The Ugly Truth #1- Negotiating against lawyers

When I started this blog, it was with the intention of helping non lawyers, like entrepreneurs or business people without any formal legal training with how to approach and navigate legal issues and documents. In other words while you may know your own business inside out, this blog would help you navigate the legalese that you may encounter in your way, be a the lawyer for your own venture. But then I turned around and wrote a long post on on why you should hire a lawyer. While I still believe that hiring a qualified and experienced is the smart move, assuming that you just don’t agree, or you don’t have the time and/ or budget to hire a lawyer, don’t worry, I am here for you. This is the first of my Ugly Truth series of posts where I talk about my brethren, the legal fraternity, and more specifically, corporate lawyers. But if you’re expecting tips and tricks to beat lawyers, you’ll be disappointed. These posts are more to level the playing field.

Now, let me start by saying, that while I enjoy a good lawyer joke as much as the next person, my experience has largely been that lawyers are not evil per se. If you are negotiating against a lawyer, it is possible, in fact even extremely likely that they will try and squeeze you for every inch, but its not because they are trying to cheat you or rob you, but instead its what they have probably been paid to do. They’re just doing their jobs. A lawyer will only push as hard as they think their client wants. And if you think about it, as a client, that exactly what you would expect of your lawyer as well.

If you were to search online, you would easily find a dozen books teaching you how to negotiate and claiming to tell you how to ‘Win’ a negotiation. How to come up tops. More than a few of them claim to be best sellers as well, so there must be something to it, right? Well, sure. I’ve read a few my self and while they’re very interesting, the thing that struck me was that most of these tips and techniques were applicable when negotiating principal to principal, i.e. entrepreneur to entrepreneur, business to business.

For example, one very successful book suggests that when discussing an issue, you should acknowledge the point of view of the other side, but then also ask them how you would achieve what you wanted from the deal. This, the book suggests, will actually get your counterpart thinking about how you can achieve what you want. And I can tell you, I’ve seen it work. When two parties approach a problem with a collaborative spirit, they will each go the extra mile to solve each others problems. The only catch is, I feel this will not in most cases work against lawyers, at all! Unlike a negotiation where two people are trying to close a deal, and may be willing to make concessions to arrive at an agreement, in many cases, lawyers are simply not authorised to make any concessions without the client saying so. If you hired a lawyer draft a contract where you want to sell your car for $1000, you certainly wouldn’t be happy if he came back saying the buyer made a good argument so he’s instead agreed to sell your car at $500. Further, a person interested in the business would be more inclined to close a deal fast, whereas a lawyer has no problem to wait and watch. Its a proven strategy, and while it may not lead to quick closure, it is widely used. This is just one example of otherwise good advice which suddenly doesn’t work as well because the person actually facing you is a lawyer and not a business owner.

So with that said, I am going to give you three key tips if you’re in a negotiation, and you’re up against a lawyer.

1. Talk it out

Try and get at least one session where you, your counterpart and the lawyer are in the room (or at least on the same call) and have the lawyer explain the various clauses and how they will work practically. Ask questions, no matter how “dumb”. If you read and listen carefully, you will have a better chance of finding the intentional or unintentional devil in the details. And if your counterpart is available in the room, these devils may be fixed quickly, because, lets face it, he also wants to get to work, and not just pay legal fees!

2. Your best friend, the search engine!

You may not have a lawyer, but you don’t have an excuse to be unprepared. Much like this post, the internet today has a lot of people putting out content on business and contracts. If you are lucky, you may find entire template agreements for what you want to do. Find the right pages, and you will not only have an insight to what your agreement should look like and what are the good clauses to have, but also, in this case, an insight into what the lawyer on the other side is going for. Also don’t be afraid to ask for advice in the comments or DMs. Most legal content writers will be happy to answer simple questions.

3. Take detailed notes to sleep over

The last but maybe the least important tip I can give you is don’t have an ego, and don’t come under any pressure to agree to anything on the spot. Most lawyers will not hesitate to ‘park’ a point and come back to it later. If you are faced with a proposal that you are unsure about, or you feel that there is something that sounds too good to be true, perhaps sleep over it, and you can still agree tomorrow. But for today write down in detail what the proposal is, and exactly what the discussion was. If you later re-read everything at leisure, you may find that ideas and suggestions may pop out at you. Another important use of note is that if some point is agreed in a particular way, writing it down will ensure you don’t forget anything. This tip is important even if there isn’t a lawyer on the other side. The other side may miss something, but you cant afford to.

There, I hope that helps! Always remember, you know your business better that any lawyer, and while he or she may know how to negotiate, you will always know the business better, and that makes you more valuable!

Till the next post, take care


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