Communication skills, especially negotiation skills, are very important for a successful legal career. The higher you go up the career ladder, the more negotiating you might find yourself doing. Plus, with the UK legal industry being competitive as ever, being able to communicate and negotiate for your client is key in turning a case in your favour.
We spoke to Tessa Harris, employment law director, and Stephen Norton, lawyer, at Redmans Solicitors for more tips and tricks when it comes to negotiating.
Negotiation vs. Litigation
Litigation is not predictable and legal negotiation is always preferable. Tessa says, “They can result in more advantageous results compared to litigation, as well as avoid incurring unnecessary legal fees.”.
Negotiations being cost-effective is one of the key reasons why lawyers prefer it over litigation. As a lawyer, the idea is to work in a manner that is favourable to the client. While most clients feel they can win more money through litigation, this is because of reports that talk about high compensation or large pay outs. Stephen points out that while compensation is reported to be, on average, between £13,000-£20,000 (depending on the case), this kind of payment is not guaranteed because litigation is not predictable.
The unpredictability of the courts can often damage relationships with clients as well. Preparing for litigation and the proceedings itself can be strenuous for everyone involved, while negotiations encourage discussions and collaborations. To this Tessa adds that negotiations are about compromise so while lawyers need to convince the other parties that their arguments are more reasonable, resolving the issue is only possible if both parties agree.
She further says, “Whilst it is unlikely that the parties will agree wholly with the other person’s position, both have a common goal and as such avoiding protracted communications about the details of the case or the circumstances leading to negotiations are a way of keeping on course to reach that goal”.
Plus, more often than not, it is possible to resolve conflict much quicker through negotiation.
Becoming a Skilled Negotiator – Skills and Tricks
When it comes to negotiating on behalf of a client, it is important to be prepared. This preparation extends to not just the client but also to the opposite party. In addition to this, there are many skills and tricks that budding lawyers should keep in mind when training to be a skilled negotiators.
- Adapting to Change
It is important to stay open to change that a client, or even the opposite party, may suggest. To have the case work in the favour of your client, it is important to be ready for any curveball. That being said, it is also important to be clear and manage expectations right from the start.
According to Stephen, the key is to be able to manage expectations from the beginning so that clients do not have unrealistic demands. Be clear about the case, its limitations and what is achievable, and communicate them right at the start.
Stephen also advises keeping in regular contact with clients so that they are aware of likely outcomes at every step. He places importance on working collaboratively with all parties and says, “Resolving a matter without resorting to litigation where possible will always be preferable given the unpredictable nature of the tribunal cases.”BATNA
BATNA, aka the “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement”, is the alternative to your already proposed solution. As a negotiator, it is important to assess every side of your proposed solution and have a list of alternatives should the opposite party not agree to it. Negotiations are known for their “back and forth” nature, and it is important to be patient and offer every possible solution you can think of at the time.
- Keep Cultural Differences in Mind
As a negotiator, while you may be negotiating on behalf of your client, it is always best to keep in mind any cultural differences among all parties. There is a possibility you might be working with clients who differ culturally from you or from the opposing party. Keeping in mind language barriers, norms and/or traditions may allow for smoother negotiations.
- Read The Room
It is not just important for a negotiator to listen to what the parties want, but also notice body language and the tone they speak in. These indicators can be very telling of what the other party wants and where their priorities lie.
Advice For Budding Negotiators
For anyone just starting out, it is important to study negotiation. While most learning lessons will come from practical experience, studying the theory is a good place to start. Additionally, finding a mentor, be it in university or at work, will allow you to get more of an idea regarding negotiations in practice.
As mentioned earlier, being prepared is key. When you go into your first negotiation, knowing the case, your BATNA and being a good communicator will aid your case.