How to Negotiate Like a Lawyer

lawyer negotiationIt’s not difficult to negotiate like a lawyer, if you prepare and educate yourself ahead of time.

The reason people hire lawyers to negotiate on their behalf (in addition to their legal training) is because lawyers are good at preparing, good at analyzing relative strengths and weaknesses of the negotiating parties, and go into every negotiation with a plan.

In fact, non-lawyers such as paralegals can negotiate just as well as a lawyer with the right background, experience and training.

The next time you need to ask for a raise at work, want to negotiate to buy an item at a flea market, or even have an argument with a friend or coworker, try out the following seven tips which will help you negotiate like a lawyer:

1) Prepare.  Then prepare some more.

If you are going into a negotiation over a new car, look up what your desired car is selling for at other nearby dealerships.

If you are going to negotiate a raise, then find out what others in your industry are being paid. You should also have a clear understanding of any laws or rules which are going to be relevant to the negotiation, because these will determine the parties respective bargaining leverage.

Attorneys also commonly go into a negotiation with a list of arguments they are going to use and rebuttals to the other side’s arguments.

2) Identify Your Bottom Line.

Before going into the negotiation, you should identify what you want and how much you want to pay. Ask yourself: what is your cut off point after which you would walk away?

Identify a higher end and a lower end which will define the parameters of your negotiation.

You should also identify creative compromises which can help seal the deal, such as creative payment plans or additional “perks” which can be made part of the final agreement.

3) Start Off by Focusing on Your Agreements.

Start off the negotiation by identifying all the areas where you and the opposing party agree, so that you can eliminate potential areas for dispute.

During this time you can also establish rapport and build good will so that the other side will want to sell to you.

You should work to establish a reputation for being reasonable and likeable, so that the other side will be willing to do a deal with you, even if they don’t get exactly the price they want.

4) Never “bid” first.

You should always wait for the other side to bid. If you are at a garage sale, ask what the seller’s “best price” is. While some people argue that it helps to make the first offer when you are negotiating salary, if you do so, you should be aware that you risk underbidding what the employer would be willing to pay.

Even if you think there is a certain common “market price” for the good or item, the seller or buyer on the other side of the table may not have the same understanding.

5) Ask for More Than You Would Accept.

If your goal is to sell a used car for $15,000, offer it for sale for $20,000. If a company is being sued for $30,000 for a breach of contract, and there is a good chance the company is at least partly liable for the breach, they should start any settlement offer low.

If they are willing to settle for $22,000 and no more, then they could start by offering $13,000 or $14,000, with the goal of settling for around $22,000.

6) Stay Calm and Allow for Give and Take.

I had a mediation professor during law school who described the mediation process as like watching two dancers doing a Latin American dance such as the tango or the mambo.

The point was a mediation is a delicate dance which allows for a great amount of give and take between the two parties.

There should be a balance throughout the negotiation – no one side should talk to much, and no one side should do too much of the “heavy lifting” trying to make a deal.

Trying too hard to make a deal happen can convey an air of desperation. Each side should give a little and each side should take a little.

7) Always Be Willing to Walk Away.

If the negotiation becomes bogged down and it doesn’t appear the other side will cave in, then one good negotiation tactic is to pick up your coat and things and start walking away.

Either you will avoid making a bad deal at a price you were unwilling to accept, or, frequently you will get a better deal later.

If you have already put in a good amount of time trying to reach a settlement, then it is common that one party will try again a few days later. Then you will definitely have the upper hand because you’ve shown a willingness to walk away.

No matter what kind of negotiation you are going into, make sure to keep your wits about you and remember that almost every negotiation involves a commodity which has its price. If you can’t forge an agreement, it may be better to end the negotiation and try again another day.

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John Corcoran is an attorney with Plastiras & Terrizzi in San Rafael, California (Marin County).  He advises clients about various real estate and land use matters.  He can be reached at (415) 250-8131 or [email protected]



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Photo credit: Flickr/ Deputado Bruno Covas