Nothing is fair in love or contracts: know the playing field and rules of engagement

People deal in and like absolutes. By this I mean that for many people, if they see it in writing it must be true, and if in a contract, it must be easily enforceable.  This assumption is wrong.

In my world, everything is contracts: I am either negotiating and drafting contracts, or involved in lawsuits to enforce or defend entire contracts or specific contractual provisions.  If a party breaches a contract, the non-breaching party many times believes it is a simple and fast process to win a lawsuit and collect damages (i.e. money) or enforce the terms of the contract.  But a contract does not guarantee behavior, and is, at most, a guideline. If you think suing to get what you want is a sure solution, that the contract entitles you to win, you’re naïve on how litigation works.  Most people are naïve because of luckily not having experience with litigation. Hopefully, if that describes you, you remain in that bubble.

Even if you do, it is good to have a general understanding of the playing field and the rules of engagement: (1) the agreements and promises in a contract only are worth the paper they are written on and depend wholly on the substance of the other party to the contract, so try to deal with people you really trust; (2) lawsuits are not fast and it can take from a few months to a few years to obtain a judgment; and (3) the financial wherewithal of the other party may be different at the end of a lawsuit than it was at the beginning, i.e. winning a judgment is one thing, collecting on the judgment is another.

The best things you can do at the front end are to know who you are dealing with, whether an individual or a company, and conduct due diligence (information gathering and or analysis), if appropriate and possible, prior to signing a contract.  The due diligence may involve attorneys, accountants, engineers, appraisers, etc.  It may be you really taking the time to read every line of the proposed contract.  Protect yourself as best you can from the beginning because if an issue comes up, the only way to a fast resolution is through the parties agreeing to one.

 

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Think like an artist: Don’t think about money before you earn it

I recently read the following  line, which struck me: A businessman puts money first, an artist sees money as a byproduct.  It made me think about how so many people put money first, which means service is second, at best.  If you focus on service and quality instead of what you will be paid, there is a better chance money will follow.  And a better chance your customer or client will satisfied with the service or work you provided and refer work to you.

So does this mean think like an artist?  No.  Most of us are not creative in that way, which is not to say we are not creative within our business or professional space. Instead it means to think about the widget you are manufacturing or the code you are writing or the contract you are drafting.  Doing your best does not guaranty more work and wealth, but it does help you do a better job for whoever is paying you.

If you try this instead of thinking what you will be paid or what your client or customer’s money will buy you, you will do what you do so much better.  And think about how you would feel if your lawyer, doctor, contractor, etc. was focusing on the money first and what you are paying them for second…

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Back to School? Invest in yourself!

In Arizona, the majority of K through 12th grade students went back to school this week.  Here, in some circles and professions, it is as if this week marks the start of working hard through the end of the year, i.e. we coasted through the summer and now it is time to get back to work.

But “back to school” can mean many things.  Are you a lifetime learner always trying to improve?  Do you need to review something you already know to make sure you have it down?  Are you trying to learn something new to put into practice professionally or personally?  Or you can arbitrarily make it a time to put a new goal or two into place.

You don’t have to wait until the new year to make a resolution to start exercising, to work harder to meet the type of connections you want in business, etc. Commit to investing in yourself as we head straight towards the end of 2014!

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Multi-tasking

What are  you doing right now? Are you focusing on reading these words, or do you have an eye on your email, texts, social media or instant messaging, or maybe all of them?  Or are you on the phone?  We all think we can do this and do it well, but the truth is we can’t.

How many times a day, when you are on the phone, can you hear the keyboard and mouse clicks on the other end of the line?  Are they taking notes of or looking up something relevant to the conversation, or are they surfing MSN or TMZ?  Or reading an unrelated, substantive email?

This is the same as looking at your emails and texts while in a meeting or at lunch with someone. At the meeting you have checked out and in both cases are telling  the people speaking or who you are dining with that they are not as important as whatever is on your phone.

