Advice versa

Lawyers make excellent management consultants providing they are self-motivated and willing to give up the security of an office-based job.

It is tempting to view lawyers and management consultants as existing at the polar extremes of the professional advice spectrum. At one end there is the pinstriped lawyer constantly counselling clients to err on the side of caution, stifling creativity in the process; while at the other end the more glamorous consultant flits in to a business, doles out untested advice then makes a quick exit before anyone realises that the proposed solutions are largely bogus.

“The idea of us just swanning in and then swanning out is far from the truth,” objects Graham O’Connell, a director in big four accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCooper’s (PwC) financial services practice. “We work hard with our key target clients to try and get very close to the business and understand its structure. We invest a lot of time on personnel just to get to know their problems, so that when something crops up we’re well placed to help.”

The 35-year-old O’Connell began his professional career as a barrister with 9 Bedford Row. He then joined DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary and was headhunted by the big four accountancy firm for its management consultancy practice last year.

The image of the emotionally uncommitted ‘hired gun’ is also firmly kicked into touch by Fiona Czerniawska, director of the Management Consultancies Association’s (MCA) think tank. “Clients are extraordinarily demanding and they will expect you to come up with ideas instantly. They all want input straight away,” she says. “Most people you meet say our consultants are fantastically committed to their clients, almost overly so. They will be there 100 per cent of their time trying to do the job for them.”

Disillusioned lawyers who might be looking for an escape route, but who have reservations about abandoning an established professional career for a step into the unknown, should understand that consultancy is now big business. According to the MCA, the industry is now worth more than 10bn and its member firms presently employ more than 45,000 people – a 25 per cent increase on the previous year. Much of its recent growth comes from outsourcing, ranging from giving clients advice on how, and increasingly where, to outsource, to providing the outsourced service itself. The MCA estimates that 40 per cent of all consulting revenues are accounted for by outsourcing-related consulting.

But do lawyers make good consultants? They make “excellent ones”, replies Tony Williams, founder of legal consultancy Jomati. His reaction is perhaps unsurprising. Williams spent 25 years at the legal coalface, including stints as managing partner of the world’s largest law firm Clifford Chance, as well as Andersen Legal. Upon more serious reflection, the lawyer says the analytical skills that are so necessary to being a good lawyer are “tremendously useful” in the consultancy industry. However, he continues: “The real downside is that lawyers specialise very early on and may feel pigeonholed. They must have the confidence to look at areas outside their home turf and look at solutions that they haven’t tried before,” he says. “The range of experience is quite narrow.”

So what kind of person successfully makes the crossover to a management consultancy? Most of the new recruits at IBM Business Consulting Services, which is the largest consulting group both in the UK and the world, come from industry. According to Sej Butler, IBM’s recruitment manager, between a third and half of the new people come from industry. “We’re looking for people who have worked on transformational change programmes and those who have leading roles or who have been project leaders on large, complex projects; also people with certain professional qualifications,” he says. At a junior level, Butler notes that it is easier for people to come in “without ready-made skills”. He adds: “At senior levels, however, you want people who can hit the ground running.”

However, for those lawyers wanting to jump ship but who might be unwilling to drift too far from law, Williams points out that law firms in the UK are still resistant to employing consultants. Half of Jomati’s time is spent advising US firms. “It’s quite odd because looking at the situation on any rational basis, lawyers are consultants,” he says. “But they do not see themselves as wanting consultancy in relation to their own business.”

Lynda Purser, director of the Institute of Management Consultancy, argues that lawyers thinking of making the move must consider how they demonstrate that they have gained sufficient experience of management issues. She also points out that shrinking violets need not apply. “Being a management consultant is all about bringing about the changes in your clients’ business that are needed in order to progress it,” she says. “So they have to have very good people skills and be able to understand people well and pick up information and analyse it very quickly.”

All consultants make the point that the career is not a traditional nine-to-five job, nor is it office-based. “The single biggest problem people who come to us from other industries have,” says Butler, “is the lifestyle of consultants; the high degree of mobility. You could leave work on Monday, live in a hotel and come home on a Friday. There’s no routine at all. It’s the single biggest issue, but unfortunately it’s the nature of the work.”

Purser advises candidates to prepare for a shock at “leaving an organisation where you have the support and going somewhere where you’re very much your own person”. She adds: “It’s all about being self-sufficient and enjoying the buzz so much that you want to get on with it yourself.” Successful consultants will have to be self-starters prepared to identify their own projects, market their work, arrange teams and write reports. “You have no administrative back-up as a consultant, you just do it,” says Purser.

So what qualifications do you need to be a consultant? There is no doctorate for the job, replies Czerniawska. Management consultants, she points out, tend to have a good first degree and, other than that, “the brand of the firm they are with becomes their credentials”. Her route into consultancy illustrates how eclectic an industry it can be. She has a PhD in 17th century French art and began her career as an art historian and curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). “I rapidly became interested in what made the organisation work and what the barriers were to it being effective,” she says. From the V&A she joined a niche consulting practice and later joined PwC.

Management consultancy is “a profession in its immaturity”, says Purser. “As a profession, consultancy allows anybody in,” she says. “We as a professional body are leading the professionalisation of consultancy.” The Institute of Management Consultancy runs its own accreditation system and consultants can qualify under the scheme with a Certified Management Consultant award.

For a lawyer such as O’Connell, who has jumped ship, he points out that, in terms of career progression, he is in pretty much the same place as he was prior to the move. At DLA Piper he was hoping to be made partner, and at PwC he joined as a director, which he equates to the level of salaried partner. However, the barrister is now responsible for a team of 19 in his new job, “which was bigger than my entire department at DLA,” he says.

So how does O’Connell compare the two approaches to the business world? Clearly, the barrister has no regrets. He calls the law “a destructive discipline”. “You take things apart, pull holes in everything and then come up with a version that no one can argue with or debate,” he says. “Consultancy is much more about finding solutions and getting things done.”

To find out more about a career in management consultancy, visit www.imc.co.uk (the Institute of Management Consultancy) and www.mca.org.uk (the Management Consultancies Association).