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Why a Bad Legal Strategy is Great for Your Consulting Firm

Imagine you’re in court. As the prosecutor states his case, you nervously whisper to your defense attorney, “Should I just tell them…” “No,” your counsel quickly interrupts you. “Don’t say anything!” Your advocate’s advice is exactly right for the courtroom.

It’s absolutely wrong for the boardroom.

In legal matters, a good rule of thumb is: don’t admit anything. Never confess your wrongdoing, and never willingly divulge a weakness.

The law is adversarial.** Winners and losers.

It’s a battle of wits in which the ultimate aim is to force a “You’re $#(@ right I did!” admission of guilt.


Heck, here in the U.S. we have a constitutional amendment protecting our right to not admit we’re wrong. (Or that we like Jack Nicholson.)

Many people view life as a constant battle of us vs. them. Never lose. Never admit you’re wrong.

Consulting, however, isn’t adversarial. It’s collaborative. It’s we together.

That changes the entire dynamic and means that admitting your flaws, weaknesses and errors, while not easy, can benefit your consulting practice.

(Many of you readers who are attorneys may be itching to correct me with instances where admission is a good legal strategy. You’re right, I’m wrong, that’s not the point and, ironically, that helps me make the point.)

As a consultant, admitting your shortcomings builds an essential pillar of consulting success: Trust.

When you concede your imperfections, you strengthen trust that you’re honest and reliable; that your claims aren’t manufactured from bluster.

A few admissions that may improve your consulting firm’s success:

“I don’t know the answer to that.”

“That’s not our forte. Another firm could probably help you better.”

“You’re right. I made an error there.”

“Oops, I left something important out.”

Revealing your weakness may also afford you an opportunity to demonstrate your flexibility, responsiveness and resourcefulness. For instance, consider how impressive the following response is, if you can deliver on it:

“I’m sorry, you’re right. I did that calculation wrong. Give me 15 seconds to text my assistant and let’s see if we can get a corrected slide here before we’re done with this meeting.”

Can you think of other times when admitting your faults may help your case as a consultant?

  1. Dave Yarrish
    May 16, 2018 at 8:34 am Reply

    Dale Carnegie wrote in his famous best seller “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, “If you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.”.

    • David A. Fields
      May 16, 2018 at 8:40 am Reply

      Dale Carnegie knew a thing or t2o, didn’t he! The same principle applies for when you don’t know, when you’re not the best consultant for the job, and when your spouse catches you watching Jack Nicholson movies. Thanks for adding the famous book reference, Dave.

  2. Mark Vieno
    May 16, 2018 at 9:02 am Reply

    That’s our policy as well. When my firm makes a mistake, we apologize and even more importantly, develop a corrective plan and then review it again with the client so they know we have taken action. It actually strengthens the relationship. I tell my clients, well we are all humans, and humans make mistakes, but the best of us fix our mistakes and move forward.

    • David A. Fields
      May 16, 2018 at 9:16 am Reply

      Good policy, Mark. Quick recovery from a mistake can absolutely improve your relationship with a client. (FYI, there’s more on recovering from a mistake in this article.)

  3. Debbie
    May 16, 2018 at 10:58 am Reply

    This reminds me of an opportunity to be pro-active.
    When consulting, how about a mid-project/engagement, where you ask your client about what’s working well and what could be improved going forward? This provides an opportunity to be potentially pro-active in avoiding “mistakes” in the second half of the engagement.

    • David A. Fields
      May 16, 2018 at 11:15 am Reply

      Proactive client engagement and regularly checking in on your performance are hallmarks of a good consulting practice. As ithe Project Rescue Infographic suggests, the best way to deal with mistakes is to have systems in place that stop you from making them in the first place!

      Keep in mind that admissions aren’t only about mistakes. There are other times when you can admit flaws, weaknesses and other information that isn’t obviously self-beneficial.

      Thanks for your perspective, Debbie.

  4. Phil Lambert
    May 16, 2018 at 11:11 am Reply

    People know, people make mistakes. People also know and recognize who is hiding, glossing over, or blame shifting. People admire people who own up to their mistakes, determine corrective action, take that action and do all they can not to make that same mistake again! People with character make mistakes. It’s what someone does after that mistake that reveals one’s character.

    • David A. Fields
      May 16, 2018 at 11:16 am Reply

      What a wonderful way of phrasing that point, Phil: “People with character make mistakes. It’s what someone does after that mistake that reveals one’s character.” Very nice. I’m glad you shared that nugget.

  5. R Mallory Starr
    May 16, 2018 at 11:16 am Reply

    Hi David,

    This above is one of your best. It is a simple reality though I am not sure how many are fully aware of it. As an add-on, many are stuck in the win-lose frame and generalize that to all interactions and transactions.


    • David A. Fields
      May 16, 2018 at 12:34 pm Reply

      It is a shame how often people adopt a win/lose, zero-sum game approach when they don’t need to.

      As consultants, we know the very first rule is It’s about Them, not You, and that rule only works if we fundamentally accept that putting your clients interests first will ultimately benefit both of you.

      Your voice is always a welcome addition to the conversation, Mallory. Thank you for sharing.

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