From AVERAGE to LEVERAGE. Closing the expectation gap of legal negotiation skills.

Negation-savvy lawyers are changing the dynamic of the legal profession.

Unfortunately, they are still the exception.

There. I said it. Most lawyers are pretty average when it comes to negotiation skills. How do I know? I have seen more than 10,000 lawyers negotiate over the past 10+ years. And thank god, most of them were mock negotiations in a training setting.

Feel free to go hate me. Or let me back up and explain. And then tell you how you can use this to your advantageand swim in the top 10% pretty quickly!


I have been part of the legal fraternity for 25+ years and I can confidently say that we are one of the most specialized subject matter experts there are. Studious, hard-working, always well-informed.

But there is one thing most of us are not: natural negotiators.


The Expectation Gap

Here is the irony: To the public, there is the perception (and expectation!) that lawyers must be very skilled negotiators because of the sheer pervasiveness of negotiation skills in our work. And they wouldn’t be wrong in expecting this. Negotiating a deal, a contract, a settlement, or persuading a judge or a client – almost all our work involves negotiation.

The reality often falls short. While we go through years and years of law school, bar exams and practical legal training (more than 10 years in some countries!) there is hardly any training on negotiation skills, techniques and frameworks.


The uncomfortable truth: Without training, lawyers are no better than others in negotiating! We are not born with some magical talent.


And even more uncomfortable: Most enter the legal profession having had NO training whatsoever.

This “oversight” (trying not to cringe at this understatement of the year) leaves a conspicuous gap between the expectations placed upon lawyers and their actual proficiency in negotiation.

The Client’s Reaction

The consequences of this gap are profound. Lawyers have a bad reputation among business people. I hear it time and again: “We try to keep the lawyers out of the negotiation; they screw everything up.

   Poster on the wall of one of the firms I work with.

This might be a particularly harsh statement. When asked about what this means, clients will usually talk about a lack of flexibility, a lack of understanding of the business, too much focus on the law, too much focus on rights rather than results, and good old CYA (cover your ass) approach rather than interest-focused creativity.


The problem: A focus on rights rather than results.

Experience Doesn’t equate to Expertise

Okay, this was very Austrian-direct-no-fluff-tough-love.

Have I offended you or are you reading on?

Okay good

Because from here there is about a 50/50 split. Some lawyers admit that they would love to be much better trained when it comes to negotiation skills. And then there is team “But I have 10/20/30 years of experience!!

The problem: Clients want to hire neither.

Here is why: Even 20 years of negotiation experience that has gone without training and feedback can be as good as that special tomato sauce that you started to make for your pasta when you were a law school student. By now you have done it all your life. But you still wouldn’t go on Master Chef with it, would you? Or the many hours you spent on a soccer field when you were younger. Why are you not playing for Barca yet?

Experience is not Expertise.

So basically, those frequently cited “20 years of negotiation experience” often turn out to be 1 year of experience, multiplied by 20, when you put people in a real-life negotiation scenario and let a professional assess their actual level of proficiency in negotiation.

Why does that happen?

Not only do many negotiators start building their experience on a wrong/limited approach as positional bargainers who have never learned to strike value-add deals, but also do their patterns perpetuate over time. Whether that is a positional approach, an inability to adapt to the counterparty, a lack of asking the right questions, a lack of preparation, or a lack of creativity, old habits die hard without training and feedback.

Also, without outside input, pro tools like the way to structure a negotiation process, the way to frame proposals, work on options with the other side, analyse and boost your negotiation strength, anchor the other side, create value through trades, de-escalation techniques, game theory and decision science never gets built into a negotiators’ toolbox, missing tremendous value there too.

All the above are reasons why studies show that trained negotiators outperform experienced negotiators.


Enter the “Legotiator”

Legal Negotiators, or Legotiators, as I like to call them (Oxford, can we register that? :D), will shift the dynamic of the future.

  • Saving companies billions in settling disputes that seem intractable.
  • Concluding creative deals that help add value on both sides.
  • Negotiating contracts that not only save the drafter’s and clients’ back side but optimize for future business opportunities and value.

The leverage that negotiation-savvy lawyers have is limitless.


Get ahead of the curve!

And firms have started to notice: Big corporates like Deutsche Bank, Amazon or Google are establishing entire Negotiation Departments (see my interview with VP Deal Expert at Deutsche Bank here). Boutique Law Firms are gaining leverage and setting themselves apart as negotiation experts (watch this space for an interview with one small giant in Switzerland).

10 years ago, I switched my entire career because I was convinced that negotiation is the skill of the future for lawyers. I have never looked back.

My expertise today allows me to turn around the worst situations and create value where others see nothing but thin air.

And I am of course happy to do this for you – in fact, it is my business model 😀

But you have read until here, so I consider you a friend. And as a friend you come before my business model and I would advise you this: Get on the Legotiator bandwagon yourself!

Don’t walk, run! Start getting your hands on negotiation expertise as fast as you can! Because expertise doesn’t build overnight. It won’t take another 10 years until this shift has also arrived in your legal practice. Those who start today will be ahead of those who will realize once AI has taken over a lot of our mental work. Where are you then?

In Hockey, they say you need to “skate to where the puck is going, not where it is“.

I am telling you where the puck is going. The question is where are you?



If you enjoyed this content, feel free to sign up for our free 10-week Email course on the fundamentals of Collaborative and Competitive Negotiation skills by clicking HERE.
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