In this episode of Contract Heroes, we had a chat about soft skills with Patrick Barry, the GC of Emerson Electric's Commercial Residential Solutions. Our focus during our chat with Patrick was based around: - His list of soft skills that lawyers and sales associates can use to cut through the bureaucracy involved in the contracting process - The process his team went through when finding and implementing their CLM of choice
In this episode of Contract Heroes, we had a chat with soft skills specialist, Patrick Barry. Patrick has been working in-house as Associate General Counsel with Emerson Electric (more specifically their Commercial Residential Solutions subdivision) for 12 years. He explained that his role involves supporting the Emerson businesses in order to help them negotiate efficient and well-understood contracts by acting as a business partner with them. The ultimate goal is to create contracts that make the business happy while ensuring that customers and vendors always understand exactly what is expected of them.
Slightly different from our usual conversations, our focus during our chat with Patrick was on his list of 6 soft skills that lawyers and sales associates can use to cut through the bureaucracy involved in the contracting process and make sure negotiations run as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Read on to dive deeper into Patrick’s tips and how you can start applying them for yourself and your organization.
Finding commonality is at the top of Patrick’s list for a reason. It is the first skill he typically recommends to lawyers. Most people on the sales team likely have a natural instinct for finding commonalities in order to sell more efficiently, but lawyers may not be used to taking the time to form connections like these prior to getting into the legal talk. Common ground does not have to be something complex either. In fact, the simpler the better, as it will be easiest for both sides to relate. Patrick recommends checking out the other party’s LinkedIn profile before the first phone call in order to locate that commonality and use it to bond right away. Whether it be the weather or attending the same school, bringing up common ground early on in the conversation sets a positive tone for the rest of the negotiations and makes it easier to work through any complicated issues that may arise later.
Patrick next emphasized the importance of knowing who is the quarterback on your side of negotiations. Many might automatically assume a lawyer is a quarterback, but in some cases, it could be the sales or procurement departments. It is essential to determine who is the number one priority, and who is the person who has this agreement as to the first thing on their desk. Without a clear indication of the quarterback, negotiations can quickly become jumbled, and not everyone understands the game plan that will allow you to get across the goal line.
In fact, it is often the case that lawyers should not be quarterbacks, as they typically do not need to be involved with every contract. Coaching up the sales and procurement employees to know exactly when consulting the legal team is a necessity can be extremely helpful for keeping lawyers sane and putting more power in the hands of the business people. For example, NDAs are very standard documents. Utilizing a CLM tool to assist with the drafting process and simplifying the language of clauses can allow sales and procurement employees to handle standardized NDAs without needing to consult the legal department about them.
Understanding the personalities of everyone involved in the negotiation is another key soft skill to emphasize. You should strive to understand the personalities not only of people from other organizations but also of your own internal employees as well. If you anticipate early on or even before initiating a conversation that this person may be aggressive or stubborn with you, you can plan ahead with effective strategies to handle that behavior and still create a productive conversation.
Redlines are viewed very differently by the sales team and the legal team. Lawyers likely see them as a typical part of the negotiation process while business employees are more likely to view them as an inconvenience. Patrick explained that minimizing the number of redlines often leads to much smoother agreements, as it often avoids weeks of extraneous negotiation. For example, suppose you can spend an extra 10 minutes with a document and only change a few words rather than deleting an entire paragraph. In that case, it will be extremely helpful for avoiding frustrations, hang-ups, and confusion on both sides.
One of our hosts, Pepe, shared an example from his experience working at a bigger law firm. He recounted that he received a document from a client to review and did not see any problems with it, so he sent it back to his partner saying just that. His partner, however, was shocked and could not believe that they would be billed for reviewing the document without providing any changes. Many lawyers have this same stigma in their heads and may believe that if they do not make changes, then it may seem that they have not properly reviewed the document. This is not the case. In fact, making fewer changes will help the deal move forward faster and keep the client happy.
Setting priorities with all involved parties is another important soft skill. Before lawyers spend weeks redlining a document, Patrick encourages the sales or procurement team to spend 10 minutes deciding the top 5 issues that are deal-breakers within the agreement. If those issues cannot be resolved, then it is not even worth looking at the rest of the document. Outlining these priorities in exact detail prevents lawyers from having to guess what the main issues are. Guesses typically lead to wasted time and an insurmountable roadblock in the end. The goal is to avoid spending time on less important negotiable terms and instead prioritize those which actually bring more value to the contract.
The final soft skills tip that Patrick gave us was to view all contract terms as commercial terms. In this way, you can make sure that the business employees are involved with the agreement and understand the terms from their own perspectives. You do not want sales and procurement teams to view the legal department simply as a roadblock that impedes their attempts at making deals. In fact, business employees can often be the best advocates for lawyers and important contract terms once they have an understanding of them, as they can take that knowledge back to their own department and explain why the terms need to be negotiated in the first place. Lawyers should be viewed as business enablers instead of as roadblocks. After all, the ultimate goal of the contracts being drafted is to create a new commercial relationship with an outside party, so viewing items in commercial terms instead of only in legal terms can be extremely helpful to everyone working on the agreement from all sides.
For more exclusive chats with expert guests in the contract lifecycle management sphere along with valuable legal-tech advice, check out past installments of Contract Heroes, and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss an episode! If you have any questions for our guest, Patrick Barry, he can be found on LinkedIn and is always excited to share stories or chat about experiences in the legal community.