“Hey Joe”….How to… get your point across in negotiation.

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Ok, so I didn’t want to give away this secret BUT this blog is about helping you in the legal world, so I can’t keep this from you! I’m about to tell you the secret of the best lawyers for how to really get your point across at the negotiation table. Now, when I tell you, some of you may laugh and say “but of course!” or “durr, that’s so obvious” but it is amazing how many lawyers just don’t do this and so never really get their client’s points across. You can take this tip and apply it to your day to day negotiation.

The best lawyers start formally but as soon as things heat up, they recognise that it’s time to drop the barriers and get right up and close to the people on the other side of the table. How do they do this? It’s really simple and I feel guilty that I’ve built this up so much but hey, I want you to read this! The best lawyers say “Hey Joe”,  “Hey Sarah”, “Hey Mick”… they switch to a first name basis. Lawyers are renowned for being stuffy and posher than the Queen of England, but the really good ones know that sealing the deal is about getting through to the opposition on a personal level, and the quickest way to do this is to use their name. Not from the outset – we start off with “Our client  is concerned about” or “Our position is that” – but as soon as we see that flicker of mutual understanding we transition to “look Phil, between you and I, they [not client] just want to get this done and they think that [name of company that you are negotiating with] is the best to do it”.

I remember some time ago, it was the run up to Christmas and work was crazy. I was representing a client in a claim against a very stubborn defendant. They didn’t want to agree a Court extension which meant that we would all be working over the Christmas holidays. My client was furious with how unreasonable they were being. Tired of sending letters by email to and fro, I simply picked up the phone and called the Defendant’s lawyer. The conversation went as follows:

Me: Oh hi Barry this is Emma here, how are you doing?

Barry: Fine thanks, crazily busy as I’m sure you are too.

Me: Yup, crazily busy, which leads me to the matter of this Court extension on X case.

Barry: Oh yes, my client’s position is very clear on that.

Me: Well Barry, off the record, Joe Bloggs LTD, doesn’t want the extension to secretly build an even stronger claim, they just want a break this Christmas! They literally want to go offline for at least a week. If we don’t agree this extension, we’ll all be working unnecessarily at one of the best times of the year.  I don’t know about you but I’d quite like to catch up on Suits.

Barry: [laughter]. Yes, I know what you mean, well I’ll see what I can do and get back to you.

Me: That’s great, thanks Barry and good luck with the last minute shopping.

Barry: How did you know? [laughter]

End of call

We ended up agreeing the Court extension and it was a sweet Christmas break! There is power in just getting a little personal and a little real! Try it!

Ps. I have not used real names in this post.

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3 things you should be happy about before you hire a lawyer.

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Hiring a lawyer is a big, BIG deal. As I’ve said before, a great lawyer will facilitate your business and help you get to the next level, a bad lawyer will leave you feeling frustrated, perplexed and out of pocket. So when you decide to give some of your hard earned profits to a lawyer, you need to make sure that you get it right. Here are 3 things you should satisfy yourself of before you sign that retainer!

  1. Do you believe them? Lawyers are great talkers AND charmers. As soon as you tell them what you need help with, they will tell you that that specific thing is their particular expertise (sorry fellow lawyers). I’ve seen it done many times. A prospective client asks for help contracting with aliens on Mars and suddenly that lawyer has not only done some similar work in the past, they’ve been to Mars and had dinner with those very aliens! Don’t get me wrong, lawyers are excellent at coming up to speed on any issue, even if they’ve only remotely come across it before however you should still make them prove themselves! So the questions you have to ask are why can they do the job and will they do the job? The answers will help you to decide whether to believe them. WHY – ask for their qualifications and their actual experience. Ask them questions about your business and your industry – do they really know what they’re talking about? WILL – as you already know, in business, execution is key. You need to be confident that your lawyer will actually do what they say they will and that you won’t be chasing for updates. Do they have the relevant resources? In respect of bigger instructions, do they have a team to carry out the work? If they prove that they can do the work and will do the work in good time, then you can believe them. Stay away from the lawyers that reel off their client list to try and impress you….you could end up being the back of the queue.
  2. How do they help their community? Good old corporate responsibility! Do not over look this. Lawyers will flatter you to high heaven and impress you with their catalogue of work BUT a good way to tell if they really CARE is by assessing their charity. The best law firms know this and have a glossy pro bono team offering free legal services to those unable to afford legal representation. They also send their lawyers out to lecture, teach or tutor in their spare time. If you hear about a law firm or lawyer working in the community, that’s usually a sign that they have a soul and really will do what they say they will do. Ask the prospective lawyer what they do outside of work in their wider community?  What are their interests? This will also help you to get to know their personality and decide whether you  actually LIKE them.
  3. Meet everyone! In most cases your lawyer will be supported by a team of junior lawyers which they may head up and those junior lawyers will be the ones doing the work.  Ask to meet those people so that you can assess their personality and their experience. Are they bright? Do they know about your business or will they just be taking orders? How does the team function? It is important to feel confident that you will be looked after and that everyone who handles your work will give it the same level of care and attention. Also, meeting the team will inspire them. If that junior lawyer can out a face to the email address, they’ll work harder!

Ok so those are my 3 things to be happy  about before you hire a lawyer. It is well known that legal fees are not cheap BUT that doesn’t mean that you should part with your money just like that. You need to make sure that you’re in good hands. It’s not just about getting the work done. Engage a lawyer that you would want to hire as an employee in your business. The lawyer/client relationship is one that is built up and developed over years, so get it right!

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Are you clear?

 

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It’s been a while. Like you, I’ve been busy. So much is going on and it is great. I’m learning more and more about the things that people like you (business owners and entrepreneurs) need from their lawyers. However, in the last few weeks something has come to my attention. Lawyers are renowned for it but it appears that we have finally passed it on to our clients….ridiculous speech.

What happened to just saying it how it is? Where is all this diplomacy  (by this I mean, indirect, I don’t want to hurt your feelings kind of speech) coming from? In my opinion, there is no room for diplomacy in business. Business must be clear, direct and concise or else there is a risk of miscommunication, and miscommunication can be fatal. When we don’t understand our offers, counter offers and rejections, opportunities are lost. If you want me to make you an offer for a pink car, DON’T ask me “what else can you do for me?” when I make you an offer for a blue car. Just ask me what my best price is for a pink car! Then, we can have an honest negotiation about what you actually want and what I want to give you because hey, its good business for me!

I recently had to agree a fee arrangement with a client. It took months. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to pay. They just wanted to pay in the best possible way for their business. I have to admit that I was impressed. These dudes didn’t just take our usual options a, b or c at face value. They demanded an understanding of each option and an examination of why any of those options would be good for them. The solution, a unique fee arrangement where I get paid and my client is happy paying.

SO, strip away the phoney language that you may have learnt in business school or read in the Financial Times and communicate honestly. Try it today, have a plain English (or whatever language you speak) conversation with your business partners. Come back here and leave your comments below. It felt good right? Like the rain had cleared and the sun had come out!

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