, software or any sort of integration or training services. They can theoretically remain “independent” in assisting their clients to choose hardware and software because they have no strategic alliance or sales quota to fulfill. A consultant who sells any product or has a strategic partnership with any software or hardware vendor may not be truly independent. Very few consultants are actually independent. Hiring an independent consultant can be an advantage if you are trying to choose among several qualified applications, vendors or technology integrators for a particular project. A good independent consultant is not only aware of all the products available for the legal community, but is also aware of the better vendors and their capabilities. A disadvantage of hiring an independent consultant may be that he may not be as aware of the latest developments with certain hardware and software since he is not directly privy to information available to a “strategic partner” or vendor. Some of the most important information available regarding hardware and software comes from actually working with the products — often through learning the hard way about undocumented errors or faulty features. A corporate consultant can also be an excellent choice. What I call a corporate consultant is any consultant who works for a company that sells any hardware or software or performs integration or training services. The term is mine: Consultants within these groups will never refer to themselves as corporate and may not even call themselves consultants. But if they are offering advice as part of delivering their product or service, they are consulting. Since there is such a wide variety of technology products and services available to the legal market, not all consultants have the same set of skills. One may have expertise in a wide range of technology issues, while another may focus on a particular piece of software. An advantage of working with a corporate consultant is the ability to do a true “turnkey” project. In other words, she will not only consult on your project, her company will be responsible for following through with the entire project, which may include selling hardware and software, design and integration. This full-service approach can also be viewed as a disadvantage, however. Because corporate consultants derive income from sales of products and services, you may wonder whether you are receiving unbiased information. It has been my experience that the reputable corporate consultants will never sacrifice their reputations just to push product. A consultant’s reputation is as valuable to him as it is to an attorney. To make sure your consultant is not “shoe-horning” you into a particular product, do your homework and ask questions. Larger systems and consulting practices will offer — and have experience with — most products offered to the legal market. Therefore, they are in a position to provide unbiased guidance based not only on research and understanding, but on real “in the trenches” experience. THE RIGHT PERSON FOR THE JOB More important than whether you choose an independent or corporate consultant is the nature of your project. Few, if any, consultants to law firms are expert in every type of project. For example, a consultant who is an expert in word-processing systems or accounting system upgrades may have little knowledge of litigation-support projects. � Look for a consultant who has experience with the particular issues you are undertaking. Always check references. Also, consider the experience of the organization behind the consultant. A good consultant is more valuable if she can leverage her individual knowledge and experience with the institutional experience base of her organization and strategic partnerships. � Review the types of clients the consultant has worked with in the past. Does the consultant work with large, medium, or small firms? Since different size firms use distinctly different hardware and software products, the size of the consultant’s typical client makes a difference. � Consider the size and culture of your law firm. Do you have a strong technology direction and staff and seek only spot assistance on a project? Are you uncertain as to your technology goals, skills, and direction and need a consultant to help guide overall strategy? Are you technologically strong, but need an experienced consulting group to verify your selections and assist with projects? � Carefully determine exactly what role you wish the consultant to play in the project. Discuss this with your technology committee and IS staff, and actually write out the goals you wish the consultant to help you achieve. � Identify the skills you are looking for and match the skills of the consultant with your needs. Choosing the correct consultant is only half the battle. Once you have hired a consultant, a good working relationship is essential. This will require complete honesty and excellent communication. A consultant must foster a good working relationship, just as a firm must build trust with its clients. Like a new client, the firm is entering into a situation it is unfamiliar with, which can be extremely costly, with no guaranteed results. Both the attorney and the technology consultant sell their expertise and experience in guiding the client through unfamiliar terrain. As the client, make every effort to communicate with your consultant as fully and directly as you would have your clients communicate with you. Laying out all the facts, concerns and possible pitfalls are as important in a technology project as they are in a legal matter. When embarking on any project with a consultant, be sure to discuss the following preliminary information: � Cost issues. How will you be billed for services and additional costs? Make your consultant aware of your cost expectations. Have the consultant give you an estimate for his services. Arrangements such as “not to exceed” or “flat fee” services for a particular scope of work are not uncommon. � Contact information. How and with whom will the consultant primarily interact? Which resources will be dedicated to the project? Give the consultant a hierarchy of names, in case she must appeal to a higher authority. � Cultural issues. Make the consultant aware of any unique facts surrounding the project. Is this project unpopular for any reason? Is the nature of the project confidential? Are there external issues (such as client requests) pushing the project? What are your fears concerning this project? Are there limitations to what the firm can commit to, in terms of time or resources? Once the preliminary information is settled, be thorough when discussing the scope of the project and your expectations of the consultant’s role. Be honest and detailed regarding your goals for the project and discuss any limitations. Like a good attorney, a technology consultant should be able to listen to a client’s needs and formulate the correct strategy to solve those needs � even if that strategy differs from what the client had envisioned. Be honest with the consultant about why you need to hire him. Don’t worry about being able to couch your needs in “tech-speak.” Describe very simply your perceived needs and your thoughts on how the consultant will assist in solving them. For example, rather than telling the consultant that you need help in picking a case management software package, discuss the problems you are having and how you would like them resolved: “We are not as organized as we would like to be and we need a better calendaring system.” Or, “We would like to share information more efficiently.” Trust your consultant to guide you down the right path. Communication and commitment are key. Do not hold back information or resources. Just because your consultant has undertaken similar projects, don’t assume that he can proceed without your participation. Each project is unique. Not fully communicating with your consultant or not providing requested information and resources can (and generally does) lead to a higher fee and a result that does not meet your needs. Don’t hesitate to hire a consultant to assist you with technology projects. If you choose your consultant carefully and communicate effectively, your chances of success are excellent. The expertise a technology consultant can provide may ultimately save you time and money, reduce risk, deliver better and more predictable results, and give you peace of mind. Tim Kenney is a technology and management consultant at SRA International Inc., headquartered in Fairfax, Va. He assists SRA clients in developing strategic solutions in knowledge management, customer relationship management, strategic technology planning and e-business.

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