How To Successfully Negotiate Anything (When You Play To Your Strengths)

Many associates start out by gaining experience in litigation. Nothing like the fast-paced, unpredictable arm of the law to guide naïve first-years.

However, after a few years of sleeping in the office and canceling vacations, many young associates start to dream of the sunnier skies of transactional work or, better yet, getting in-house.

Of course, it’s necessary to have some experience in the practice areas of securities, patents, and compliance, but—otherwise—the basic needs of transactional firms are the same as those in trial law.

“I have said it before, and will continue to advise, that litigators negotiate their way through the day, every day, and are therefore quite possibly better suited to negotiate deals than a transactional lawyer will ever be. Not to say that there are not some transactional folks who could sell you a pile of dung and make you think you got the better of the bargain, but my experience is what it is,” writes David Mowry for Above the Law.

In his post “Play To Your Strengths,” Mowry answers the basic question: How do you convince transactional firms that your litigation experience is applicable?

“The argument is not difficult; you negotiate for a living, you shred contracts in order to zealously represent your institutional clients, and you are damned good at what you do.”

However, the title of his post has larger, loftier applications to lawyers and law firm managers.

Whether you are an associate or law firm partner, to successfully conclude a negotiation, it’s important to play to your strengths in and out of the courtroom. Whether debating a raise or a courtroom settlement, law firm professionals must understand the strengths of their character and of their case.

In Negotiation 101, if you catch a person off guard, they are in no position to negotiate. So, when your boss stops by your office to hear about the progress of a case or to discuss your career, you best be prepared.

So, for cases, keep an accessible list of tasks you’ve completed, but also put these tasks in order of importance. That way, when your boss asks for a status update you can quickly lead with your biggest achievement—the biggest strength of the case—first. In all likelihood, you won’t need to go further into the minutia.

In court, if you keep a short list of your case’s strengths, it will help you gear the conversation back on track—“on track” meaning back to the best points of your case.

Next, for your career, keep a list of professional achievements. Again, put them in order of importance (unless, of course, your last major achievement was long ago!). Furthermore, create a list of your value-add to the firm, i.e., your strengths. Every time you are assigned to a new case, browse your list of personal strengths. This will help you figure out the best way to make an immediate and worthy contribution.

“The first task in the exercise is to collect feedback from a variety of people inside and outside work. By gathering input from a variety of sources—family members, past and present colleagues, friends, teachers, and so on—you can develop a much broader and richer understanding of yourself than you can from a standard performance evaluation,” adds the authors of “How to Play to Your Strengths,” for the January 2005 HBR Magazine.

Forget your flaws. Don’t be modest.

“It is a paradox of human psychology that while people remember criticism, they respond to praise. The former makes them defensive and therefore unlikely to change, while the latter produces confidence and the desire to perform better.”

People underestimate the power of a list and the power of confidence. A list of “strengths” may seem juvenile or even boastful. But, when you’re caught off guard, or even when you’re not, a list is the best way to negotiate your way to the top.

Statistically women underestimate their value in the workplace. Everything is communication. Are you communicating in the most positive, effective, and engaging way possible to build your career?

Learn to overcome this gender obstacle with “The Smart Woman’s Guide to Powerful and Effective Communication,” from the Center For Competitive Management’s extensive law firm management resources and training materials.



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