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18/09/18

Q&A: Switching lanes

Q&A: Switching lanes

Dominique Auger – Director, Driver Trett Paris recently joined the team having previously worked with Driver Trett as a client. the Digest asks for her thoughts and insights into the client’s view of consulting:

Did you often use consultants as part of your previous role?

Yes, as the head of contracts department for the French office of one of the leading contractors in oil and gas, offshore, subsea construction, I had regular opportunities to hire external consultants.

In your experience, what are the main reasons clients use consultants?

From a client perspective, and to the exception of the appointment of expert witnesses which are performed by the appointed lawyers, there are three main reasons for a client to go to consultants:

1. Temporary lack of internal resources.

2. Lack of competencies.

3. A need for a third-party opinion on a contractual analysis or claim.

Regarding lack of resources, it is a matter of hiring individuals, but it is not merely putting ‘a bottom on a chair’.

As the client, you are ideally looking for somebody who knows your business, who is immediately operational and who will fit within your team and, no need to say it, ’somebody who is going to pay for his rate’. To find such resource, there are two main options, either contacting a freelance agency or a consultancy firm. Freelance agencies are plentiful, they all have numerous CVs available, but unless you have a good track record with one of them, you are left facing the pile of CVs and trying to figure out which one could be the one. This is time consuming, stressful, and risky if you do not make the right choice. Hence the alternative, go to a consultancy firm. Then the situation is different, you do not hire a person, you hire a person whose CV is endorsed by the consultancy firm, a person who is somehow guaranteed as to their competencies, behavior, and who you know can benefit from back-up support, if required. On this basis, the extra cost you will have to pay will be justified.

Is trust an important factor?  

Yes, this is the key factor. As the client, you need to trust the firm in order to trust the consultant(s) that it will propose. It is all the more paramount when you need to source competencies which are not internally available to prepare a claim, a contractual analysis, or strategy or when you are seeking a third party opinion. In all these instances, you put your commercial destiny into external hands. You need to have full confidence .

Once you have decided to work with a consultancy firm, how do you select it? What are the criteria?

An objective means of selection is ’beauty contest‘. However, this is a rather long process and usually, when it comes to getting a third-party opinion or putting a claim together, you (as the client) are in a rush. It is most likely that you have not been granted more than a few weeks by your top management for the commission to be complete. Therefore, the selection process should be short and simple.

How did you come to work with Driver Trett?

The firm I was then working with had internally prepared a significant extension of time claim and submitted it to its client, who had turned it down based on a concurrent delay analysis. Three years ago, this type of defence was pretty new in the oil and gas industry.  The client was coming with US considerations and rules on concurrent delay, whereas the contract was under English law. Although the contracts and legal team was pretty confident on the strength of the claim based on the SCL protocol recommendations, the top management of the company needed some more comfort and was ready to pay for it.

As the French office had never worked with consultancy firms on claims, I called my boss in the UK.  He mentioned a consultancy firm, that had done an excellent job for the Group on a series of claims in Australia, had just opened an office in Paris and I should contact them. So, I did.  Within a week, contact was made, meeting held, proposal on the table and, within a few weeks, work done!

I should mention that there were two key factors which led to hiring Driver Trett (on top of the recommendation): 

  • The reactivity of the Paris team.
  • Their immediate understanding of our needs.

This was proved by the proposal that they put together which reflected their understanding. Then they performed well, and we settled the claim.

Now that you have joined the consultancy business, are there any services we offer that surprised you? 

I realise that I should have mentioned training as one of the reason to hire consultants. However, I did not mention it because, as a client, I would not have requested such service from a consultancy firm simply because I did not know that they offer such services.  As head of contracts, I had never been approached with this type of service in four years. Neither had my predecessor.

Finally, what would you say is the best thing about the Driver Trett team?

I would say that the most precious assets of consultancy firms, whether industry or lawyers, are their reputation and their visibility. Reputation comes from the quality of their people, their recognised competencies and the quality of the work they produce, either as individuals or as teams. This is also essential in developing a rapport between clients and consultants that is essential to repeated engagements and working well together. As to visibility, it is the result of marketing and business development efforts and the knowledge that a team can demonstrate (training being a key area). From my experience, Driver Trett delivers on all counts and is a great team to work with.

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