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PREMIUM LEGAL RESOURCES LEGAL FORMS ASK A LAWYER

What is a consultant? What does a consultant do? When should I use an expert? As most of us know, we can't be experts in everything. There are many circumstances that welcome the talents of an individual with specialized expertise.

Sometimes, even when well informed on the project, we come up short trying to wear "all the hats", and have a tendency to sit too close to the problem to see the solution. Understanding the ways in which a consultant can be a resource to overcome these pitfalls allows us to fully utilize time management potential and get back in the driver's seat.

WHAT IS A CONSULTANT?

A consultant IS NOT a temporary or part-time employee. A consultant IS an independent contractor offering his or her specialized services or skills to clients for a fee. Like your doctor, lawyer or plumber, he is a counselor who is employed for his or her knowledge, experience and judgement as well as his skills. Besides being an authority in a specialized field, the consultant is project or task oriented. He can see the solution for the problems without the tangle of conflicts, daily crises and problems that typically interrupt an executive.

WHAT DOES A CONSULTANT DO?

Being experts in their fields, consultants are highly trained in analyzing problems and developing solutions that satisfy management objectives. Often, they are asked to implement these solutions. Being free of time consuming daily operational duties, they can direct their attention to the project. A satisfactory result is reached more quickly and objectively. This enhanced productivity makes a consultant a real bargain. Projects or problems that hang on and on while waiting for attention often have direct and hidden costs beyond realization.

Focusing their work according to the client's objectives and centering on results is an important measure of the consultant's contribution. Often, the accomplishment of the goal can be measured in dollars, time or quality. Comparing this with the time needed by an employee for training and fulfillment of the end is one measure of value. Another is the quality of the solution or attainment of the objective. Often a low quality solution is worse than the problem and leaves a haunting effect. Sometimes, the problem is like a hole in a boat, it gets harder and harder to save the ship, the longer the problem exists.

The consultant performs tasks such as:

* Situation Analysis
* Research
* Planning
* Evaluation
* Problem definition
* Idea Generation
* Implementation
* Design
* Selection
* Testing
* Training
* Reporting

WHEN TO USE CONSULTANTS

Consultants may represent the most cost-effective solution under many conditions. You should consider using them when you need:

UNIQUE SKILLS -- When specialized experience and knowledge are not available within your firm consultants are the answer.

ONE TIME and OVERLOAD HELP -- Using Consultants for peak-period or unique projects can help equalize the workload of your permanent staff.

INNOVATION -- Consultants contribute fresh thinking and are very effective as catalysts for alteration and change.

TRAINING -- At all levels in the company, Consultants can provide training. Formal seminars as well as one-on-one training sessions will benefit your company.

TEMPORARY HELP -- During peak periods can be useful. When near-term business situations are uncertain, consultants can perform the work without long-term commitments.

GETTING THE MOST FROM CONSULTANTS

Having selected a consultant, to insure maximum effectiveness follow the next few suggestions:

EARLY INTRODUCTION -- Bring the consultant into the project early. Consultants can often guide initial decisions or suggest immediate solutions.

DEFINE THE TASK -- Good definition speeds problem solving and saves consulting time. All data bearing on the assignment should be provided at the beginning and as needed during the term of the project.

PROVIDE NECESSARY SUPPORT -- The consultant should be introduced to the relevant systems and personnel as soon as possible.

MONITOR PROGRESS -- The consultant should keep you informed as to progress.

VERIFY RESULTS -- Decisions should be made regarding conclusions, advice and implementation.

Consultants can provide the missing link between your company's present problems and future goals. They are most cost effective when you make the effort to use their skills to best advantage.

* The above material was excerpted, modified or otherwise prepared by the 'Lectric Law Library from a work by National Consultant Referrals, Inc. 1996. The original was found at NCR's website at www.referrals.com

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