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#371: Consultants Are Not Lawyers

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, August 16, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, August 18, 2010
I am often asked by clients to advise them on legal issues. They recognize I am not a lawyer but ask for my opinion as an experienced consultant. As long as we are clear that this is clear, is there any harm in giving them my opinion?

Is there any reason why a lawyer shouldn't render his or her opinion to your clients about financing, supply chain security, organizational design or trends in the trucking industry? We are hired as experts in our areas of specialty for our knowledge, independence and objectivity - not as general advisors in all areas or as pundits. Even if you are clear that you are not a lawyer, tread very carefully when discussing legal issues.

There are two reasons for this. First, your presence in the client organization is because you are seen as an expert. Regardless of how justified, your words carry the weight of an expert. Your "advice," even if qualified, is a powerful influence and induces decisions and actions by your client. Second, even with the best of intention, you are not qualified to advise outside your area of expertise. The IMC USA Code of Ethics says, "I will only accept assignments for which I possess the requisite experience and competence to perform and will only assign staff or engage colleagues with the knowledge and expertise needed to serve my clients effectively." This applies as much to comments and actions you take during the engagement as it does in decisions about whether to take the engagement itself.

Tip: Get to know some lawyers so you can refer your client to them for specific and expert advice. Do this before you need to so you can address the client's concerns immediately. This is part of good client service.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consultant role  ethics  legal 

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