An Education In Negotiation

Business schools (though, sadly, few law schools) teach negotiation skills and techniques, but more often as an elective than as a core subject. Most people emerge from business schools and law schools as instinctive positional bargainers expressing themselves in the form of wants and demands rather than needs and interests. They tend to be touchy about negotiation. Tunnel vision and a gladiatorial approach can block their ability to explore wider prospects and better opportunities.

Without realising it, most are doing a disservice to the interests they represent, and to themselves. Today’s market is driven more by quick and efficient outcomes. New ways of negotiating are gaining widespread acceptance because they are pragmatic, fast, optimize value and are more sustainable.

Business leaders can no longer feel free to take silly risks with shareholders’ assets. The premium now is on responsible leadership and management. That includes reputation enhancement, especially in this world where you can be made and destroyed on social media. It includes being a good party to do business with and securing certainty with minimum time, risk, cost and exposure. CEOs increasingly expect creative strategies for managing risks and costs and securing more effective outcomes.

Most of us know that, as corporate counsel, we have a wider responsibility than the one owed to the person or group to whom we report. It extends to our employers’ shareholders and other stakeholders beyond the organisation.

Some law firms and other service professionals, unconsciously or not, prioritise their income over a client’s outcome. Realising that this outmoded attitude has no viable future, many have moved on. Discerning external counsel, accountants and consultants know that to retain their ever more astute and demanding customer base, and to gain new business, they need to prove themselves as achievers of early results, as dealmakers, dispute avoiders and solution providers, and not just as good advisers, processors and litigators even if that means losing billings per case. This is also consistent with many modern Bar Rules.

So the expectations on corporate lawyers have changed. The term general counsel implies the broader nature of the role, and not only of the most senior in-house lawyer. We are expected to be business and operational people who are lawyers, not lawyers with a business orientation.

Written by Michael Leathes.

This is an extract from his book ‘Negotiation: Things corporate counsel need to know but were not taught’ (page xviii).

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Michael Leathes spent his career as a corporate counsel with Gillette, Pfizer, International Distillers & Vintners and BAT based variously in Brussels, New York and London. His pro bono duties included board memberships of CPR Institute (2003-2006) and the International Mediation Institute (2007-2015).

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