The quip in boardrooms all over the world is, "never believe your own people - hire a consultant to tell you the same thing."

All joking aside, in this article, we'll examine three consulting firms that bring a level of expertise that most companies simply do not have in-house. Should a company need high-level help with litigation or restructuring, these are the types of firms that would be called in. Let's examine their results to see which of the consultants is doing best, and which might need to hire a consultant of its own.

First International Acquisition
FTI Consulting (NYSE: FCN) has a market capitalization of over $2.3 billion and sales of $846 million over the past twelve months. FTI specializes in providing advice and counsel to companies having to deal with regulatory, financial or legal issues and has a large pool of professionals that dispense that advice. FTI recently made its first major international acquisition of Financial Dynamics in London, England. With this acquisition, FTI opens up a new marketplace for itself and widens its potential list of clients.

Future plans for FTI include more international acquisitions with an ultimate goal of deriving 30% of its revenue from overseas markets. Domestically, FTI enjoys relationships with 97 of the top 100 law firms in the U.S. and 66 firms out of the Fortune 100. It is worth noting that 80% of FTI's business is either repeat or referrals.

FTI's financial results are not very impressive, although not terrible. Revenue growth has averaged 23.% over the past three years and last year increased to 31.2%. FTI's growth rate in earnings has gone the other direction, averaging -12.3% for the prior three years and plunging to -23% last year. FTI manages a net margin of 6.5% from a gross margin of 45.5 and has a 8.9% return on equity.

Focus on Legal Issues and Regulated Businesses
Navigant Consulting
(NYSE:NCI) is the smallest of this group as measured by a market cap of about $600 million, but the firm has generated revenue in excess of $740 million over the past twelve months. Navigant's main focus is litigation consulting, which accounts for 44% of its revenue and about half of its profits. With 1,900 consultants, Navigant can help most any company find its way through a myriad of legal issues and hurdles.

Navigant's second focus is providing advice to industries and businesses that are highly regulated, such as health care and financial services and insurance. This particular segment accounts for 45% of the firm's revenue and 40% of its profits. Navigant is in an acquisition mode as well, having completed 19 acquisitions in the last six years. Navigant's major risk is that its client base is very concentrated with its top 20 clients producing 25% of the firm's revenue. (For more info on acquisitions, see M&A Competition Is Cutthroat For Acquirers.)

Revenue growth has done well, averaging 29% over the past three years but declining to 18.5% last year. Earnings growth is more leveraged, averaging 34.4% during the prior three years but declining to 2.1% last year. NCI sees a gross margin of 35.8% from which it nets 6.6% and returns 14.9% to equity.

Young and Strong
Huron Consulting Group (Nasdaq:HURN) has only been publicly traded since late 2004, yet it can boast a market capitalization of well over $1.3 billion and generated $435 million in sales over the past twelve months. Huron's expertise covers a lot of territory, but in a nutshell the firm helps its clients with advice on litigation and compliance, regulatory issues, financial distress and even management changes, among other services.

Huron enjoys relationships with many top law firms as well as Fortune 500 corporate clients and the firm's financial results speak for themselves. Revenue growth for the past three years has averaged 42.9% while coming in at 42.5% for its fiscal year 2006. Earnings growth in 2006 was 50.4% and the firm sees a net margin of 8% from a gross of 37.8% and returns an impressive 23.5% to equity.

Bottom Line for Investors
The market is a smart place and has made some judgments on these firms. While the past is not prologue, investors should note the following results over the last three years. FTI Consulting has risen a very respectable 175%, Navigant Consulting has declined by 50% and Huron Consulting has appreciated an impressive 250%. If Huron can continue its operational successes, perhaps its share price returns will continue to lead this group.

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