Susan Smith Blakely

Tips for Women Lawyers to Enhance Negotiation Skills

Negotiations can be difficult for everyone.  Think of the last time you sat down to negotiate a prefered interest rate with your mortgage lender.  UGH.  Not such great memories.  Or when you tried to eke out that one last point on a law school exam from your professor --- the point that would put you in the next higher grade category.  Also not such a great memory.

However, those kinds of negotiations are the most difficult.  First of all, you are negotiating for yourself, and second, you are negotiating with a person who has more power than you have.  That is a tough situation, but we are forced to do it all the time, not only on behalf of ourselves but for our clients.  Knowing how to be a good negotiator and playing to your strengths is very important.

A recent article focused on three fundamental ways to improve your negotiation skills.  The advice was to:

Focus on strengths;
Prepare, prepare, prepare; and
Learn to overcome obstacles successfully.

Let's take them one at a time --- starting with focusing on your strengths.  To focus on your strengths, you first must identify those strengths.  Typically women's strengths in negotiations are based in their desire to know the facts and the people.  Women typically ask more questions than men.  Women try to get to know the players better, and to get them to talk about themselves.  These are the same strengths that you use in networking, and they are very powerful negotiation tools.  When you know what someone is thinking, you can form a better and more effective negotiation strategy.  Being inside your opponent's head puts you in a power position.

There is never enough that can be said about preparation.  Simply stated, it is the key to success in almost everything you do.  You can't just rely on your past experiences in negotiating because each set of facts is different.  According to author Teresa Zink, "trying to wing it" usually does not work.  Setting goals that are "clear, reasonable and achievable" is the key to success.  Those goals include the bottom line number, the opening offer, the concessions that you are willing to make, and satisfactory outcomes that are not limited to financial gain.  All of this must be discussed with your client, of course, and those discussions must weigh heavily into your negotiation strategy.

I would add something more to the preparation category.  After the goal setting and the strategy, I recommend that you switch roles.  The most effective negotiators, like the most effective trial lawyers, are those who have anticipated the strengths, weaknesses and strategy of their opponents.  So, become your opponent.  Put yourself in his or her own shoes and see how your position looks from the other side of the table.  You will discover a lot about your strengths and weaknesses if you take the time for that last step.

So, how is negotiation different for women than for men?  Stayed tuned to the next blog to find the answer to that question and also to learn how to overcome some negotiations obstacles.

What, you don't want to wait!  You want results right now.  You will find that this impatience is part of your problem.  Chill.  It is a process.  Give it time!


Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and a nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues and the law profession.
Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she taught legal research and writing. She also is a Marshall Goldsmith trained career and leadership coach and a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches.  She also is a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit 

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