It simply is very hard to focus on two things (or more) at once.  For a week (or for those truly device or multi-tasking  addicted, a day) try to focus on what is in front of you.  In a meeting, don’t  bring  your phone or leave it in your pocket or purse; Turn it off!  On the phone, leave that mouse alone and keep things that interest you off of the screen(s) in front of you.

This is about respect and focus.  No one may know but you, but it is amazing what you learn when you actually listen.

 

 

 

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Do Not Take Your Health for Granted (or being healthy helps your business!)

We all know this. But until or unless something happens to you or someone close to you, we all tend to put on blinders and move on our way.  Given it is a holiday week, traffic is light and a good amount of people are out doing something more fun than sitting in their offices, I thought I would veer off of my normal topics this week.

As some of you know, I hurt my knee back in March.  I unfortunately had to have surgery three weeks ago today, which is why you haven’t heard from me in a few weeks.  While this obviously affects me, it also affects my wife and kids, and the people I work with, both at my office and clients.  From being out of the office, working remotely or having to leave during business hours to go to physical therapy, getting hurt has required others to accommodate my physical issues and schedule.  I don’t know about you, but I personally do not like to put people out because of my issues.

It also has prevented me from conducting the normal marketing and networking activities I do regularly, which cannot have a positive effect on my business.  I know I will work through this, but it sure reminded me that I take it for granted that I will be in my office everyday other than when on vacation.

So the whole point is that, as we head into summer, it is as good a time as any to think about your health and what you can do to maintain it or improve it.  Don’t only think about this when coming up with New Year’s resolutions!  Whether changing your diet, exercising a bit more or starting for the first time by taking short walks around your neighborhood, do something.  Invest in yourself.

It will be worth it because then, even if something happens like what happened to me, it makes your recovery shorter and easier.  At least that is what my physical therapist tells me…

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Values v. Behaviors

Do you have values you live or work by?  Do you ever stop to consider the behaviors needed to meet your values? Have you considered the difference?

Values are abstract concepts. Think quality, timeliness or integrity.

On the other hand, behaviors are concrete.  For example, I pride myself on producing quality legal work in a timely manner.  I can draft a quality legal brief or contract when due to court or within the time frame I have given to my client only if I set behaviors to allow me to meet these values.  It may be calendaring when to start work on a project, not just the due date.  It may be blocking time to focus only on the project by closing the door, ignoring emails and putting my phone on do not disturb (I know this goes against the multi-tasking world we live in, but be honest, can any of us truly multi-task well?? Or, another topic for another day.).  If I take these type of actions it is more likely I will meet my values.

It is a worthwhile exercise to spend time thinking about the values of your business or how you work.  Once you come up with the values you need to spend time on the behaviors that will help you meet each value you identify.  And when you do, keep a list or document where you can review it often, which will help you focus on your chosen values and behaviors.

If you want help on listing your values and coming up with behaviors that will help you meet those values, let me know.

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Planning is Not an Option: Set Goals

“I find it fascinating that most people plan their vacations with better care than they plan their lives. Perhaps that is because escape is easier than change.” – Jim Rohn

My friend Kasten Spethmann recently sent me an email with this quote.  It is a fair generalization. And it definitely is true is business and careers.  How much thought and planning do you put into your career or business?  Short term, each year or bigger picture?

We all know the saying that if you write down goals there is a much better chance you will attain them.  But do you do this?  You should.  At least annually.

And then you need to keep your goals on your desk, your computer desktop or wherever you will actually look at them prior to writing your next year’s goals.  Maybe make a weekly or monthly calendar event to remind you.  Maybe include steps or action plans you will take to try and meet those goals.

The idea is to set goals, review them and work on them.  Yes, work on them.  This is important planning and work. Doesn’t your career or business deserve at least the same time you put into planning your vacations?

Let me know if you want to discuss setting goals, action plans, etc.

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Leverage/Mediation

In negotiations leverage is everything.  This applies in law, business and your personal life.  Some people think it mainly has to do with money, but it doesn’t.  But the side with the most leverage still controls the negotiation.

