Monthly Archives: April 2014

Nuts and bolts of negotiations

dispute_resolution_elephantsAbout the first time I ever went out to negotiate the settlement of a legal dispute, all I could think to do was to say all the reasons why my client’s position was right and the other guy’s was wrong.

I didn’t get very far. The first time I tried that, the other guy just agreed with me and said, “Now, let’s see what a jury thinks that’s worth.” End of discussion.

The next time, the other guy was like me and he told me all the ways he was right and I was wrong. We didn’t know what to do next.

It turns out that preparing to negotiate is a very different thing from preparing to try a case. There’s a vast range of strategies and tactics that only begin with the legal analysis. In fact, negotiations is the subject of its own field of learning. The great universities (Harvard, Oxford) conduct research and offer programs about it.

Here are a few mundane hints at where you might start the thinking; ones that I gleaned from a recent Brooks Pierce workshop presented for us by Marty Scirratt of Sync Negotiation.

  • Never accept the first offer. (Duh.)
  • Opening anchors have a greater effect on outcomes than all of the subsequent concessions combined.
  • You must have a clear sense of what your objectives are, and which are the ‘Must-Haves’ and which are ‘Like-to-Haves’.
  • The stronger your alternatives are, the better the terms you can negotiate.
  • Without a clear alternative, it is impossible to understand when to accept a final offer and when to walk away.

These bullets are just a start at one angle on the discussion. But, even these would have been a mighty big help to me all those years ago, when I was  trying to think about how to persuade Hamp Howerton that his client should agree to everything my client (the wife) was asking for.

The husband was indubitably a skunk — as Hamp cheerfully agreed. But, as is so often true of skunks, he had nothing to lose.

Negotiate that.

Where hummus stops

Hummus is the subject of what has become a prodigious collection of posts at this station. (Just put “hummus” in the Search box above (left) and you’ll see.)

Well, it flows like a mighty river across the Levant. But it stops at the Sea of Marmara. It does not cross the Bosphorus nor pass the Dardanelles. straits

And so hummus is not found on Greek tables — even though chicpeas are a staple of Greek cuisine. Greeks just prefer their chicpeas in soups and stews instead of bean dip.

I was led to this Greek learning upon hearing  a podcast of the poet Christopher Bakken speaking at Davidson College on March 13, 2013.

Bakken has written a book entitled Honey, Olives, Octopus – Adventures at the Greek Table  which he read from in his lecture at Davidson. He spoke of the island of Seriphos, where “the tastiest preparation of chicpeas in all of Greece was developed” and he described the dish, a version of revithia.

I was hooked. I searched the Internet high and low (not then having the term revithia, although that alone would not have sufficed), but found no recipe. So I sent a message to Bakken himself, citing his lecture and asking for help.rivithia

Bakken was great. He responded promptly, but told me that he was not aware of a published recipe other than the description of the dish and its preparation that comprise Chapter 6 of his book (“Beans: Chasing Chicpeas at Plati Yialós”). Then, he said words to the effect of “I suppose I could scan a copy of that chapter from my book and send it to you.”

Was this an generous offer from a scholar and poet who has better things to do, or was he playing me like a trout? No matter. I thanked him sincerely and snapped up a copy of the book for myself.

Now – about that chicpea dish. Well, I will tell you this: you can’t go wrong combining chicpeas and lots of onions (lots) and olive oil and water and rosemary (garlic optional) and baking them for a long time (400º). Salt, as they say, and pepper to taste. Beyond that, buy the book.

One more thing worth knowing: The early Greeks had communal ovens for baking bread and they had clay for making pots. When the bread was done, the ovens were still hot, so they developed the practice of putting great casseroles of vegetables, oil, water and herbs in to bake in the heat left after the bread came out. Knowing that makes it taste better, I think.

Thanks to Christopher Bakken.

PwC Legal

Here’s how PricewaterhouseCoopers Legal LLP describes itself.London_skyline_2012_large

Welcome to PwC Legal LLP, a member of the PwC international network of firms. We provide clients with a unique style of integrated legal advice on complex commercial projects requiring a range of complementary specialists from other parts of the PwC network. We also offer clients a general counsel service and access to an extensive global network, including locally qualified legal expertise in over 80 countries and immigration law services in 116 countries. Working alongside market-leading experts from the PwC network in tax, human resource services, corporate finance, investment funds and financial services regulation, our legal team provides innovative, commercially-aware solutions to some of the most challenging business issues. Our focus is to help you find the right solution and to add value to your business.

If you go to the website, look at the images they use on the homepage. (They don’t have to wear ties there.)  And read the text on the careers page.

The value of lawyers who (only) give answers

bigdta“Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.”  — Pablo Picasso

“Traditional computing systems, which only do what they are programmed to do, simply cannot keep up … . These new systems are not programmed; rather, they learn, from the vast quantities [of information] they ingest, from their own experiences, and from their interactions with people.”  — IBM 2013 Annual Report

“Our recommendations about how people can remain valuable as knowledge workers in the new machine age are straightforward: work to improve the skills of ideation, large-frame pattern recognition, and complex communication … .”  — Brynjolfsson & McAfee, The Second Machine Age

It’s not knowledge; it’s skills.

The critical skill for lawyers? a core function of lawyers is to span boundaries – to forge connections across divides between adverse interests –  then negotiating must surely be a critical skill for lawyers. Negotiating finds the path through uncertainty and ambiguity between adverse interests.

In the context of a law firm, how to negotiate is a subject that all lawyers have in common regardless of practice areas. After an initial lawyer training session on negotiations at Brooks Pierce, one of our senior lawyers (a “grizzled veteran”) said to me, “You know negotiating is really all I have ever done.”

Do law schools offer negotiations classes or training? If they do, I do not know it. You would think they would — if it is a critical skill, the need of which is shared by everyone in the profession. We have taken up the issue at our firm.