I once spent two weeks living inside an armoured vehicle with a guy who was destined to be a lifelong friend, despite the fact he later became a lawyer, much to my disgust. The weeks we spent together were in 1989, and since then when we are in the same state, we catch up twice a year for lunch and a discussion that generally has the theme of the “whole universe is stupid except for us”. You know the conversation…
Anyway, one of our lunch discussions recently could have been titled “Why don’t we teach people at business school about the law in real life?” Now most Academics would of course say that we do. I myself have suffered through hours of Contract, Law, Business Law and Company Law. But that isn’t what I mean. Ian, my armoured vehicle friend, and now Barrister, pointed out to me that about only 1% of legal disputes actually end up in court. Therefore the other 99% are getting resolved by effective negotiating. And unfortunately negotiating with law firms doesn’t get taught in any MBA course in Australia. So here’s six pointers I have learnt along the way.
- Don’t get scared by nasty letters. In fact, most of the time you can safely ignore them and the deadlines they contain, especially if they are arbitrary – eg “you have 7 days to respond”. When you ignore them, you will generally get a call a week later, asking what do you intend to do. This is a good time to say “what letter?”
- Conversely, don’t send scary letters to people. They are mostly a waste of time as anyone who has any decent commercial experience, is just going to ignore them anyway. I prefer to sue as fast and as hard as I can. It was once said to me “never threaten, just punch the opposition without warning as hard as you can in the back of the head”.
- Never offer any additional information to a lawyer you are not paying for. It just creates more opportunities to get yourself in trouble. I like “yes”, “no” and “maybe” as answers.
- Never assume that a Lawyer has common sense. Lawyers have great knowledge of the law and see plenty of deals going bad, but their experience is vicarious, not first hand.
- If the other guy is the instigator of the action, make sure meetings are at a location of your choosing. You want the other guy to be paying $300 an hour plus for his lawyer to travel about. Funny how this can add up and change the negotiation.
- If you tell a law firm “sorry I didn’t read you letter, but since we don’t have a commercial relationship, I assumed it was just marketing shit from your firm” – it generally makes lawyers angry. Guess how I know this?
Strange isn’t it. We don’t actually teach in business school the skills that are used most of the time.