As privacy and cybersecurity legal experts, the attorneys in our practice provide advice to clients regarding how to comply with varying and ever changing global data protection laws.
Among our biggest challenges in the past was when a client’s response was: “Great. How do we do that?” As attorneys, we didn’t always have the expertise and resources to provide answers to that question. And our clients didn’t always want to pay attorney rates for what were essentially consulting services.
Our solution at Paul Hastings was to integrate a consulting capability as part of our privacy and cybersecurity practice, allowing us to offer clients a dynamic and layered approach to solving privacy and cyber challenges.
At the time, no law firm had accomplished that successfully. And in a world in which clients expect both legal and business expertise, where the line between “legal advice” and “consulting” seems continually to blur, the ability to offer an integrated expertise creates a significant competitive advantage.
Fitting Square Peg in Round Hole?
Our decision to integrate nonlegal support into our firm’s business model presented its own challenges, of course.
The difficulties ranged from the material—how would their salaries and bonuses be determined?—to the more mundane—on which email distribution lists are they included, and are they invited to the annual “all attorneys” dinner? The fact that our Solutions Group team are not “partners,” “associates” or other traditionally recognized categories created a need to think creatively about a range of basic questions.
Candidly, sometimes it felt as though we were trying to fit the “square peg” of the consultant into the “round hole” of the traditional law firm. Nonetheless, we addressed each issue one by one, sometimes easily, sometimes with more difficulty, but always with an eye on the larger goal—integrating this new capability into the existing legal practice to create one unified team, working together to provide the best possible service to our clients.
Our firm, while (in our admittedly biased judgment) special, is not unique. Other firms can do what we have done, and a few have. So how did we go about it?
First: Earn Support of Management
First and, most important, was the need for management support. One of us (the practice chair) made the case to firm leadership as to why adding this new capability made business sense. Increasingly, privacy and cybersecurity engagements involved partnering with external consultants. Clients needed both skill-sets.
But teaming with another organization led to inefficiencies—gaps, differences in approach, at times unavoidable duplication of effort. And it meant sharing the economic rewards associated with the project. Bringing that capability in house would allow us to work together as one team, offering a holistic perspective and full-service solution to clients.
Firm leadership, to its credit, quickly recognized the opportunity and was supportive of the initiative.
Find the Right Talent
Armed with that support, we moved to the next step: finding the right talent. That began with the group leader.
Searching for the right fit meant more than finding a capable professional. She or he needed to be someone nimble enough to adapt to an unfamiliar, law-firm environment, able to work collegially with the legal team, and with the patience to work through the inevitable frustrations.
That was no easy task, but, after a few fits and starts (see importance of management support!), we were fortunate to find someone who fit the bill—the current head of our PH Solutions Group.
She, in turn, put together a team of talented professionals. Some have law degrees; others do not. But in each case they bring a wealth of consulting and business-processes expertise, working hand-in-hand with our lawyers to offer a robust set of services to our clients.
On some projects, our Solutions Group leads (although always under legal supervision and protected by privilege), and on others, it plays a secondary role. We fashion the engagement to fit the client’s need.
Entrepreneurism, Patience Are Vital
Starting a consulting group inside a law firm requires two key traits: entrepreneurism and patience.
We needed to educate both clients and our partners regarding our new capabilities. Clients were not used to looking to Paul Hastings (or other law firms) for this type of work, nor accustomed to the very different rate and pricing structure consulting teams provide.
Even more challenging was raising our partners’ awareness. Lawyers head-down in their daily practice often have difficulty in recognizing cross-selling opportunities even in other, well-established legal areas. Helping them to understand the potential in promoting a different type of service is an even more difficult task—one that is still ongoing.
Integrating the Solutions Group presents frequent questions of first impression—sometimes like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Examples include what benefits policies to apply to the consulting team (they are neither partners nor associates, nor do they fit in the traditional default category of “other timekeepers”), how bonuses are determined (see supra), and even to what firm meetings, dinners and other events they are invited.
The appropriate answers to these and other quandaries may differ from firm to firm. At Paul Hastings, we’ve striven to treat our Solutions Group as full and valued members of our firm—significantly improving our ability to serve our clients and contributing directly to the bottom line. And that is what they have done.
We now compete not only with law firms (few of whom possess the capabilities we can offer) but with consulting firms as well. The future of the legal industry is multidisciplinary, and we are grateful to be leading the way. Clients appreciate the economics, efficiency and value such an approach can offer.
The net result: our Solutions Group is growing, and we are evaluating similar initiatives across other practice areas.
Is the peg no longer square, or the hole no longer round? Perhaps both have become a bit oblong. Whatever the case, it works.
Behnam Dayanim is a partner and global chair of the privacy and cybersecurity practice in the Washington, DC, office of Paul Hastings LLP.
Jacqueline Cooney is senior director of privacy and cybersecurity at Paul Hastings and leads the firm’s PH Solutions Group.