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February 23, 2022 Practice Points

Tips for a Successful Consultant: The Counsel Relationship

Simple but sometimes overlooked items that can make a big difference when consultants and counsel are teaming up.

By Fred Pape

The uncertainty associated with a new engagement and working partners can be daunting. This can be especially true after transitioning off a project where a good rapport was established, and the involved parties operated with a level of comfort. The feeling of anxiety can be quite common in this time of transition. The following are some simple but sometimes overlooked items that can make a big difference when consultants and counsel are teaming up.

1. Know Your Audience

To establish a baseline, it can be useful to research prior case experience, work history, and academic degrees to give you a feel for who you will be working with and help to set expectations. This information can also be used to facilitate the conversation during the project-kickoff meeting and will show that you’ve completed your initial due diligence.

During the initial stages of the engagement, it is also beneficial to gain an understanding of how information is best received by your counterparts. This may involve finding a balance between explaining the research completed, analytical methods used, and legal analysis versus focusing on summary results, key takeaways, and the bottom line.

2. Create Organizational Alignment

A helpful exercise to complete in the early stages of work is to create a project organizational chart. Whether done formally with a diagram or just conceptually, this can help define roles and opportunities for alignment. For example, a junior or mid-level consultant may want to align with an associate attorney to collaborate on day-to-day project tasks. Gaining the ability to act in unison with your alignment partner can help to efficiently produce results. This alignment can also prove to be the starting point for a long-term relationship and lead to additional work, as the consultant may transition to senior level and the associate attorney may develop into a partner.

3. Invest in Relationships to Build Trust

To the extent that both sides are willing to open up and share, spending a few minutes here and there each week to check in and see how everyone is doing can help enhance the working relationship. Actively listening and showing empathy can help to build trust. Having a certain level of trust can allow for constructive dialogue and to keep things in perspective. This will help the team overcome challenges and tense moments throughout the engagement.

4.  Establish a Communication Plan

It can seem like the increased prevalence of work-from-home over the last few years has added to existing factors such as family responsibilities and time-zone differences to make scheduling common time incredibly challenging. This makes it even more important to find recurring time for both parties to dedicate to discussing and progressing on key project tasks. The cadence by which the collaborative time should be scheduled can vary over the engagement of the project, but it is important to lock in a schedule early on to stay on track.

5. Set the Foundation for a Healthy Engagement

There will likely be times where it is appropriate for each party to act in, and be comfortable with, both the leading and supporting roles. Humility and acknowledging the contributions of your partners will enrich the relationship. It may be a long pursuit to reach the end goal, but it is important to keep in mind that the collaborative relationship was established to help each other achieve success.

The tips above focus on the consultant-counsel relationship but can be generally applied to most collaborative engagements to achieve a smooth acclimation and enhanced relationship that leads to success. If both parties are satisfied, it can also set the table for future collaboration and work opportunities.

Fred Pape is a director at Ankura Consulting Group, LLC in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Ankura is the Litigation Advisory Services Sponsor of the ABA Litigation Section. This article should be not construed as an endorsement by the ABA or ABA Entities.


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