In my world my client may have the strongest legal and factual position, which, of course, is great leverage.  But the fact that the other party has no money and probably will file bankruptcy if my client is successful in court is strong leverage too.

And knowing the leverage each party has is important in negotiations or a mediation setting.  Otherwise, how can you strategize and plan for your negotiation or mediation.

That’s right, plan for your negotiation or mediation.  In a lawsuit it’s the most important day other than trial, and you control the outcome, not a judge or jury.  The same is true in other negotiations, such as buying a used car.  Don’t plan your strategy on offers and there is a good chance you will pay more than what earlier was your highest number.

If you want to discuss leverage and mediation, or an important upcoming negotiation, let me know.

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Hone your pitch!

We all have a pitch to make.  It can be to a potential client or customer, a potential investor or in a social situation involving a new potential friend, etc.  The point is that all of these situations are about conveying information to one or more people to obtain a desired result.  So how is your pitch?

Here I am thinking of the professional pitch, not personal.  I am a mentor for an event named Fast Pitch, which has a big event in Tempe tonight (http://www.socialventurepartners.org/arizona/fast-pitch/ – if you don’t know about this, you should.  Great non-profit ideas and innovations on display!).  The idea is to help executive directors of non-profits hone a three minute pitch to potential investors/donors.  Sounds easy, but it is not.

Just ask Julie Bank, the Executive Director of Ryan House (http://ryanhouse.org/ – a fantastic charity you should consider for volunteer work and donations!).  She is my mentee in Fast Pitch.  It is hard work to come up with a pitch limited to three minutes, let alone your thirty second elevator speech.  Julie did great, was open to suggestions and constructive criticism and through her hard work, made the finals of Fast Pitch.  Was it easy?  No.  Was it worth it?  Most definitely because now not only can she win awards and money for Ryan House, but has a pitch she can use in the future.

So what should you do?  Work on a pitch by thinking of your audience and the message you want to convey.  Don’t make it too long or use words people generally won’t know the meaning of, i.e. dumb it down so whoever you are speaking to, no matter their knowledge on the subject you are conveying, will understand what you are saying.  By doing so you will avoid your audience thinking about what a word meant and missing the next part of what you are saying.

And practice, practice, practice, both alone and in front of other people.  Take constructive criticism.  And then see where your new pitch can lead you!

If you want to discuss the idea of a pitch, have the pitch reviewed or need someone to practice in front, let me know.  I am willing to help you or try to connect you with a good person to work with on your new pitch.

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Things Change Instantly; Adjust on the Fly

I wrote about change being constant earlier this year, but had an experience last week that reminded me of the importance of remembering this.

We all know this, especially parents. Me, “don’t do that, you could get hurt.” Kid, “but I didn’t get hurt.” Me, “but you could.”  We all had this conversation a thousand times growing up and, if you are a parent, you are on your way to saying it a thousand times.  I know because this conversation could have happened last week when, with many family members, including my parents, I was skiing (in an aggressive manner, as I have since I was a kid), got hurt and could have been the kid in the conversation instead of the parent with my own children.

Why does this matter? Because things can and do happen, fast, and usually when you do not see it coming.  And not only to kids or related to physical injury.  This applies to business, dealing with others, customers, clients.  The contact at your best client leaves the company or is being promoted to a different position.  Your competition suddenly is closing more sales, with prior customers of yours.  You’re a lawyer and your best client hires in-house counsel.  What do you do?

Panic?  Maybe for a minute.  But you better instead adjust and think fast.  Is it having the contact at your best client introduce you to their replacement?  Is it speaking with your former customer about what has changed and what you or your company can do differently to regain a competitive edge?  Is it inquiring of that good client what work will be kept in-house, what will be sent out and how you can be a part of it?  Who knows other than you have to come up with a new strategy and deal with the change or be left behind.  No action most likely will equal no results.

And remember that change brings opportunity, but you generally have to take actions to find it.

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