Associate layoffs, scaled-back recruiting and cancelled partner retreats show firms aren't immune to the current economic conditions. But even though firms are tightening budgets, their appetite for consultants has grown, at least according to several consultants. And what they're asking for is help with their economic problems: find us a merger partner; help us reorganise our practices and, from time to time, respond to a direct plea from a beleaguered partner: get me out of here!Among other things, says Bradford Hildebrandt, chairman of Hildebrandt International: "We are doing reorganisation for firms that are struggling." In addition, consultants say there has been an increase in firms wanting to identify potential merger partners. "We are doing a huge amount of merger candidate studies. There haven't been many deals, but there is a lot of talk," reports Ed Wesemann of Kerma Partners. And talk isn't always cheap. Both report 15% increases in business over last yearSelf-interest is involved: if the market really turns sour, the consultant field will get even more crowded. It is a haven for former managing partners, a segment of the industry that will grow as profits drop. There are other ironies. Even as McKinsey & Company continues to serve law firms that can afford its premium rates, the blue-chip consulting company has issued an intriguing study. In August, McKinsey found that spending on consulting by Wall Street banks was too high, and recommended that the banks cut back. Perhaps the banking consultants should have been asked their views of trafficking in synthetic financial instruments backed by worthless mortgages. (Oops, sorry, different story.) We'll watch these developments with interest. Bob Dylan knew: Sometimes you need a weatherman.
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