Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Thomson Acquires Legal Consulting Firm

The Thomson Corporation has announced the acquisition of Hildebrandt International, the largest consulting firm serving the law firm market. Hildebrandt will continue to operate as an independent company, and will become part of the Thomson Legal and Regulatory group.

The combination of publishing and consulting companies is quickly becoming all the rage, but it's a strategy not without risks.

The value of the consultant is as much in objectivity as it is in specific knowledge. For that reason, the brand of the consultant is tightly intertwined with the consultant's independence and integrity. The first time a Hildebrandt consultant ends up recommending, say, a West knowledge management product -- even if for all the right reasons -- the brand takes a hit should the client, however briefly and incorrectly, infer that a conflict may exist. If this happens enough times, the brand can become seriously damaged.

That Hildebrandt will operate as an independent company doesn't so much solve the problem as change it. If Hildebrandt maintains true operational autonomy, many opportunities for leverage and synergy will be lost, so Thomson won't be able to maximize its return on investment.

Am I suggesting that Reed-Elsevier would have been a better home for Hildebrandt? No, because LexisNexis has even more products, initiatives and ventures in the legal market, which would have compounded the issue of conflicts. Actually, I would have seen a company like ALM (formerly American Lawyer Media) as the most likely buyer. They would have brought all the synergy with far, far fewer industry entanglements.
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