These qualities can be learned, just as lawyers have long learned that aggression, hiding the ball, and mistrust are tools of the trade. I’m sure of this because I have learned (and am still learning) these skills with each new case I resolve in Structured Negotiation. Read more about dolphin skills in Structured Negotiation.
What about language?
Did you know that the French root of the word “plaintiff” means “wretched complainer”? Should “defendants” always have to defend instead of problem solve? Do lawyers representing different parties always have to oppose each other wearing the hat of “opposing counsel”? When you want something of someone, is it helpful to demand it in a terse letter, or invite participation in a collaborative process?
As the stories I share in my book reveal, in Structured Negotiation every communication (email, meetings, phone calls) is made with a collaborative intent. And that means language choices matter. Language that invites cooperation is a fundamental building block of this dispute resolution method.
What do business lawyers say?
Back to the two business lawyers whose quotations are mentioned earlier. One quotation comes from Brian Frumkin, Associate General Counsel at Bank of America. Brian has been involved in many Structured Negotiations with Bank of America and my clients over the past 21 years. (The very first web accessibility agreement in the United States in 2000 was the result of a Structured Negotiation between blind customers and the bank.)
Brian Frumkin’s quotation in the second edition of my book came from his remarks at a 2019 gala at which Bank of America received an award from a disability rights organization. In his speech, he said:
Bringing the collaborative approach to my practice has, I think, made me a more effective lawyer and, perhaps, a happier person.
The second quotation is from Priya Sanger, who was Deputy Legal Counsel at Patreon during a 2020 Structured Negotiation with that company. Start-ups, Sanger explained:
are mission-driven. As a rule, we tend never to have enough people or money to meet our big visions. Start-ups are solution-oriented. When we identify a problem, we want to get it fixed quickly and cost-effectively, with a focus on people. We don’t like spending money on litigation. These qualities make Structured Negotiation particularly well suited for our type of business.
[With Patreon] Structured Negotiation quickly brought the right people to the table and the process created room to educate teams on the value of adding disability awareness and inclusion in the digital space.
Sanger and Frumkin’s words underscore the value of Structured Negotiation to both business lawyers and their clients. In writing my book I interviewed many other lawyers who represented companies in Structured Negotiation. They too shared similar views on the value of Structured Negotiation to both themselves as lawyers and to their corporate clients.
Structured Negotiation is of course not suited for every dispute. But in many cases, there is nothing to lose (and much to gain) by trying it. Michael Bruno is a defense lawyer who has worked in Structured Negotiation. As he says in my book:
In court, discovery cut-offs, motion deadlines, and sometimes judges themselves force the parties to take expensive depositions that may be of little utility. I found Structured Negotiation to be fairer to my client than litigation. I like the process because it gives my client the opportunity to do the right thing and avoids costly litigation. And if the negotiation does not succeed, my client has not waived the right to engage in an aggressive, strategic defense.
I love hearing about how lawyers have used the tools of Structured Negotiation to advance their client’s interest with collaboration instead of conflict. If you try it, please let me know!