David Maister is well-known for his articulation of the concept of “the trusted advisor” and his book by the same title is an absolute must-read for anyone who wishes to develop the closest possible relationship with his or her client. This book had a profound effect on my approach to my own clients, as it no doubt influenced so many others.
Because the topic is so close to my heart, I read Arnie Herz’s post “lawyers as trusted advisors” with great interest. Arnie writes the insightful legal sanity blog, and his post pulls together a number of important resources on the trusted advisor topic. While not recent (written waaaaaay back in February), it is a contribution worth rereading. One of the articles Arnie references contains a nice pyramid diagram of relationship development, starting with Level 1 “commodity work” and ending with Level 4 “trusted advisor.” I wonder how many of us know that we are stuck at Level 3, categorized as “consultative, well thought out advice.” How hard it must be to move up that one spot! But the bottom line–that 46% of the surveyed executives had not forged this kind of close relationship with a legal advisor–makes it clear that a lot of lawyers have not crossed that critical threshold. There not only is room for us to be better, but a demand for us to be better too.
What are the reasons so many fail to make that final jump to Level 4, trusted advisors? From the comments made in the article Arnie references, I am left wondering whether the pressure to bill hours is at least one of the culprits. The article talks about the frequency that invoicing issues get in the way of the relationship. Although not expressed, I get the impression that the executives who have that Level 4 relationship with their legal advisors spend more time (and most likely more time off the clock) with their lawyers. It is so very true that face time is great time, especially when it is invested time rather than billed time. I would love to hear what others think about the primary barriers to moving from Level 3 to Level 4.