Striving for perfection is a lauded goal in society. Professional athletes who spend endless hours perfecting their technique are often the ones signing the huge contracts and getting on the covers of Wheaties boxes. The students who get straight A’s are the ones speaking at graduation. You won’t get a Nobel prize for so-so contributions to science.
But when it comes to negotiations, there is no such thing as the perfect deal or settlement. If your idea of the perfect lawsuit settlement is getting everything you want with no concessions, that’s not negotiation. That’s take it or leave it.
Striving for the perfect agreement in negotiations won’t work. Here are reasons why and how it can be avoided:
- You’re Wasting Time and Energy and Risking What Little Good Will There May Be Between the Parties: Do you want to spend most of your time getting the last 1o% of what you want? That kind of intransigence will likely turn off the other party. There’s a good chance they’ll become sick of dealing with you and walk away from the whole deal. No one will negotiate with someone who’s irrational. If you’re risking a major benefit to your client to obtain a “win” on minor issues, that’s not rational.
- Plan Ahead: There’s nothing wrong with putting together, prior to negotiations, the perfect agreement. It’s something to shoot for, but fighting for it is just not worth the risk of wrecking potentially fruitful negotiations. Once it’s put together, determine which areas you’re willing and able to give concessions to the other party in order for you to get concessions from them.
- The Goal is Not Perfection: As an attorney, your goal should be to get the best agreement you can for your client, given the situation. The facts of each case are unique. The applicable law may or may not be settled. Your client’s resources may be limited. It’s not in your client’s interests to walk away from a perfectly good, imperfect, deal.
- The Benefit of an Imperfect Deal: The major benefit of an imperfect deal is that the outcome should be perfectly predictable. Each party will do, or promise not to do, something in exchange for some kind of benefit. This can avoid the unpredictable world of litigation.
- Be Careful What You Threaten: The other party refuses to consent to your perfect settlement agreement. What will you do about it? Litigate? What makes you think you’ll get a perfect outcome at a trial? Litigating a case is a roll of the dice. Witnesses may perform better, or worse, than you expect. Despite all your research into the judge’s past decisions, in your case it may not be what you expect. Does your client really want to put his/her fate in the hands of the jury, total strangers your client may have little in common with? Given all the time, energy, emotions and resources spent at trial, what are the chances those costs will be justified by a sufficient improvement over the last settlement offer?
We should all strive to do the best work we possibly can. But in negotiations, striving too hard for perfection may prevent the best outcome for your client.