and selecting other advisors


    The most common way to select professional advisors is through a referral. The two most common mistakes are, first, to wind up with an advisor who does not have much experience with your specific situation. Experience counts! Second is to fail to negotiate properly exactly which services for what fees will be provided.* A good way to obtain referrals is to make an exploratory appointment with an advisor and at its conclusion ask if he were facing this problem, who, besides himself, would he turn to for assistance. If the same name keeps on surfacing after several appointments, that is a positive "peer review."

    Below are some specific suggestions for selecting attorneys and consultants. Similar considerations apply to the other professions.


1) Attorneys

   The standard legal reference is Martindale-Hubbellwhich was first published by James Martindale in 1868. Today the firm claims a database of over one million lawyers and law firms in 166 countries, and includes peer review ratings. However the database is not infallible. The author was curious how two attorneys, one in Munich and one in California, both prominent in their fields, were rated. Neither one of them was listed at all.

    Furthermore the peer review is to be taken with a grain of salt, as is true of any of the professions. The German word Standesdünkel describes what takes a sentence to explain in English, viz. that members of the club are extremely reluctant to "bad mouth, sling mud at" one another. They are not at all inclined to "wash their dirty laundry at all, let alone in public."

    Legal experience with precisely your problem is a must. Still, be cautious about bringing in the high-powered "expert from afar." Local council knows the local system, the local judges. Regardless of whom you use, get a clear understanding about the fees from the outset. Try at the very least to get a written cap on them. Be aware that finding an attorney willing to sue a colleague for malpractice is equivalent to finding a winning lottery ticket. It is not impossible, no, but it is definitely a low probability event. Therefore insist on a binding arbitration clause in any contract you sign with an attorney. You will be met with fierce resistance. You are insulting the attorney´s competence, impugning his integrity, ethics etc. (See the "Note on Arbitration" under "Negotiation Strategy" at Services.) Succumb at your peril!

    Above all, be extremely careful in the U.S. of attorneys in general and litigators in particular. The author heard the same comment years apart, one time from a German attorney, who had written two respected legal textbooks, and the other time from a retired judge. In relating different encounters with senior partners from prestigious U.S. law firms both stated: "Why, the man was a gangster, a real gangster. It was astonishing."** Unfortunately such individuals are far more memorable than the conscientious, ethical attorneys who willingly go the extra mile because they care about their clients -- and about the law.

    German attorneys not only have gone through a far longer legal education than U.S. ones (six or seven years versus three), but also, in contrast to their U.S. colleagues, face legal constraints as to how much they can bill. These constraints are largely a function of the disputed amount. This happy state of affairs means that in Germany insurance for legal actions is actually affordable! From the attorneys´ perspective the downside is that they do not have much opportunity to earn multimillion Euro fees through contingency billing in class-action suits. The upside is that they are far more likely to be highly respected members of society than their U.S. counterparts.

    An excellent service to get a preliminary "see the attorney in action" is offered at: One posts one´s question anonymously on a forum and volunteers to make a payment of 20€ to 500€. (In practice 40€ to 50€ is the minimum.) Often there is an answer by E-mail within hours -- and a legal contact for further work.


* Two attorneys are on a flight from New York to Los Angeles. The young attorney proudly says to his colleague, a senior partner, that he will bill more than 24 hours that day, because of the change in time zones. The partner says that is nothing. He points to an article he is reading in the Wall St. Journal. There is a remote possibility that it could be relevant to one of the firm´s 30 clients who are in, or have dealings with, that broad industry. Therefore all 30 will be sent a "research" bill for his reading it on the plane -- at $450 an hour - ($450 x 30 = $13,500, not bad pay for relaxing a bit with one´s favorite newspaper in first class).


** A common joke about divorce lawyers in the U.S. runs as follows: The young lawyer, new to the firm, is working late one night when the Devil appears. The Devil asks him if he would like to become a partner instantly, with all that power and prestige and a magnificent corner office to boot. The lawyer looks up from his papers. Of course he wants to become a partner; that´s why he´s there. Well in that case, explains the Devil, all he has to do is sign this simple contract. The souls of his venerable mother and father, of his charming small son and newly born daughter, and of his lovely, adoring wife, will all be consigned to hell to burn in unspeakable agony for eternity.
    The lawyer says nothing. After considerable time has passed, the Devil, growing impatient, asks him what is he thinking about anyway? The lawyer answers: "This deal just sounds too good to be true. What´s the catch?"


2) Consultants

    The most important criterion for selecting an executive coach is not the coaching firm, but the individual coach. This criterion appears obvious, but is often overlooked in management consultancy engagements. Anyone who has made partner at a world-class management consultancy such as Bain, BCG, McKinsey, Monitor, etc. has demonstrated intellectual rigor, a tremendous work ethic, and superior team leadership skills. That partner is also busy, faced with multiple, demanding commitments. Even if he is leading only your engagement, there are still all the internal demands from his own firm. The more senior the partner, the more numerous -- and onerous -- are the responsibilities.

    Therefore the "right" partner from any elite firm will result in a better outcome than the over-committed, distracted partner from another, perhaps even more elite, firm. That having been said, partners do not work in a vacuum. The style in which they work, i.e. their tools and techniques, the teams they put together, all reflect the firms at which they work. The primary criterion is the partner in charge. The secondary criterion is the firm´s methodology, its style.



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