A Consultant Explosion

By Greenfield, Meg | Newsweek, September 23, 1996 | Go to article overview
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A Consultant Explosion


Greenfield, Meg, Newsweek


They have some of the lawyer's privileges with far fewer restraints

HOW DO YOU GET TO BE A CONSULTANT? PROBABLY the same way you get to be an editorial writer-you just say you are one, get yourself hired and start telling people what to do. The difference is that some people are likely to begin slavishly following your advice if you're a consultant. We in editorial writing don't generally have that problem. We also, I believe, enjoy a somewhat lower standing in those surveys people take of which calling is held by the public in least regard. Dick Morris could change that, however.

The incredible Morris saga has got me to thinking about the concept and reality of consultantship itself in our day. It is true that down through history, from Homer's seers to Rasputin to Morris himself, and including all manner of gurus, entrail readers and astrologists in between, there have been consequential figures employed more or less as consultants, persons thought to have special insights as both prophets and instructors in some realm. But I think it is only in our time that the general profession of consultant (is it actually a profession?) has come into being, the job of free-floating specialist-adviser on just about everything. Their range, as to both subject matter and competence, is enormous. On subject matter they range from consultants on how to reorganize your kitchen drawers and bedroom closets to consultants on how to reorganize your Fortune 500 company. In competence they range from truly estimable people with knowledge, grounding and experience who are well worth their fees to--well --just about anyone on earth who chooses to dub himself a consultant.

This last is the burgeoning part of the consultant population that has come to interest me. While there are some professional guilds and organizations of consultants, I don't believe there is any general licensure or consultant technical school or anything like that. And it has been my observation that the term "consultant," in your typical job-seeker resume, may easily be just another word for "unemployed." In addition, a lot of perennially losing candidates for local office, who seem to do nothing else but run, explain themselves in their campaign literature as "consultants" (also as "analysts," mainly of"policy"). And so do some of the still-unsettled young of my acquaintance, who have never worked anyplace for very long, but suddenly pronounce themselves "consultants." I ask myself: consultants to whom and on what earthly basis?

I stress this mixed-bag background so far as qualification and credentials are concerned because it is especially relevant to the role political consultants increasingly play, the bad along with the good. With or without much to recommend them, in some respects they are nowadays accorded a number of lawyerlike privileges and are thought of, in relation to their clients, pretty much the same way lawyers are. It is said, for instance, that just as every citizen entangled with the law is entitled to an attorney who earl help him beat the rap, so every politician running for office is entitled to employ the services of a political consultant who can help him beat the opposition.

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